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Clothing is armour and I arm women to be their best, says designer Sindiso Khumalo

The award-winning 'green' designer talks about the glass ceiling for young, black creatives and her big plans to sell in a UK store next year

20 December 2020 - 00:00 By staff reporter
A look from Sindiso Khumalo's SS21 collection, which debuted (virtually) at Milan Fashion Week.
A look from Sindiso Khumalo's SS21 collection, which debuted (virtually) at Milan Fashion Week.
Image: Trevor Stuurman

SA's Sindiso Khumalo recently won Best Independent Designer at the global Green Carpet Fashion Awards, an annual event which celebrates the best in eco-conscious fashion.

Khumalo partners with African artisans as well as an NGO to produce the sustainable textiles for her eponymous fashion label.

Here, Khumalo talks to us about her story, the impact winning a Green Carpet Fashion Award has had on her brand, plus what the future holds.

If we talk about your story, what does that mean for you?

My story is essentially about women and female empowerment. Clothing is actually a form of armour for women. So what I do is arm women to be the best they can be for themselves, but I'm also trying to empower the women I work with inside my own story. 

What does the "glass ceiling" mean for you?

There's still the idea that young black creatives are not represented in certain spaces. That's definitely true of the fashion industry. Hence, Aurora James calling the 15 Percent Pledge to brands [On May 29, the founder and designer of footwear brand Brother Vellies called on major store chains to devote a portion of their buy to black-owned businesses]. There is a glass ceiling and it does resonate with me. But I think with time we'll break that ceiling — with a lot of work and collaboration.

Sindiso Khumalo. File photo.
Sindiso Khumalo. File photo.
Image: Supplied

Tell us about winning the Green Carpet Fashion Award.

It was amazing. It's one of the highest awards when it comes to sustainability and it's something I'm very humbled by. It wouldn't happen without the artisans I work with and that's why I dedicated the award to all the amazing people who work tirelessly to handcraft clothes for the business and all the new recruits on the NGO.

Do awards like this have real impact for you?

Yes. As a young black African designer in a very white industry it makes a huge impact to see that we can also get recognition. This is appreciated by many people. It also impacts in that it shows the artisans I work with that it's real, it has value and is important.

What's next for you?

I'm going to be stocking a major retailer in London next year, which I can't talk about yet. I just want to continue to break those ceilings and put my work out in as many places as possible.


Kimberly-born Trevor Stuurman is an acclaimed contemporary multimedia visual artist who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé and Naomi Campbell. He was asked to photograph Khumalo's award-winning collection on the new vivo X50PRO, a phone that offers professional style camera technology in a convenient format.

The images, pictured here and shot at The Dorp Hotel in Cape Town, talk to a tale of sisterhood and a celebration of black creativity.

Khumalo was excited to work with Stuurman. "Trevor and I have known each other for a long time. He's a friend. Although we've followed each other's journeys for years — [he's] featured regularly in global style bibles such as Vogue, CNN and the New York Times — we've never had the chance to work together before."

Sindiso Khumalo uses sustainable textiles in her designs.
Sindiso Khumalo uses sustainable textiles in her designs.
Image: Trevor Stuurman
Sindiso Khumalo's latest collection was inspired by American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Sindiso Khumalo's latest collection was inspired by American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Image: Trevor Stuurman

She adds: "I think the work he does as a black African photographer is part of an amazing heritage of photography that exists on the continent.

"I look forward to the time my two children look Trevor up in library books as I did with Peter Magubane in my teens, when I was searching for someone who looked like me in the creative industry.

"I look forward to the influence his work will have on the younger generation of African creatives — because that's the real work."

Talking after the shoot, Stuurman said: "I feel that image-making is an ongoing conversation. We don't have enough reinforcing and positive image-making of black people.

"With photography we have the power to change that reality. I feel that it's my duty to champion and power that type of beauty. I want to show the world the power of creativity."