From a technical prowess honed during his time at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, to a debut at New York Fashion Week in 2019, Lukhanyo is no small-time designer. Added to this, Lukhanyo was hand picked to participate in the Ethical Fashion Initiative’s Accelerator 2020 programme, which focuses on getting designers from around the world investment ready. And yet, the taste of fame seems not to have affected the designer whose work continues to impress through its intention, innovation and inimitable style.
Mdingi was the winner of Twyg’s 2019 Award for Innovative Design and Materials – an accolade which lines up perfectly with Mdingi’s vision. His stated intention is to create a brand “anchored by intelligent and considered design” – a practice he has been engaged in since the label’s inception in 2015. Since then, Lukhanyo and his gorgeous armour-like pieces have caught the eye of NATAAL, i-D, the British Fashion Council and Vogue Italia. Speaking to the Mail and Guardian’s Dinika Govender last year, the designer explains :ow he came to his current praxis:
“I want to be thinking about integrity, intention and how that connects honestly to my outcome,” he stresses. “Two years ago [is] when I really started to make my decisions based off the answer to the question, ‘Why are you doing this?’ This was not just in my business or in my design but within me. I really wanted to live in a way that mirrored a sense of goodness, respect, integrity and honesty.”
And these aren’t only human values. They extend to his use of materials and fabrication as well. In a world of complex, tech-enhanced fabric options, Mdingi believes in the integrity of premium natural materials. These include wool, silk and mohair, which he flattens, wraps and integrates into his monk-like silhouettes. This is not your grandma’s wool jumper or silk scarf but rather a reimagining of these materials in the way they celebrate African body types; and highlight our rich skin tones. Famously introverted, Lukhanyo Mdingi’s form of innovation is not the scream in your face space-inspired type that we’ve come to associate with that word. His work is a constantly evolving journey that uses design, technique and fabric in ways that were more elegant and efficient than before. And sure, this also accounts for the luxury status his garments occupy, they are indicative of a focus on design and storytelling as opposed to the most easily saleable items on offer.
This is a bold choice to make as a South African designer, and especially for Mdingi, who has until last year worked other jobs in order to support his label. Lack of public funding and support for designers is a pervasive issue, even those like Mdingi, who have “made it big”. Nevertheless, the brand continues to keep on its mission to produce high quality, trans seasonal designs which celebrate and elevate natural products and ethical production in fashion.
Despite the challenges of the local and international fashion industries, the name Lukhanyo Mdingi continues to be reflective of the cutting edge of South African fashion. Through a careful understanding of the ‘glocal’ aesthetic that wearers have come to appreciate, and a consistent commitment to offering something futuristic and opulent, Mdingi has created a brand that is in a class of its own.