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Q&A: Denzel Vilakazi launched NESU as an expression of being African

by | Sep 4, 2020

South African designer Denzel Vilakazi studied Fashion Design at the Tshwane University of Technology. After placing second at the Sansui Summer Cup in Gauteng in 2017, the Edcon Group pulled him into their 21 Steps to Retail programme where he founded NESU.

NESU is all about creating with the purpose of preserving South African craft and art through modern garments for women, men and gender-neutral individuals.

The lasting impact of Black is King will be in directing us all to look at ourselves and unlearn our biases against each other

NESU features on Beyonce’s directory of Black- and African-owned businesses, The Black Parade Route curated by wardrobe curator and founder of Black Owned Everything, Zerina Akers. Twyg caught up with the young creative to find out more.

Tell us about NESU.

I wanted to create a fashion brand to encompass a holistic experience of being African today. NESU was developed as an effort to preserve as well as develop already existing South African cultural-artistic techniques. I participated in the Design Innovation Challenge which equips undergraduate designers with skills in business development and fashion design. In addition, NESU exhibited at the SA Fashion Week designer pop-up which helped me understand brand positioning and gave me access to markets in fashion retail.

Where do you find the inspiration for your designs?

I draw my inspiration from a multitude of spaces. Mainly from my heritage being umZulu, as well as the collective story we share as people of this complex yet beautiful continent. My fine art background influences a huge portion of how I materialise my design processes – how one can manipulate a flat surface of a fabric and transform it into a multidimensional surface. My family also has a hand of influence on the design aspect, especially my father who is an archivist. He is always documenting and capturing so it felt natural in adding that function of storytelling into my clothing. Fashion is a visual language often expressing parts of ourselves that might not be noticed at a glance and because of that, the design of Fashion is a reflection of socio-political events.

How does it feel to be featured on Beyoncé’s Black Parade directory?

It felt surreal when I saw NESU listed on the Black Parade. It’s an affirmation on recognising the value and intended purpose of my brand. The business is fairly in its infancy stages and it is a lovely feeling to be uplifted in this regard.

What do you think of the cultural narrative of Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”?

No artist is exempt from criticism. Art is meant for people to engage and consume. Beyoncé has used her platform and superstardom to benefit Black-owned enterprises across many disciplines. Black is King has highlighted the need to recognise the contributions of Africans in artistic industries worldwide. Conversations about economic empowerment of Black people had already been happening. The visual album has amplified this. The lasting impact of Black is King will be in directing us all to look at ourselves and unlearn our biases against each other, especially xenophobia, gender-based violence against women, children, and members of my community, the LGBTQI+. Lastly, the album is an anthem of love and self reclamation.

What materials do you see influencing and shaping social, contemporary culture going forward?

I genuinely believe African creatives will continue shaping global culture. However, the issues surrounding mental health will be at the forefront and continue being a topic throughout the next few seasons. In fashion retail, conscious-consumer spending will shape production of garments from seed to the end of use. Consumers have become much more concerned with the environmental impact of clothing and the impact on livelihoods, which is just lovely to see.

How do you apply sustainability in design?

I’m more focused on ethically-manufactured textiles. At the moment I try to minimise my usage of paper in pattern work, printing, and admin documents. With fabric, I use the excess to turn into other garments. I do believe our saving grace as fashion developers is in building on existing indigenous methods of textile creation. We should all contribute to ethically manufactured products for the benefit of our environment and in turn, ourselves.

What challenges do you face as a designer?

The issue is establishing a consistent source of capital as well as building fruitful, professional relationships that won’t become exploitative. Stabilising my mental health makes all the difference in whether I can deliver to consumers and my partners. I choose to sharpen my focus on subjects that will not be detrimental to my health in the long run.

Top 3 eco-brands that you are following right now?

I believe African indigenous methods of manufacturing products are the most sustainable. Almost all materials used are from renewable resources, if not recycled. These techniques just haven’t been commercialised or developed to suit mass markets and the few that have been, are not producing optimal results.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited about developing an archival journal documenting African practices and the cultural ideologies behind them. I expect to collaborate with several African art practitioners on this journey. Secondly, I am in the process of launching my online store.

Feature Image

Models: @elton.mashani @ljaythestylist_za

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Designer Denzel Vilakazi: Supplied

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Models: @elton.mashani @ljaythestylist_za

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Model: @bbymarv

*7 September 2020: This is an updated version of the original article which was posted on the 4th of September.


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