Laduma beats the best

Xhosa-inspired designs are bound to make the world sit up and take note

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Collaborating with international homewear giant Ikea on a range of Xhosa design inspired carpets, rugs and cushions means celebrated Eastern Cape designer Laduma Ngxokolo the world will soon see his products in Ikea stores.
Port Elizabeth-born Ngxokolo, 32, was one of 12 creatives chosen from five African countries to be part of the Överallt Africa Collection. Consisting of innovative basketware, chairs, cookware, benches and bags from South Africa, Senegal, Kenya, Egypt and the Ivory Coast, the collection was launched at the Cape Town Design Indaba from February 27 to March 1.
“It was fascinating for me because I was one of only three South African designers - and the only Eastern Caper – to represent the country at a global level,” said Ngxokolo, who shot to international fame for his geometric Xhosa-inspired knitwear.
“My aesthetic is very centred around Xhosa culture. I hope this cultural DNA will live in a global context in a very big way, because this is Ikea.”
As part of the annual Design Indaba’s emerging creatives in 2011, Ngxokolo clearly made an impression, because his name was proposed by the Design Indaba when Ikea came a-knocking.
“Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo put forward my name to Ikea,” said the designer, who is now based in Johannesburg, where he has a factory producing his knitwear and textile designs under his label MaXhosa by Laduma.
Being part of the Överallt limited edition collection meant Ngxokolo got to fine-tune his designs in Malmo, Sweden and the collaboration was a two-way exchange of product design concepts.
“Two years ago we started collaborating with Ikea designers at their headquarters in Sweden. The Scandinavians are very conservative and modest so their aesthetic is quite minimalist,” said the designer, whose garments once caught Beyoncé’s eye at a New York exhibition and inspired her to blog about them.
Famously taught by his mother to use a knitting machine, Ngxokolo went on to study textile design and technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University before making waves locally and abroad with his Xhosa-inspired men’s knits. His work has been shown Berlin, London, New York and Paris and he more recently branched into homewear.
“I came with something more detailed and quite busy and so I toned down my design in a bid to appeal to a wider audience and to fit different home spaces. My designs are artistic and colourful, but Ikea [favours] more corporate colours and earthy tones. At their offices they have different variations of living spaces so we learnt to consider different spaces.”
In the spirit of true collaboration, he also taught the in-house Ikea designers a thing or two.
“I was teaching them! I told them about Xhosa beadwork patterns and how they were used as symbolism and a form of communication before people learnt to read and write, so it was a cultural experience for them.”
The artistic result is a modern but timeless collection of rugs, carpets and cushions adorned with his characteristic geometric shapes in subtle tones. “I used beige, navy and black and small touches of colour.”
A roomy exhibition space was devoted to his contributions to the collection at the distinctly modish Överallt zone of the recent Design Indaba, which attracted influential creatives from all over the world.
His acrylic carpets were manufactured in Egypt, while the cotton cushions and wool rugs were made in India.
“The other designers went to the factories, but I communicated with the factories over the phone regarding the technical specifications and look of the products.”
And, now that they have wowed delegates and visitors to the Design Indaba, the African-inspired range will launch in Ikea outlets on May 1. “It is fascinating that a product with my name on it will go to millions of homes and will last for a long time.”..

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