Lukhanyo Mdingi

Designer Lukhanyo Mdingi on Navigating Tomorrow’s Promise Within Today’s System

Show Notes


Trailblazing South African fashion designer Lukhanyo Mdingi's brand story is as distinct and vibrant as the fashion he creates. From early influences of pop culture in the Eastern Cape to the launch of his post-graduate show, Mdingi's journey is a testament to the power of visibility and mentorship in the fashion industry. Winning the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize in 2021 and the Amiri Prize in 2023 bolstered his eponymous label's global presence and solidified vital industry connections; it also revealed the systemic challenges faced by brands emerging from developing countries. Yet, despite these challenges, he affirms his brand will remain in South Africa, articulating a strategic approach to building a regional direct-to-consumer model, recognizing the potential for growth and revenue generation, and instilling a sense of empowerment within local infrastructure and craftsmanship. A key focus for Mdingi is collaboration: His partnership with the Ethical Fashion Initiative and his label's work with South African artisans highlights the unique, rich histories and the particular needs of regional communities and markets. By nurturing homegrown success while keeping an eye on the global horizon, Mdingi thrives in a dynamic industry, wittingly weaving together talent, purpose, and the transformative potential of fashion.

Episode Highlights
  • Influence of pop culture: "Pop culture penetrated our space deeply, from MTV to South African pop culture icons like Boom Shaka and TKZee. Fashion was always my first love."
  • Reflecting on the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize: "Winning the LVMH prize was a dream I actively worked towards. The visibility and connections it brought were extraordinary. It wasn't just about the fund; the mentorship was extremely beneficial for our business."
  • Navigating business networks: "In the business of fashion, it's about networks. Being an alumni [sic] of a prize creates a network that you will always have at your disposal. It's an ongoing process, and connections are crucial."
  • Challenges of a developing country: "Coming from a developing country, certain aspects like purchase order funding are challenging. It's crucial to understand the disparities in the business models of first world and developing countries."
  • Strategic approach to local markets: "We're strategically focusing on a direct-to-consumer model in South Africa. Building a larger community and distribution channel locally, providing exclusives for South African consumers."
  • Partnership with the Ethical Fashion Initiative: "Working with artisanal communities in Burkina Faso and South Africa, recognizing the finesse and spirit of craftsmen. It's about creating a hybrid of artisanal and contemporary fashion for a global audience."
  • On collaboration and learning: "I love being in the presence of those who know more than I do. Collaborations bring in a beautiful spirit within both entities, fostering knowledge and inspiration to become a better designer and collaborator."
  • Womenswear performance: "Though starting as menswear, our womenswear has outperformed. We're paying attention to the strong demand in women's fashion and looking to bring more to the forefront."
  • Advice for emerging designers: "Recognize your talent and cultivate it to be of purpose and service to others. It's about understanding your business partnerships, where transactions take place, and working with a global mindset."
  • Contemporary fashion: "Contemporary fashion is about crafting a legacy, navigating cultural spaces, and staying true to the roots while embracing global runways."

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