The Jersey That Says You Are A Man

Published 9 years ago
The Jersey That Says You Are A Man

Laduma Ngxokolo found business where many saw tragic headlines. Circumcision has long been a controversial business in South Africa where young initiates sometimes may never return from the rigorous stay in the hills and return alive.

Ngxokolo saw business in the celebration of the return of the young men. Having been to the hills himself, he knew that boys gave away their clothes before the mountains and were given new clothes on their return.

Hailing from the small kingdom of Pondoland, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, Ngxokolo conceptualized MaXhosa – a business weaving the designs of the Xhosa culture into knitwear, using locally sourced textiles like mohair.


The Xhosa initiates are given new clothes, usually formal wear bought by their parents, which they have to wear for six months after their return from the mountains. Ngxokolo says many of these initiates do not like the clothes their parents buy for them finding them too westernized.

The cardigans are thickly knit with various patterns of triangles, stripes and zig-zags using dusty reds, oranges, yellows and blues, woven into brown wool. His inspiration stems from Xhosa beadwork patterns and the delicate tones of the Xhosa color palette. He started by only making jerseys and cardigans for men, but has now ventured into women’s wear, knitting skirts and dresses.

“This is why I decided to focus on knitwear, because the parents often go buy premium products for their sons,” says Ngxokolo.

By designing Xhosa-inspired knitwear, he would capture it in a way to preserve this heritage.


But his journey of becoming an entrepreneur was learned at his mother’s knees.

In his teenage years, it was inevitable that Ngxokolo’s mother Lindelwa, a knitwear designer in Port Elizabeth, would teach him how to knit using a hand-machine. Ngxokolo enjoyed doing craftwork and beadwork with his mother which influenced his designs. When he was 17 years old, his mother died, leaving Ngxokolo and three siblings to fend for themselves. It was a sad moment in his life, but his mother’s influence inspired him to turn a hobby into a business.

After finishing high school, Ngxokolo studied textile design and technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in the Eastern Cape. This was the turning point in his life. His flair for knitwear earned him a bursary from the Port Elizabeth-based Cape Wools SA as well as Mohair South Africa.

In 2010, Ngxokolo established his brand – MaXhosa. He also found inspiration exploring astonishing traditional beadwork, craft, patterns, symbolism and colors he found at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth. This inspiration was incorporated into his modern knitwear range.


He entered his thesis, ‘Finding Innovative Designs For Xhosa Initiates To Wear’ into the South African leg of The Society of Dyers and Colourists competition which he won and went on to win the international leg of the competition. This prize resulted in Ngxokolo speaking at Design Indaba, one of the biggest conferences of its kind in Cape Town which is attended by many people from across the continent. The media coverage from the Indaba helped publicize MaXhosa.

“At the time, I wasn’t exposed to business and I didn’t have many customers,” he says.

A promoter forwarded Ngxokolo’s contact details to a magazine where he was given the opportunity to showcase at the Vauxhall Emerging Designers Scout which coincided with London Fashion Week in September the same year.

From here, he was given $14,000 seed capital to learn about business and which helped his business to hire five women from his community to work for him. Because his products were produced in Cape Town, Ngxokolo made the move to Vuya Fashions, a factory just outside the city, where his garments are made. The raw materials are sourced from Port Elizabeth.


Since then, Ngxokolo has showcased at numerous fashion weeks, including his first stand-alone show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Joburg, and even had his own pop-up store in London.

This has propelled his brand to be known all over the world, from the streets of Cape Town to Paris.

“When I see people wearing my designs I feel overwhelmed,” he says.

Today, Ngxokolo says he focuses his time on creating custom-made designs ranging from cardigans, jerseys, dresses, skirts and throws that can sell at prices up to $500. Although he doesn’t have his own store, numerous retailers like Merchants on Long in Cape Town, and some from Namibia, England, France and Holland loved his products so much that they decided to stock the items in their shops.


In the future, he hopes to establish his own studio where his entire team would sit in one room and also keep his relationship with the manufacturers. Ngxokolo also wants to open up MaXhosa stores in fashion capitals across the world and also move into lifestyle designing like couches, and using mohair for rugs.

When he launched a collection in Paris called ‘My Heritage, My Inheritance’ in 2013, he says it was blessed because he dedicated it to his mother.

“My late mother’s dream as a knitwear designer in the eighties was to travel to Paris to see high-end fashion. Unfortunately circumstances denied her the opportunity to make her dream a reality. Twelve years after her passing, I had the privilege of being invited by the Labo Ethnik Fashion Week in Paris to showcase my knitwear collection,” he says.

One challenge that gives him pins and needles is that the demand in South Africa is quite small because the thick woolly mohair garments are not suitable for Africa’s warm weather.


“But for Europe and overseas it makes business sense,” he says.

“In future, I hope to sell more in Europe as the weather dictates, summer designs would be much thinner.”

For now, he sets his eyes on a master’s degree in textiles at Central Saint Martins in London. And this is how Ngxokolo will knit his way to the bank.