Q&A Sessions: Laduma Ngxokolo’s MaXhosa brand is an ode to a single mother

Do you still remember 10 years ago when you won £1 000 in a competition in London? 

I still remember it very well. I was still a student, actually. And, and it was my first time out of PE [Port Elizabeth]. And it was my first time in a hotel. It was my first time on a plane. It was my first time out of the country. 

And I had to think about what I was going to do with it [the money]. It was probably the most difficult financial decision I had to make. Because when you are 22 years old and have R18 000 in your bank account, all you think of is buying a car. Well, my siblings recommended that. I was like, “Nope. There’s no way I’m buying a car. I’m going to continue taking a taxi for the next five years, and we will review after that.” So I decided to buy knitting machines to start my studio.

Take us back to Laduma as a child: Who was he?

I got along very well with my late mother [Lindelwa]. I was a sponge. I learned a lot from her. Making knitwear by hand was what I learned the most, but I was still obsessed with sports at that time. Like any other young boy, I played soccer at primary, and I would always tell my mother that I want to be a soccer player when I grew up. I told her my destiny had been decided for me. My name is Laduma.

My mom was frank with me and said that “if you’re not showing signs of being great at sports right now, there is little chance of becoming a superstar”. 

Instead, she showed that with the crafts, I could make a brand — I could make millions. But I was also a creative person in high school and decided to choose textile design as a subject. I also chose music because my grandfather was a prominent musician in the 70s. I added mathematics as well.

I was the first in my family to matriculate and get a diploma and a degree. But before that, I was an underachiever of note. I never achieved anything. I was the lowest in my grade throughout high school.

You made a name change to your company. Why did you convert from MaXhosa by Laduma to MaXhosa Africa?

I travelled across Europe a lot from 2012 until 2016. I realised many people who are first exposed to the brand had that first impression of it as an African luxury brand and not that it’s representing [a specific] culture. 

Locally as well. When we moved to Jo’burg in 2016 with my siblings, we listened to feedback about how people felt about our brand. We had clientele that spanned across the country. There was some misconception that the brand MaXhosa is targeted towards Xhosa people, or that they are the only ones who wear it. We wanted to change their perception and show them that we are looking beyond the culture and the country. We are looking to represent the country on a global stage.  

Who is the biggest celebrity for you who has worn the brand dedicated to your mother?

Drake. And yeah, Eddie Murphy. Him wearing the brand on Coming 2 America [the film] was a big validation for me, especially with the old-timers who looked up to him. Now it is a cool symbol.

It’s wonderful to see how you and your siblings (Tina, Mangaliso and Lihle) have grown the brand, leaning on each other’s strengths. How does the team work together? 

Because we grew up supporting each other, it was natural for us to work together. In 2003 we lost our mother, a single mother to us. Before she passed away, she said, “Let’s stick together and support each other.” We have kept that culture. We went to the same schools, and we have one year apart. That has helped a lot. 

Is there ever a time the team argues and doesn’t agree on designs or strategy?

Yes, they [disagreements] are there consistently. But like the Italians, kuyaxatyanya kuphinde kuvanwe [you fight and get along again]. 

The business takes priority in everything. When we are on the business premises, we are not siblings at all. We are colleagues, and we should be given the respect we deserve as professionals in the field we are qualified in. 

So besides being Mr Businessman, what do you do for time out? 

I like going out and mixing with other people. I grew up as a creative, being indoors and focusing. Now my lifestyle has changed. I like going out clubbing, restaurants and the likes to meet people. 

And it’s actually overwhelming sometimes to hear feedback about the brand. Sometimes I go out for research purposes to see what people are wearing and how people are wearing the brand. 

Umngqusho [samp and beans] or amasi or neither?

Amasi. Every day. That is the only thing I have a passion for cooking. I hate cooking in general, but my mother taught me how to cook the perfect umphokoqo. 

What is your morning routine? 

I wake up and eat porridge. That mielie meal porridge every morning. I take a bath with that green sunlight bar [laughs]. 

I swear I use the face cloth with that green bar soap. Then head to work. Nothing too sophisticated in my morning. 

Growing up in Port Elizabeth, what is your preference for the name of the city? Maybe GQ (Gqeberha)?

Definitely not Port Elizabeth. I’m not 100% sure of Gqeberha, but I like that its a tongue twister. That’s why I chose MaXhosa as the name of the brand. And a lot of people were against that because they say it’s difficult to pronounce. And I told them that that’s a way of learning a language. To be honest, I would keep the Gqeberha name. 

Many people look at you and how you have stayed true to yourself: being African, being a creative and turning it into such a success. What does it take?

It takes knowing what your purpose is. Your purpose would be what

you want to be known for when you’ve died. I think it takes that consciousness, and also it takes hard work and not being solely dependent on talent. It takes in-depth education, not just for a qualification, but knowledge. Those three, for me, combined, [mean] success is guaranteed.

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Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

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