You’ll have the rug pulled out from under your feet, nicely
Nkuli Mlangeni’s Ninevites range will blow you away
Last year Nkuli Mlangeni’s Sankara rug was named Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa. Here’s how she got there and what she’s up to now.When Mlangeni was young she loved the beautiful scarves her grandmother used to wear. She was so inspired by them that she ended up pursuing a career in fashion.Mlangeni founded The Ninevites, a collaborative platform and design studio. They started out creating dresses, T-shirts and other fashion items whose common thread, so to speak, was to challenge the aesthetics of glossy magazines.In 2012 Mlangeni went to Switzerland to complete a research project on traditional textile weaving at the KaosPilots school. “I wanted to learn how to turn my creative projects into a viable business through which I could sustain myself,” she explains.
It was here that she surprised herself by realising she’d fallen out of love with fashion.“When I started to understand the impact fashion has on our society and the environment, and the consumerism and exploitation involved in the industry, I realised I was over it.”
Which is why Mlangeni turned to rugs for her research project. She spent several months in South America, partnering with local artisans to weave rugs whose design was informed by African folklore. The result was, among others, her prizewinning Sankara rug.
Returning home after her studies, Mlangeni turned her research to the textile industry in South Africa. When she saw how badly it was struggling, and how many people had lost jobs, she realised there were more pressing issues than “just making beautiful clothes and pretty things”.Wanting to create a product that would support the local industry, Mlangeni travelled extensively, meeting artisans in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and beyond. She found herself equally inspired and frustrated by what she discovered.
“I would discover the most amazing spaces, like the Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre, a group of artisan weavers that have been working out of a church since the project was set up by the Church of Sweden Mission in 1965. But most of the projects that I came across were really struggling. They were in very rural areas, with no support and no market.”“It was very difficult coming across these artisans, as I would love to work with them, but most of them don’t have the resources or capacity – and as a startup myself, I am not in a position to help.”
After months of research, Mlangeni met a group of weavers in the Karoo who proved the ideal partners with whom to collaborate on her latest project. “They are just sorted. Their quality is great, their dyeing processes are good and I love the work they deliver.”The designs for Mlangeni’s new range of mohair rugs and blanket throws are inspired by traditional crafts, specifically ones carried out by women in southern Africa. “I looked at pottery, mural painting, beading, broom making and traditional woven mats, and found inspiration in these crafts.” Mlangeni collaborated with the artisan weavers in the Karoo, who used their traditional, handmade processes to realise her designs, using local mohair.The Ninevites’ new mohair collection will be launching at 99 Juta in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on May 26. In her typical collaborative style, Mlangeni has teamed up with local creatives for the launch. Experimental music imprint Mushroom Hour Half Hour will be playing, while other design brands such as Gold Bottom Pots and The Urbanative will have pieces on display. “I’m doing the pop-up, but I’m trying to bring in other designers, and to make it a collaborative space,” says Mlangeni. “I really believe that if we tap into each other’s resources, as a collective, we can achieve so much more.”