Together for tomorrow


Q&A: St Reign’s founder Samkelisiwe Mhlongo explains vegtan leather

by | Apr 18, 2020

St Reign is a minimalist leather lifestyle brand inspired by slick, simple, clean lines that make for timeless statement pieces. Founder Samkelisiwe Mhlongo uses vegtan leather pieces. Vegtan is leather that is tanned using plant-based dyes, rather than the harmful chemicals used in conventional tanning. Thirty-four year old Samekelisiwe who lives in Amanzimtoti on the south coast of Durban, chatted to us about her work:


What was the first thing you did to invest in your business?   I took a course in leather crafting, which has helped me in constructing bags from beginning to end. I had a background in fashion design but I knew nothing about bags.

What does sustainability in design mean to you? It means thinking about the future and preserving the planet for the next generation. A sustainable garment avoids being harmful to the environment and to the people who make the garments . People should work under good working and be fairly compensated. 

Where do you source your materials from? I source from local tanneries and leather craft shops. I started adding a craft element to the bags, by involving local artisans. The Imbadada Collection is inspired by Izimbadada sandals, a shoe popularly worn by Zulu people with their traditional attires. These shoes are usually made by men who stay in hostels across SA. This is their only source of income. I am sourcing sandal straps from men in living in hostels.  I use the straps, made from recycled tyres, to embellish my bags. The men carve decorative patterns into these tyre straps for the sandals. 

What challenges do you face as a designer? The biggest challenge is learning to do business: sourcing funding and access to market are real challenges.

Do you think fashion can eliminate divisions whether it be cultural, racial, ethnic, religious? Lack of understanding about each other causes divisions. Fashion designers often draw inspiration from each others cultures which helps end stereotypes, honours cultures and celebrates each other. If done correctly this has a positive influence. 

Is your packaging environmentally friendly? Yes. I use paper bags made of brown kraft board.

Why is your craft so special to you?  I can imagine something in my head, draw it on paper and then bring it to life, using my hands. Nothing is more special than putting effort and time into making each piece.

When and where are you most creative?  I am most creative at night. I am pretty nocturnal so it’s usually me and my thoughts. That’s when ideas flow. Or in the early hours of the morning. My home studio window faces the ocean. I usually sit by the window with a cup of coffee while watching the sun rise. 

Who are your design inspirations and influencers and why? I draw most of my inspiration from everyday life and people. I am also influenced by the minimalism movement and the women who raised me. My mom Thembi, her late sister Flo and my grandmother are very stylish women who cultivated my love for fashion.

What are you doing to protect your business against coronavirus?  I have devised a plan to help keep the business afloat in the next months. I have halted production and any of the big plans that I had in the pipeline. Currently we are not shipping any orders to protect our customers and everyone else involved.

What advice would you give to local businesses now? Firstly breathe. Nothing could have prepared you for this coronavirus pandemic so no need to be hard on yourself. Make realistic goals and a plan. Don’t make drastic changes without evaluating all possibilities first. It’s going to be a tough time but it’s not impossible, we will get back on track again. Finally, don’t forget to take care of your mental health. I cannot stress this enough. Rest too, is important.

  • To purchase an item, follow St Reign on Instagram @st_reign
  • Samkelisiwe was selected as part of the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives for 2020.
  • Images supplied. Pic of Samkelisiwe was taken by @geminivision_za


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