Zxaveier Kunene juggles many roles. Formerly the Entertainment and Influencer Specialist at adidas South Africa, he recently moved to Reebok as Footwear Manager. He is also an independent designer and upcycler, a culture analyst and one quarter of the style collective The Sartists along with Andile Buka, Wanda Lephoto, and Kabelo Kungwane, who came together to create an archive of work that will be a reference point for people in the future.
You’re known by many names: Ricky Kunene, Xzavier, Xzavier Zulu. What do you call yourself?
Xzavier, Xzavier Kunene. That’s the now realised intersectionality’s between my birth name, Ricky Kunene, and my pseudonym, Xzavier Zulu.
From where do you source inspiration for your thinking and your practice?
My late grandmother. She’s my most considered source of inspiration, the loudest voice in my head, my confidante. She comes to me in my dreams and talks me through upcycling ideas to which I wake to actualise – sometimes immediately. It’s funny, when I first told my mother of my upcycling process and how my grandmother comes to me in my dreams, she told me that as a young mother my grandmother used to make quilts from off-cuts she sourced from clothing factories and sell them in the CBD. Since then, I feel that my journey has been affirmed on a level unlike many, spiritually.
How do you engage with the complicated dynamics of respecting people, planet and profit?
Truthfully, I think we’re beyond this balancing act. We need to ensure that we’re prioritising the commitment to our planet. We need to work together: corporates and communities to ensure change.
Your primary material is denim. Why?
Denim became my material of choice because of the accessibility I had to it while thrifting in inner city of Johannesburg. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that my journey could reflect the potential of so many other creatives who may not “have”. I call denim my democratic fabric of choice. As a fabric, it allows me to democratise the messaging of sustainability; and relate to more people. Initially, I thought the act of upcycling (giving an old pair of jeans a second life) was one of the highest forms of the fabric but as my understanding of sustainability grows, I’m looking at how the off-cuts of my garments can be used to make bricks with the help of fellow-collaborators and designers like Matthew Edwards aka Matte Binary.
Xzavier Zulu’s EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE archival collection
What does your workspace look and feel like?
I think a lot of people have glamorised my production process and environment. I do not have a studio space – I’ve produced the majority of my garments on my kitchen table. My home is exposed concrete and wood – very “Rick Owens” vibes, honest, peaceful – which allows for an organic sampling process. I work with independent CMT’s that are intrigued by my journey.
What does an ideal sustainable fashion future look?
Unfortunately terms like slow fashion and sustainable fashion have become bumper sticker slogans and marketing campaigns instead of the intentional and considered ways of thinking and purposeful acts that they should be. The more the conversation develops, the more I believe that the democratisation of resources and accessibility will go a long way to creating a sustainable future. Ideally, I’d hope for the core needs of all to be served – beyond fashion and dress and these should not be luxuries for the select few. Sustainability is neither linear or one-dimensional by any means.
How do you bring together your fashion identities?
Throughout the years, I’ve crafted my voice for each expression of my work – whether for my previous role at adidas, upcycling thrifted garments, coming together with my brothers as The Sartists or my new appointment at Reebok, etc. They have been evolutions of my identity which is rooted in purpose. So while I do corporate work, I don’t stifle my voice. My work with brands has contributed to the conversation about community building and local partnerships with global brands.
What are South African and African designers getting right when it comes to sustainable design?
More than anything, it would be amiss to not make it clear that designers across the continent face layered challenges with regards to resources and accessibility and that sustainable practices are not always possible as most are at the mercy of their immediate environments. That being said, many are defining sustainability for an African context. While practicing sustainability, some are not even calling themselves sustainable. I’d like to mention incredible brands doing this including Lukhanyo Mdingi, SELFI, LRNCE, AAKS and Tongoro.
Who are the designers who’ve had the most impact on your journey?
CELINE, HYKE, NIGO®, Maison Margiela, Heron Preston, Sacai, Stüssy, Levi’s®, adidas, Rick Owens, Michèle Lamy, UNDERCOVER, SUNNEI, and YEEZY are my reference points for style, dress, fashion and design. Their respective contributions throughout the years to both pop culture and fashion have affirmed my sense of purpose and understanding of the work still to be done in order to craft my voice. For this I’m thankful.
- Photos supplied