Late last year, Lukhanyo Mdingi’s Cape Town studio was strewn with colourful rolls of fabric, clothing samples, mood boards and travel inspiration clippings as he prepared to show his latest collection for the first time in Paris at the city’s fall/winter 2022/2023 fashion week. The 32-year-old South African, who fell in love with clothing as a young boy, graduated in fashion design from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and started his eponymous label in 2015. He went on to debut at New York Fashion Week in 2019, and in 2021, he was a joint winner of the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize for a collection dedicated to his friend, former colleague and source of inspiration Nicholas Coutts, who had recently passed away.

Ever since Mdingi started designing his own collections—bright, punchy pieces that feature distinctive detailing, expertly woven elements and chic tailoring that reflect both his African roots and his ’90s upbringing—he’s been inspired to use the skills of local artisans. We recently spoke to the up-and-coming designer about his label, what inspires him and how he’s making a social impact on his community.


How did your travels inspire your latest collection?

“Last year, I went on a trip to Burkina Faso, where a lot of our textiles are made—we work with a community [of people] called the Cades, who do a lot of weaving and artisanal dyeing by hand. The fashion capital of the world is Burkina Faso. The flair, the sensibility of everyone on the streets—it’s this beautiful hybrid of artisanal attire that is also sporty and vintagey. After that trip, I wanted to dive into my mood board. It was so epic and inspiring.”

How did you interpret your travels in your most recent collection?

“When we got back to Cape Town, I wanted to use references from Seydou Keïta, a West African portrait photographer [who was active] in the 1940s, in my fall/winter 2022/2023 collection. The styling was so nuanced—the African dresses and head robes—compared to what we now see in West Africa. I also wanted to incorporate more current, sporty references because they really work hand in hand with the fashion in Burkina Faso. Through the more traditional style of the African dresses and the current street fashion, these two references helped build this collection and [inspired me to] introduce more colour and more panels as well as reference archival African designs.”

Who do you collaborate with locally?

“We work with these amazing women here in Khayelitsha who do weaving and printmaking—they are part of Philani, an NGO that focuses on women’s health. I was introduced to this community through my friend Nicholas, and now my label has become important in the building of this community.”


How do you practice mindful product design?

“Our label is quite layered [when it comes to] the things we want to do—it’s about not just making clothes but also how we can align ourselves with particular groups who have extraordinary talent. We are a marriage between clothes and talented locals in this artisanal space, and we have a strong social impact. I always ask myself, ‘How can I use the platform of entrepreneurship and design to be of service?’ That’s how I want to move forward with my work.”

What’s it like working with these communities?

“Little by little, you actually add to their livelihoods because these women come from marginalized groups—they need the work. They also love working with a designer and seeing their work on an international stage. It gives them pride.”

How did Nicholas Coutts inspire you?

“He was such a remarkable designer and weaver—it was through him that I found a strong love of that skill. He was ahead of his time, and it made me realize that I can make a strong impact on local communities by outsourcing hand-weaving. It gives local artisans true inclusion by nurturing African awareness. It’s literally woven into my brand DNA.”