5 gender smashing designers from South Africa you should know

A growing crop of young designers from the continent are defining sexuality on their own terms and rejecting western stereotypes of how and what Africans should be. Take Rich Mnisi, his floating fabrics are about showcasing a progressive African culture but more importantly a different way of looking at gender on the continent. And it’s proving a hit. If you’re late to the party, here are five gender fluid designers from South Africa redefining African fashion.

Nao Serati

Nao Serati
If there was a secret club in South Africa for young designers exploring gender through clothing, Serati would probably be at the helm. By his own admission his unisex clothing examines what it is to be a man or a woman in modern-day Africa. “Gay as Fuck” was the term used by his runway models to describe one of his collections and it is a term the fashion designer is quite proud of. From The Matrix to Power Rangers, his insiprations are picked from pretty much all aspects of pop culture and prove the power in donning whatever the hell you like.


Mzukisi Mbane
With no training and armed only with his mother’s sewing machine Mbane launched his label Imprint. “We are fast moving away from the time when menswear used to be within a defined look, cut and colour,” he says. “Menswear has now become more unisex, he told GQ South Africa. Known for vivid gender crossing designs, he says it was important to create clothing with lasting impressions.



Julia M’Poko
Born to American and Congolese parents, Cape Town based Julia M’Poko’s unisex label Mo’ko Elosa is all about easy ready to wear fashion. She uses the terminology “afro-minimalism” to describe her look. Without attempting to create specifically gender-neutral lines, M’Poko believes both her womenswear collection and menswear share similarities in tones and structures.


Rich Mnisi

Rich Mnisi
Mnisi launched his eponymous label in 2014 winning African Fashion International Young Designer of the Year at the same time. “I think we are trying to let go of defining the look that each gender is supposed to subscribe to but instead offer options and redefine the wheel a bit,” the designer told Between 10and5. His clothes intend to show the multifaceted culture in the country but put together through ‘whimsical’ aesthetics.



Lukhanyo Mdingi
The words avant garde and minimalist usuually don’t go together but these are the two themes Lukhanyo Mdingi wants to combine. The African landscape also feature in designs through warm tones and tranquil silhouettes. “It is all supposed to be very sensual and romantic,” says the 25-year-old. He won the Elle Rising Star Competition in 2013.


Image Credits: Nao Serati campaign – photographer Jonathan Kope; Rich Mnisi campaign – Kristin-Lee Moolman; Lukhanyo Mdingi campaign – Kent Andreasen; Julia M’Poko runway – Malibongwe Tyilo