Pretty thrifty: Young Durban designer upcycles soft toys into cool clothes

DUT student Alexandra Van Heerden hopes her latest collection will inspire other designers to rethink the way they create their own textiles

16 August 2020 - 00:00 By Thango Ntwasa
Alexandra van Heerden's 'bunny jacket'.
Alexandra van Heerden's 'bunny jacket'.
Image: Zander Opperman @ Lampost

"My mother always said to me that to be successful in life, you have to do what makes you happy," says Alexandra van Heerden. "And fashion is what makes me happy."

So, she enrolled at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and began to explore her unique take on design and styling.

As a designer, Van Heerden's individualism and innovation has pushed her towards design based on unconventional materials that are not only eye-catching but push the boundaries of beauty. Her love of wild colours and the bizarre provide inspiration for the fabrics and designs that highlight her imagination, as well as fuelling her competitive nature.

In a recent collection, created for her third-year assignment at DUT, titled Durbania, Van Heerden looked to local buskers for inspiration. Choosing to recycle knick-knacks and second-hand clothing to construct her collection, the crafty and outrageous nature of the buskers' costumes inspired Van Heerden to pay homage to the art form.

"I drew inspiration from Durban's graffiti artists and things that I associated with Durban, like the Kloof End Highway SPCA. I thrifted a lot of clothing from there," she says.

An example of an upcycled item Van Heerden created to embody the artistic nature of Durban was a "bunny jacket" made from stuffed toys donated by the Hillcrest Aids Centre. "All those bunnies were hand stitched onto the jacket, which is really heavy. I think I used 38 bunnies in total and I spent the night before and the morning of my crit stitching," she says.

Alexandra van Heerden's latest collection was inspired by the outfits of Durban's street buskers.
Alexandra van Heerden's latest collection was inspired by the outfits of Durban's street buskers.
Image: Zander Opperman @ Lampost
Alexandra van Heerden likes to use eye-catching, unconventional materials.
Alexandra van Heerden likes to use eye-catching, unconventional materials.
Image: Zander Opperman @ Lampost

Hoping to challenge how people view fashion, Van Heerden, whose collection comprises mainly materials she upcycled, also aims to rethink how people can create their own textiles. Someone she credits for this is lecturer and DUT creative director, Gideon.

"The strong colours represent the diversity that Durban holds. It's like we are the rainbow nation and that came through in my range."

While lockdown has enabled Van Heerden to spend more time working on her final-year thesis, she hopes to join the world of fashion as a stylist.