It is often said that the beauty of African fashion comes from the authentic hands that craft it, the innovation that turns a worn out maize sack into a head turning figure-hugging skirt, the visionary eyes that see beyond our everyday waste, and the delicate hands that put finishing touches to wearable arts fit for grand ceremonies.
African fashion is actively participating on the global stage, we are shaping the global fashion industry with our bold colours, tribals prints and wraps that have no beginning or ending.
Fikile Mqhelekagogo Dube hails from Southern Africa, her world is wrapped in all things African, she is as unclaimed as her brand, there are no cliches here, there is nothing ordinary about Fix, as I call her. Her jewellery has clout, it is loud and bold yet grounded in a deep cultural presence that our collective ancestors would approve. I love her unique accessories designs, she embodies strong Southern African themes that have a strong sense of belonging, yet not tied to any particular country or tribe. Fikile is present, she is here and she is not afraid to ‘go there’ and disrupt our cultural norms. She whips up our usual culturally themed styles into mesmerising garments, the kind that acclaims remarks wherever you are. I love that she continuously pays homage to her roots and honours the origins of her inspirations, that she sources her materials from the continent and actively supports local women to produce materials, collaborating with them to improve their participation in showcasing the best from Southern Africa.
I caught up with the ever vivacious Fikile Dube on my blog, Tribal Sands, and she shared her journey on how it all began with your brand, South of Africa.
‘I have always been unapologetically afrocentric and in the 90s when I arrived in the UK African accessories and clothes were not easy to find (unlike now), and because I enjoyed working with indigenous mediums in Zimbabwe I was more than eager to make my own rather than to abandon wearing my African clothes and accessories . A friend of mine came to visit me one day and said “these shoes are Dope! why don’t you just make these to sell?” and the rest is history,’ Fikile smiled.
Fikile’s ethnographic approaches embody the ethos of Ubuntu culture, she has a way with fabrics, kaftans, shawls and rems of mouthwatering jewellery. I wondered what grounded her so firmly in her roots.
‘I like to think I was raised in the spirit of Ubuntu and it’s importance for our ability to thrive and grow as a people. It’s something that was ingrained in me from childhood and up to this day I believe, live and practice it. I therefore believe that it translates naturally into my brand.’
‘My inspiration is without a doubt drawn from the African continent and her traditional cultures, her colours, her smells, her vibrancy, her people, her pain. My emphasis on Southern Africa is mostly because of my diverse heritage from the region. I have Ndebele, Sotho, Shona, Swati and Zulu blood and influences from those cultures have been constant in my life’
As an Analyst and Global Mental Health Specialist, I see synergies between art and mental health, I love supporting African artists. I am all too aware that we are documenting African fashion at a time when the continent is rising, and the African Diaspora is keen to play its part in the continents development. African women in particular are defining their own narrative through spectacular designs. This is an exciting time to engage in African Fashion. African designers too have social responsibilities and can leverage and amplify cultural impacts in the community.
‘Africa is trending,’ Fikile insists, ‘African influence is at the forefront of not only the fashion industry but a vast majority of other disciplines in the creative world. This is our moment as fashion and accessories designers to not only tell our story about Africa but also to influence how people dress. This is our opportunity to influence how people perceive Africa and how us Africans perceive ourselves. It’s an opportunity for our young girls to realise the beauty of Africa and the beauty of being African’ she adds.
Although many African women are progressing well, the issues of domestic violence, which are further complicated by our cultural beliefs and practises continue to affect us all at all in the continent and in the diaspora, I wondered how Fikile was using her brand and voice to advocate on these challenging issues.
‘South of Africa works with women who have been affected by issues of abuse. We source and sell products on their behalf. We also work with a team who proactively work with these ladies to make sure they have access to information and knowledge on how to access resources for women who may be abused. In addition, we at South of Africa have been proactively vocal on issues of abuse. In this day and age no type of abuse should be considered acceptable,’ Fikile says with a passion that is clearly seeking for a better tomorrow for us all.
‘You are out and about and unapologetically bold about your accessories, how does this reflect your personality,’ I asked Fikile. She smiles, broad red lipsticked, adjusts her bold signature squared glasses and whisperers, ‘I am unapologetically African, vibrant, vivacious, and a non conformist’ Our spirits mingle and I breath into a timeless friendship.
Fikile’s craftsmanship skills are fascinating, she dyes her own materials to enhance her designs, I wondered why is it important to her to maintain the traditional skills of design, even with all the technology that we have today.
‘For me the perfection of Africa is in its imperfections,’ she says. ‘The flaws in my design give them character and the traditional skills best reflect this beauty. Whilst technology might be quicker and more efficient I don’t believe that it can adequately capture all the skills of design that we’ve acquired over years and years.’
Fikile has been awarded for her work. ‘I have had many happy moments,’ she said ‘but being recognised by my peers as a fully fledged designer rather than someone who just makes accessories for fun in her living room was a very happy moment for me, she adds.
‘There have been challenges too’ she says ‘challenges that I’m sure many other African designers face too. The economic challenges in Zimbabwe make it difficult to import and export our crafts, we hope that this improves and opens up greater opportunities for the local producers and the diaspora, the scope for development is immense’
Fikile maintains a ground footing in a number of community projects in Zimbabwe. ‘It is important for the diaspora to support home based brands,’ she says, ‘because Zimbabwe is home and whether we like it or not it has moulded each and every one of us into who we are today and where we end up. It’s only right that we give back to the earth that has given us so much,’ she adds.
Young and experienced designers look up to Fikile, I wondered what advice she would you give to a young person who may be considering a career path in African fashion today.
‘Believe in yourself, she says, believe in your talent and don’t ever create anything that you would never publicly endorse. Don’t let your fears inhibit your goals. Embrace your fears,’ she concludes.
Fikile Dube thank you for talking to me on Tribal Sands.
Director of Tribal Sands
Photo’s credit to Fikile Dube
Thank you to Dalia Majongwe, Manager at Tribal Sands
January 2018, all rights reserved.