Front Row with Namhla Thiwani of Makhundai
Our next interviewee for FRM is a uniquely talented fashion stylist & creative director from the heartbeat of Johannesburg. Namhla Thiwani is a stark example of the promising future of fashion design in South Africa–running their own brand, Makhundai, and doubling up as a creative consultant for Indigo Thrift.
Interestingly enough, I first engaged with Namhla's work earlier this year within their styling capacity, as they were working on an editorial job with a local publication. I quickly began to notice the correlation between Namhla's personal style & how they style their clients; Minimalist, sartorial, elegant & considered. There is also an emphasis on natural tones and nude colours–something which I also managed to pick up within Makhundai's overall design aesthetic.
Makhundai feels like a native Johannesburg brand. Their brand ethos incorporates slow and sustainable qualities whilst flirting with interior design sensibilities. Items include soft textured corduroy shirts & bags, 8 panel hats, cream toned box fit shirts and more–accentuated by the brands lush artistic direction under Namhla's creative tutelage. Makhundai's existing brand footprint is fitting for a homemade South African label, using materials such as "Umbhaco" which reference Xhosa culture, as well as crafting authentic creative narratives which aptly represent our African diaspora.
So enjoy this following interview with Namhla as we delve into their psyche and aim to understand their creative identity, inspirations which underpin their work with Makhundai, the meaning of being an ethical designer, referencing culture within your work, and much more.
Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?
NT: I'm Namhla.
What are you most inspired by when it comes to your design process?
NT: I'm inspired by the most mundane things–it could be the guy you see at the taxi rank, magriza at the fabric store or a conversation with a loved one.
I'd love to hear more about Makhundai. Could you tell me a bit more about the name of the brand and what it means to you as the creator?
NT: Makhundai was named after my father whose name was Makhulu (My tribe) Andile–which meant "our tribe has multiplied"–and to me Makhundai has always felt like a force of some sort that's propelled me to hone in on all of my creative endeavors. It always serves as a reminder that I am an extension of an elite tribe, therefore I do not come as one. There are people that came before me and did fashion before they even knew what it was–so I felt called to take it as far as I can for the generations that'll exist after me.
What would you say is the Design aesthetic of Makhundai? What motivates your silhouettes and colours/textures?
NT: To be honest, I cannot answer this question with much clarity but I'd say minimalist. But then again, as I tap into the design spectrum, it broadens. What motivates the choice of silhouettes and overall design taste has always been the fact that I've struggled finding the perfect silhouette that does not give me an identity crisis.
According to you–what does it mean to be an 'ethical designer' within today's fashion ecosystem?
NT: To me, being an ethical designer means creating from a place of authenticity and intention, whilst taking into consideration that nothing is really new–you just do it better because it comes from a different space. Looking at how you contribute towards the environment you exist in too.
You also express an inclination towards Interior Design within Makhundai. Could you tell me a bit more about this element of the Brand and where it spawned from?
NT: Interior Design really amplifies the brand adage–which is to recognise style as more than just garments but as a way of life too. It's in how you exist and incorporate elements of design in the spaces you live in.
Makhundai authentically feels like a home-based Johannesburg brand to me. And I was wondering whether that is intentional on your end or not? Moreso, I think my actual question is: How important is referencing your culture & roots within your creative practice?
NT: I think it's not intentional because it's who I am and the essence of how I see life. The intention comes when I choose to give that idea life and the importance is equivalent to that of breathing; I can't explain it.
What are some of the things you are looking forward to during the remainder of 2023?
NT: I look forward to learning new ways to make life a blissful experience.