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Q&A Nombuso Khanyile treads lightly with Afrikan Passion Designs

by | Apr 24, 2020

Nombuso Khanyile, a Durban-based designer and BSC Biochemistry and Microbiology graduate, stitches her heart and soul into handmade leather products  which are upcycled from tyre and plastic material.  

Afrikan Passion Designs was realised in 2015 by Nombuso’s now partner, Nisbert Kembo. Inspired by the pair of sandals she had bought from Nisbert and the quest to fight climate change, the two joined up in 2017. 

Afrikan Passion Designs is all about being proud of African heritage through re-interpretation while paying homage to historical style. “Afrikan with a K is a statement of taking back our identity as Afrikans, since my partner Nisbert is Shona and the rest of the team is Zulu, we are all Nguni people making designs inspired by Afrikan style.”

Afrikan Passion Designs use tyres as sandal soles and plastic in bag designs in a bid to create sustainable and environmentally conscious accessories. The small business has up and coming plans to use vegtan leather – a process where leather is tanned using plant-based dyes, rather than the harmful chemicals used in conventional tanning.

Nombuso’s sustainable designs earned her the Youth Connect Innovative Business prize and a Design Indaba 2020 Emerging Creative title.

In this instalment of Twyg’s Q&A series, we chat to Nombuso about craft, challenges, biodesign, and where she sees the industry going.

Why is your craft so special to you? I get to tell a story about a certain pre-meditated thought, whilst creating an everyday useful product, for example, Art As A Bag, a bag I exhibited at Design Indaba in February which is inspired by mental health awareness. Art As A Bag is handmade using leather offcuts , stitched together to make a complete bag. The message is that we can slowly but surely overcome our mental health illnesses and help others to overcome it too. 

Where do you source your materials from? We get discarded  tyres from dump sites, garages and from car repairs retailers. We source our leather from various stores in the Durban CBD, and plastic from our community.

What does sustainability in design mean to you? Why is sustainability in design important Sustainability means creating high quality products with environmentally friendly materials that will last a lifetime thus can be reused.

What challenges do you face as a designer? Xenophobia. Nisbert is from Zimbabwe and can’t go to town to buy material. I have to be the one who does it. Coming up with new authentic designs that pople will buy and appreciate is quite challenging too.

Do you think fashion can eliminate divisions whether it be cultural, racial, ethnic, religious etc in our society? Yes, our products are unisex thus they challenge what is socially acceptable as male/ female accessories.

What are you doing to protect your business against coronavirus? Educating our customers about the virus on how it’s spread etc. Going digital and working from home.

Is this the moment that digital fashion shopping takes hold? Yes, in a time where studios are no longer of use, going digital is the only solution. It challenges us and our customers to eliminate the digital divide and socially interact as much as we can.

What was the first thing you did to invest in your business?  Build a healthy working environment by emphasising communication, respect and understanding with my partners.

If you weren’t a designer, what do you think you would be doing now? Studying, or probably in Agriculture, another love of mine.

Do you think there is a way to blend both your passion for microbiology and design? Yes, Biodesign is of interest to me. I wish to make an environmentally friendly material to replace leather by using microorganisms.

What advice would you give to local businesses now that are struggling to hold onto hope? Be resilient, find ways to be innovative and use the internet to our benefit. 

  • For more information visit the website, or the monhtly iHeart Market and Eco market in Durban
  • Photos: Supplied
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