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Fashion meets function meets family in Adidas x Thebe Magugu collab

Duo celebrates women in all shapes and sizes - and gives the SA designer's mom a chance to shine as a model - in debut collection

31 July 2022 - 00:00
Thebe Magugu's mom, Iris Magugu (centre), and his aunt, Esther Magugu (far right), hit the ramp for the designer's first collaboration with Adidas.
Thebe Magugu's mom, Iris Magugu (centre), and his aunt, Esther Magugu (far right), hit the ramp for the designer's first collaboration with Adidas.
Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman

Thebe Magugu's work has won hearts on and off the runway. Now, in a first, the designer has collaborated with adidas on a collection inspired by African heritage, inclusivity and kinship.

His vibrant function-meets-fashion women's athletic wear collection includes three-piece modesty swimwear made from lightweight chlorine-resistant fabric. It also features UniteFit, which embraces the brand's gender-neutral pieces, and features a more size-inclusive range, from XL to 4XL. The Tennis collection delivers style and functionality, and incorporates recycled materials.

This high-performance gear will make its debut at a prominent adidas hard-court tournament with brand tennis stars Dana Mathewson, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Brand fans can also look forward to Originals cropped tees and remixes of iconic Stan Smith shoes, among other offerings, all featuring design accents from Magugu's signature prints. Hero-style pieces have also been partly made with recyclables from Parley Ocean Plastic.

We spoke to Magugu about his sporty venture, inspiration behind the collection and future endeavours.

How was it shifting towards a sporty range and are there elements you learnt that you would apply to your collections?

The magical intersection was mine and adidas’ commitment to functionality. As a brand, I believe clothes fulfil a secondary aesthetic function, but they also have an added responsibility to aid women’s day-to-day functioning. And they must aid instead of imposing on. Functionality and sports cannot exist outside one another, so it has been a relatively seamless process. 

You have pulled from the women in your life for previous collections. Why was it important to siphon this again for the adidas collaboration?

The matriarchal figures who raised me are key to the brand universe, from an aesthetic and functional point of view, so it was essential. Even if it is elements from my own family, the idea of family in general is a universal one, meaning no-one will feel excluded from the inspiration because it is something they can recognise.

Adidas x Thebe Magugu is guided by 'finding beauty'.
Adidas x Thebe Magugu is guided by 'finding beauty'.
Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman

You are usually intentional with the models you use in your campaigns. What inspired the chosen faces for adidas x Thebe Magugu, especially with your family taking centre stage?

I needed familiarity so others may be able to see themselves in the collection. I am proud of this cast, which ranges from members of my family to people often relegated to the margins of fashion. I wanted to put a spotlight on people who have a different beauty, removed from the status quo, which is apt [considering] the guiding words of the collection, “Finding Beauty”.

Run us through the prints you chose for the collaboration as many of them carry signatures from your regular pieces.

There are familiar collaborative contributors one might recognise from my world, namely artist Phathu Nembwili, who created the headline print in the collection.

When adidas approached me with the collection, it was during the height of the pandemic and I felt whatever we did needed to have an undeniable optimism and joy, which resulted in the illustration of a woman unabashedly dancing to the rhythm in her head. It is quite a protest when thinking about the times we are in. 

Will the sportswear hijab be available to South Africans? Can you run us through your direction in designing them for adidas?

Yes, we felt it was critical that all pieces be available in all regions because deciding who gets certain pieces might go against the inclusive intention of the collection. Sport is supposed to be enjoyed by everyone, it is a language-less pleasure everyone can understand and feel part of. However, sportswear — for everyone to feel seen and heard — needs to reflect a diverse audience and we created a hijab that can aid modest women to enjoy themselves and perform without slippage or discomfort. 

Sportswear can be a status symbol and luxe item in the same way high-end designer creations are. Would athleisure or sportswear ever be a world that you would enter as a designer?

Yes, it would be — as a certain eventual. My universe is growing but it needs to do so slowly and sustainably. I think the mistake of emerging designers — and I have been guilty of this — is growing the amount of styles they make too quickly, which puts unnecessary pressure on their businesses.

Doing this collaboration was incredibly special to me because it allowed me to imagine what Thebe Magugu sportswear might look like, taught, in my opinion, by the most impactful sportswear brand in the world, with an unmatched cultural caste to match. 

Some of the pieces, including the running shorts and jackets, feature a squiggle pattern. What was the inspiration for this?

It was a motif that grew from the background motif of the Dancing Woman print. I loved how imprecise those patterns are, almost as if imagined by a child, which I believe contributes to the joyful feel of the collection.

Model Reneilwe Lebea poses for Adidas x Thebe Magugu.
Model Reneilwe Lebea poses for Adidas x Thebe Magugu.
Image: Kristin-Lee Moolman

While most fashion movements birthed in the past three years have been fleeting micro-trends, gender fluidity is a theme that is here to stay. What are your thoughts on this in relation to the collection?

I think gender fluidity, even though recently named, has been around for centuries. I believe its popularity is in part due to people understanding that their need to not conform to the male/female categorisation of fashion is an extremely stale premise and they can express themselves even more without those yardsticks. It was important to factor that into the collection and that is why the range uses a new fit system by adidas, titled UniteFit. It features a spectrum of sizes and forms for a gender-neutral fit. 

You have dedicated yourself to doing more collaborations with local designers. Can you tease our audience and tell us which brand you will work with next?

In commemoration of Freedom Day (April 27) and as a reminder to the youth of the importance of voting, I decided the Thebe Magugu brand will, on an annual basis, partner with emerging creatives under the collaboration name PROJECT 16.1.C. This name is a direct reference to the clause on the right to creative expression and individuality in the South African Bill of Rights. Our first collaborator was Wanda Lephoto, who I feel relates to my own missions of storytelling and documenting culture. The next collaboration has not been decided, but it does not only stop at fashion. It could also be photographers, artists, musicians and ceramicists. 

Covid-19 regulations are easing and people are able to access more public spaces. What cultural shifts are you looking forward to in terms of fashion expression?

I have been thinking a lot about that, especially in a local context. I find an overwhelming part of South African culture is partying, which is incredibly fun, but I feel there is a lack of events at which one might be able to gain insight or walk away with something more than just having had a good time. I want to explore more screenings, discussions, experimental spaces that speak about us and explore us. I want us to see ourselves in a more abstract way that we do ... as sites of thought and not only experience. 

What do you hope South Africans will identify with most from this collaboration?

The references of home, family and the “tsalas” we grew up with. The imagery intentionally riffs of imagery we saw as South Africans — nostalgia about the laminated flooring in our grannies’ kitchens, the corner mama’s bucket/spaza shop, a soccer field with makeshift goalposts, hanging with the boys at the power station. All these things bring me such joy and I hope they do [the same for a] South African audience which knows it all too well. 

ED'S PICKS

1. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, Tiro jacket, R1,299, Adidas 2. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, white t shirt, R899 Adidas, 3. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, Astir shoe, R1,999, Adidas 4. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, hooded sweatshirt, R1,799, Adidas 5. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, Tiro trouser, R899, Adidas 6. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, crop T-shirt, R899, Adidas
1. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, Tiro jacket, R1,299, Adidas 2. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, white t shirt, R899 Adidas, 3. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, Astir shoe, R1,999, Adidas 4. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, hooded sweatshirt, R1,799, Adidas 5. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, Tiro trouser, R899, Adidas 6. Adidas x Thebe Magugu, crop T-shirt, R899, Adidas
Image: Supplied by adidas

• Available at selected Adidas stores and online at adidas.co.za from 15 August.


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