African cowboy: Designer Sihle Masango takes the bull by the horns

Yeehaw culture is taking over the world of fashion, and Masango is riding the wave

22 August 2021 - 00:01
By thango ntwasa AND Thango Ntwasa
Designer Sihle Masango pairs a tasselled jacket with leather chaps and a plaid shirt.
Image: Olwethu Mlotshwa Designer Sihle Masango pairs a tasselled jacket with leather chaps and a plaid shirt.

The cowboy aesthetic is inspired by my surname, Masango, and the idea was to do with how African wealth is attached to the number of cows you have in your kraal. I wanted it to be a luxurious African brand influenced by that wealth. I'm taking what are understood as international ideas, particularly the style of the American West, and mashing them up with African design. We live in a global world so the African visual needs to work for today's aesthetic.

It's important to incorporate the cowboy culture into the African design aesthetic. Whatever African influence you put into a brand, you need to remember that you're designing for people who live in 2021. We can't design the way our ancestors used to.

That's the problem, I find, with a lot of African designers: they are so hellbent on the way things were done that we don't want to bring them into 2021. We are global citizens — we jet set around the world — or at least we used to. We're on the move so our clothes should have that modern element.

Most designers get dragged for not dressing to the nines and looking glamorous but I like being comfortable. I'm wearing leather today and it's very comfortable. Jeans are also a favourite of mine. I love a good plaid shirt. I think there's also a little drama in the scarf you tie on the side. And I love adding tassels, just like with cowboy jackets and chaps.

I still like dressing up during lockdown, but in comfortable everyday wear. For spring/summer I want to do a denim range that has a lot of texture. I'm going to put my signature beadwork on the denim. Lockdown is influencing a lot of people to wear ready-to-wear but it doesn't have to be boring.

Online is growing but it causes a problem of fitting clothes properly before buying. When we do a photo shoot we cheat a little like pinning a shirt behind the model to accentuate the body, so visually it's a bit of a lie! Our new store will give customers the opportunity to come into a bespoke showroom, touch fabrics and try items on. The store is in 27 Boxes in Melville — it's a destination store where you'd go when you're looking for a garment, we won't be reliant on foot traffic. Customers will come and experience the things they have already seen online.

The cowboy aesthetic is inspired the designer's surname, Masango.
Image: Olwethu Mlotshwa The cowboy aesthetic is inspired the designer's surname, Masango.

In my upcoming collections look forward to lots of colour and beads — I always love to use beads. Oh and thank goodness for the Chinese — the Chinese have brought crystals to South Africa. For me, if it sparkles it's a yes. I am buying packs and packs of crystals so bedazzlement is going to be my thing for spring/summer. I'm going to be bejewelling and rhinestoning like I've never bejewelled before. I've always had this idea that diamonds are from South Africa so we should be wearing them. We should be the glitziest people in the world.

Fashion evolves gradually. Designers sometimes see where things are going. I wasn't surprised that bootleg and bell bottoms came back because we had that tailored boxy cut, so fashion evolved back to the loose fits and those satin pyjama suits. The cowboy aesthetic has that loose cut. It's also associated with freedom, which everyone is craving at the moment.

• Follow Masango on Instagram: @sihle_the_designer