MUNKUS was founded, in 2019, by Thando Ntuli. Born in Soweto, she was called “Munkus” by her family, a name that she now attaches to a sense of home. As the creative director and owner of the brand, Thando uses the power of storytelling, through her clothing, to allow women to be their most colourful, comfortable, and loud self. Taking inspiration from the generational line of mothers in her life, she wants to raise the voice of the everyday woman through craft.
Thando recently showcased at SA Fashion Week with an AW23 collection called Umama Wami or My Mother. We asked Thando a few questions to learn more.
What is your earliest memory of being enchanted and fascinated by fashion?
I was always the one to shop in everyone’s closet at home and have received a bad reputation for not returning others’ items. I see it now as being fascinated by everyone’s style and wanting to wear the pieces, but make them my own.
I have always been interested in pieces that are unusual or different from the norm. This was also clear through my play with colour and print in art-making. But, my origin as a closet thief was my humble beginning.
Tell us about yourself.
I am who I am because of my family and upbringing in South Africa. I am so thankful for them being loud, colourful, and most importantly open-minded. I truly believe I come from a family of creatives who didn’t have the resources to explore their creativity as I do today.
Still, it allowed me to be driven in this field and willing to take any risk despite the outcome. So naturally, my storytelling and narrative are written with them as the main characters and with my home being the location.
What story is MUNKUS sharing?
That there is always a place called home. The concept of who you are at home plays a big part in my brand because it’s how I take on the world. I am my most comfortable self when at home. Whether I am in PJs feeling my worst or breaking into song feeling my best – I am the most comfortable me at home. I take on the world outside the house with the same mentality – so confident as if no one is watching.
MUNKUS was inspired by a generational line of women in my life. The women who wore many hats for me to have the life I have today. This is an important statement in my brand as my collections have always been linked to their influence. I want my brand to create a space for women to be their best version and to be a way of expression while taking their life journeys.
Tell us a bit about your latest collection, Umama Wami.
A lot has changed in my life in a short period, and I have had moments where the bigger picture seemed blurry, but my mother! My mother has always been there for me.
When you get older, you notice and appreciate even more when you look into your parents’ history and daily battles. She reminds me of my greatness and capabilities, and I honestly felt it was time I reminded her of how amazing she is and how much she deserves.
I wouldn’t be me without my family, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mother. This collection is honestly a drop in the ocean. I just hope I can open the door to conversation and appreciation of mothers.
Where do you find inspiration for a collection?
My collections are linked to my growing and learning as a young woman. My experiences today are more linked to my self-awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of my history. I might be at the stage where I am starting to understand what I love, whom I love around me, what I want for the future, and what I can do today to have that future. Honestly, I just hope the path I form can help the next little one with their dreams and simply paint their story.
How does MUNKUS’ approach sustainability?
A key identifier of our brand is layering which allows customers to have multiple pieces that can be assembled in different ways. The direction is for future collections to be easily worn with existing pieces. Layering allows MUNKUS to not only narrow the age gap between women but allows them to have creative input in how to style pieces while giving them versatility for different occasions.
MUNKUS puts effort into technical detail and craft in the hope that the customer will build sentimental value and an appreciation for the item beyond quality and fabric. We value timeless pieces.
I think being a designer that designs beyond a sale and looks at the entire lifecycle of a garment is truly a creative.
Your brand is intergenerational. What can we learn from previous generations about fashion? And what can they learn from us?
From them: I think choosing a piece because it connects with your story and can hold memory afterward. Every time my mothers speak about their clothing, they know why they bought it and how it made them feel. A garment truly had a life story and cycle.
From us: The growing interest in understanding how something was made, who made it, and why they made it. I think the appreciation of the artisan and conscious consumer has truly grown. I think both generations can pass down timeless clothing with sentimental value and ethical creation.
MUNKUS creates heirloom pieces. Do you have a story of an heirloom piece that you love and cherish?
I mostly work with bull denim, because it is durable and truly gets better over time. I made a corset following a 1600s boning technique that came out beautifully, but also was as tough as armour. It was my first experience in manipulating fabric to that extent and I think was the first piece that made me think I could be a good sustainable designer one day.
If you could change one thing about the way we relate to our clothing, what would it be?
The concept that we have already worn something so we can’t wear it again. We need to learn to become stylists in our own right. The most interesting conversation is telling people how versatile a piece is.
Share a few local brands you are loving, at the moment.
Fikile Sokhulu, because I found a friend who truly designs and creates in an artistic tone and not to the drum of fast fashion. Ezokhetho, because Mpumi has strong messaging behind his pieces. And Imprint, because Mzukisi is such a colourful and loving soul, and he welcomed me inoo this industry with open arms. All talented, all coming up and growing, all young.