In South African indigenous cultures, the surrounding land and resources become part of the people. With a metaphysical connection to the natural world, it is no surprise that Mpumalanga-born Katekani Moreku would bring his culture and surroundings to bear in his signature colourful creations. Raised in Bushbuckridge in the lowveld, the area known for pine, tobacco, cotton and colourful traditional garb made a strong impression on the 28-year-old designer, setting the scene for his now successful label.
But the link between environment and passion was not an immediate one. Katekani admits that fashion was not on his vision board as a young boy growing up. Instead, he hoped only to study, and on a friend’s recommendation, headed to the Durban University of Technology to pursue fashion design. There, his love for sharp dressing took on a new life and resulted in Katekani winning the MEC Recognition Award for Eco-Friendly Fashion from the KZN Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs and in 2019, he was the recipient of the Twyg Sustainable Student Award. Balancing a deep respect for his land and his people, with the strong technical guidance offered by the university environment, he understood that fashion would be the vehicle for achieving his mission, which he describes in this way:
“My ultimate goal is to build a platform for communication through artistic fashion,” he said, while appearing on Expresso.
And the label has managed to communicate significantly during its short tenure. At the heart of the design praxis is a firm commitment to recycled, upcycled and otherwise discarded materials. For his previous collection, Katenkani went happily into his residence’s dustbins and enlisted the help of homeless friends to help source old fabrics and bits of clothing from Durban’s trash. It’s the very definition of ‘hands-on’ practice, which means that Katekani was directly engaged with everything which went into the garments. No endless factory supply or trip to the haberdashery for brand new fabric. Everyday items take centre stage, illuminated by Katekani’s design vision to create something unique, affordable and sustainable. And this last descriptor is an important one, for a designer who’s limited resources and spendthrift attitude have infused his view on the fashion industry and where he fits into it.
“We have neglected sustainability in order to make sales,” says Katekani. A member of the Sepulama people who inhabit the lowveld area across Mpumalanga and Limpopo, Katekani was exposed to the ways in which local women use sacks, recycled bags and other easily-accessible materials to make otherworldly creations, and ultimately, express their joy. This had a major impact on Katekani, whose work tackles questions of self-styling, gender expression and sustainability all in one mealie-meal inspired dress. His work is considered and complex, despite being bold and brashly colourful in its execution.
Writing about the designer in 2019, Bubblegum club writer Casey Delport describes Katekani as “resourceful, resilient and undoubtedly ready to use all he can”. This doesn’t only apply to his seemingly indiscriminate use of natural and synthetic materials, but also his heritage, experiences and cultural identity. Katekani recognises his grandmother as his single greatest single influence, because of her constant reminders for him to use his surroundings to tell his story and create.
In addition to his Twyg Sustainability Award, Katekani has received acclaim from the local design circuit, and was recently featured on CNN. He also recently connected with mega-retailer Pick n Pay Clothing, to present a Katekani collection that makes his design ideas, his cultural legacy and his ingenuity to a far wider range of consumers. Bursting through the gates of the big city design novices, Katekani is telling his own story in his own sustainable way. At just 28 years old, there is no doubt that he will achieve his goal of designing “a different chapter of the story of Sepulana”.