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Design Futures Lab 2023 creatives imagine a brighter future by blurring real and virtual fashion

by | Jul 17, 2023

“We have a crisis of imagination,” said Marina Gattás, Wellbeing Economy Alliance Brazil Hub Co-Lead, during her presentation at the Design Futures Lab 2023. The lab creatives are addressing this failure of imagination. Using possibilities offered by immersive technology, they are exploring a plurality of fashion futures that exist in socio-environmental harmony.

The Design Futures Lab 2023 took place at Workshop 17 earlier this year in Cape Town. The lab is a creative economy project, hosted by Electric South, Twyg, and KOROKOZA, and supported by the British Council #SouthernAfricaArts. Six teams of two creatives – from South Africa and Zimbabwe – were selected to participate, including fashion designers, artists, musicians, journalists, and creative technologists. Each team presented a concept they want to bring to life as an immersive media prototype.

Design Futures Lab 2023 Participant

The second iteration of the lab built on the foundations set by the first, which took place in April last year. The intention of the first lab was to break down the imaginary boundaries between sustainable fashion and immersive technology in order to explore what unfolds in the middle ground. This year, the teams continued this layered work while delving further into context-specific fashion realities, such as waste colonialism, cultural sustainability, and the need to revive once-thriving local textile ecosystems. “Clothing implicates and connects us all,” said Nikissi Serumaga, filmmaker and co-creator of the Vintage or Violence docuseries, during her talk at the lab.

“The lab reminded me that we are all interconnected with nature and each other. It has moved me to design my clothing with this in mind,” says Sabina Mutsvati, one of the lab participants.

On the first day of the four-day lab, Twyg hosted a series of talks that prompted the teams to consider the complexities of the fashion industry, and the many pathways towards more caring fashion systems. Speakers included Celinda Palm (Swedish fashion researcher and academic), Raihana Govender (founder of Mors Design), Marina Gattás (Wellbeing Economy Alliance Brazil Hub Co-Lead), Nikissi Serumaga (filmmaker and co-creator of the Vintage or Violence docuseries), Erica de Greef (founder of the Africa Fashion Research Institute), Kate Fletcher (British fashion scholar), and Thania Petersen (multidisciplinary fine artist).

“How do we also conscientise young people so that they see a sustainable fashion culture future? We can surely do that by exposing them to creative technology like AR, which allows them to access this information in a fun way, and that allows them to weave in serious conversations about climate change and the impact of the fashion industry and critically think of what we can do about it,” says Siza Mukwedini, new media content producer and one of the lab participants.

Design Futures Lab 2023 Participant

After the opening day of talks, Electric South, in partnership with KOROKOZA, challenged the creatives to take fashion theories and translate them into virtual worlds. The focus was on developing skills, practicing teamwork, sharing different ways of approaching virtual technologies, and becoming comfortable with different software and equipment. Jason Stapleton and Kombo Chapfika were present as advisors to help guide the teams in their new, digital, learning journeys.

The three days of digital lab work were punctuated by insightful offerings from practitioners such as Ntando Ngwenya (an alumnus of the Design Futures Lab 2022), Mbangaliso Mabaso, Nirma Madhoo, Violeta Ayala, and Sara Lisa Vogl.

Design Futures Lab 2023 Participant

“I hope the lab is just a start, I hope it serves the participants as their entry point into creating extended reality projects. It was a step forward to have three teams from Zimbabwe participating. There’s an enormous talent and growing awareness of emerging media practices. I hope the lab equips participants with some creative technical knowledge and more insight into real-world sustainable practices and supply chains,” says Kombo Chapfika, co-founder of KOROKOZA and a lab advisor.

“The future for African artists and creatives is in exploring digital platforms,” says Tawanda Mudzonga, co-founder of KOROKOZA.

At the end of the four days, each team presented pitches, after expanding their minds and skillsets during the preceding days. Now that the in-person portion of the lab has concluded, the next couple of months will see the teams bringing their ideas to reality in creating of immersive digital prototypes.


  • Once completed, the prototypes will be exhibited at various events and locations.
  • Images: Photos by Pie in the Sky Production
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