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Q&A: Mother of Gao designer reflects on her slow, nature-inspired process

by | Apr 29, 2022

I first came across Mother of Gao on Instagram and was immediately drawn to their warm, welcoming earth tones and products that balance form and beauty while prioritising a mindful design process. Natural dyeing and making use of fabric waste is central to Mother of Gao’s considered production process, which is deeply inspired by nature and founder, Katlego Mokwana’s personal heritage.

I caught up with Katlego to find out more about the brand and how she got into the business of upcycling and nature-inspired design.

When did your journey as a maker begin?

My journey as a maker started in my first year of varsity in 2017. Although, I believe that my journey of making items that spoke true to who I am only started after varsity in 2021. That’s when I decided to register the brand.

Can you tell us a bit about your brand and the story behind the name?

In short, Mother of Gao is a brand that tackles reversible design while also using nature’s beauty to add colour to some of our textiles. The name is inspired by me being a mother to my daughter Gaopaleloe, which is Gao for short.

Mindful making is often a personal process. How does your brand reflect who you are?

The reflection of my heritage and personal journey, in the brand, stems from my childhood. I reflected on how my grandparents used to preserve and reuse items in creative ways. The journey was always slow and a lot of thought went into the process of making. To give my products an essence of who I am, I try to keep everything interchangeable and trans-seasonal because I believe in capsule wardrobes.

Your brand aims to embody a sense of tranquility that is found in nature. Where do you look for your inspiration?

Everywhere, in anything. I mostly find inspiration in moments and places that resonate with my childhood experiences or whatever I feel connected to at the time. In order to give my products a sense of tranquility, I always make sure to either choose colours that are often found in nature or opt to naturally dye certain elements in my products.

Your collection of mindful products is called ‘incense, tea, and stone’. Tell us about the name and the intention behind the collection.

The name broken down into its three elements represents essential aspects that remind me of my late grandparents. Incense is a reminder of how my grandmother would burn incense in the house to clear the atmosphere from negative energies. Tea is a reminder of how my grandmother would constantly ask me to make tea for her. And, stone is a reminder of how warm and inviting my grandparent’s house was. The intention behind it was to highlight those elements in my designs by using the colours, shapes, and details to better articulate the story behind them.

How do you make use of sustainable production processes?

At Mother of Gao, I use natural dyes, a zero-waste strategy, produce in small batches, and create reversible items in hopes of tackling overconsumption in the fashion industry.

Waste is a huge issue in the fashion industry. I love the idea behind your #mogscraps campaign! Can you tell us more about it and what made you decide to work with waste, instead of creating more of it?

I got the idea to make this zero waste campaign when my fabric bin started pilling up and I had no clue what to do with it. I decided to work with the waste by creating exclusive products with the offcuts by using them as panels. I’m honestly a fan of #mogscraps because I love seeing the finished products I create from fabric waste. They’re so unique and raw. I also create pillow inners with fabric scraps that cannot be used to create products.

How did you get into natural dyeing and eco-printing?

I was first introduced to the idea of natural dyes in varsity when my creative design lecturer mentioned that you can dye fabric with tea. I then took that information and did some experiments. The outcome made me really happy which pushed me into looking for various ways to dye fabric naturally. As my love for this process grew, I did some research on botanical dyes, printing, and ink methods. I am currently on a journey of learning and discovering all the shades nature has to offer.

What are your tips for someone who has never tried natural dyeing or eco-printing before, but is curious about it?

Start experimenting with food waste and plants in your garden. You should consider purchasing books on natural dyes so that you have a better understanding of the methods. The internet also helps, but I would highly recommend books. Following natural dyers on Instagram also helps since many of them offer online courses for natural dyeing.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

I look forward to the opportunity of having access to natural textiles such as hemp and linen since this has been a financial challenge for me. I also look forward to scaling my products and introducing clothing made with natural textiles.


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