Originally from Sebokeng zone 14 in Gauteng, 23-year-old Bhungane Mehlomakhulu is both a fashion designer and a professional ballet dancer – he dances by day and sews by night. “I’m like Hannah Montana,” says Bhungane. To find out more about the man and about his viral post featuring an upcycled Woolworths shopping bag we chatted on the phone after his long day of rehearsing for Cape Town City Ballet’s upcoming performance of Carmen.
How did your Woolworths outfit come about?
People buy these black reusable Woolworths bags and then forget them at home, and buy more. Everyone has these bags at home and no one knows what to do with them. My friends have so many of them in the house. I thought I need to use these bags. So instead of buying new fabric to prototype my patterns I used the bags. It was intended as a prototype for a denim outfit, but it worked so well that I asked my friend to shoot me in the outfit on Sunday. I posted it a few hours later and went off to watch something on television. When I looked at my social media a few hours later, it had gone viral.
Why do you think it went viral?
Honestly, I think it is because I took something everyday and normal and elevated it by a notch or two. My outfit is unexpected.
Tell me about you.
I get inspired so quickly. I appreciate the little things around me and I like to push my creativity. At school in the Vaal I did contemporary dance, and got into the National Arts School in Braamfontein were I matriculated. I auditioned for the The Cape Academy of Performing Arts, and I got in. But then I was stuck… it was going to be very expensive. I had to come up with a plan. In my free time I had been teaching myself to sew using YouTube. (YouTube is my bestie.)
Tell me more…
During my school years, I had made 15 garments. I decided to host a fashion show. I asked all the tall girls to be my models. A lot of people supported me. We had an empty pool at school, which artists had painted and this is where we hosted the fashion show.
I sold tickets. And Afternoon Espresso came to film it. It was a huge event. With the money raised, I could come to Cape Town and take up my studies at the The Cape Academy of Performing Arts, in West Lake. After I graduated in 2019, I auditioned to join the Cape Town City Ballet. And here I am.
Why is your clothes label called Bhumehl?
It’s a combination of the first three letters of my first name and the four letters of my surname.
How did you become interested in fashion?
As a child, I drew a lot. I also watched a lot of Fashion TV. Channel 178 was my religion. My cousins and friends would get so annoyed when they came to visit and I was watching YouTube and Fashion TV. But that was my fashion education.
Who are your favourite designers?
Artistic director Daniel Roseberry of Maison Schiaperelli. He is so camp, and so very skilled. I love his use of accessories. And I’m also obsessed with Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton. Locally, I admire Thebe Magugu and Rich Mnisi. Their backgrounds are so similar to mine. I really related to Thebe’s story about sleeping on friends’ couches. Rich is also inspiring.
What inspired you to upcycle?
I decided to recycle, because I wanted to use what I had instead of buying new fabric. I use old newspaper to make garments. I love using unusual materials to make them more wearable, more editorial. I love recycling. My mind is always on a trip. I love using things in the house. Instead of throwing things away, I like to use them again. I don’t feel I have to recycle – I love doing it. And I love taking the conventional and turning it into the unconventional.
How is your fashion business?
I am slowly building my customer base. I tailor and make clothes on request for friends. Before I would just make clothes, photograph them and then send them to friends and editorial shoots. Fashion is just what I do on the side – it’s my side hustle. My work is about supporting queer and women’s rights. My full time job is ballet, which I also love.
All images by @daveydex