The Venda designer fashioning couture from her culture

 
 
 

As Phophi Mudau flicked through the clothing rails, a frightening realisation hit her. Each hanger held the trends of the time. But not one of them represented her heritage or the people of Limpopo. “Traditional clothing is at risk of not being recognised by the coming generation,” Mudau says. With a hunger to conserve Tshivenda and Xitsonga culture, she turned to fashion.

Mudau began experimenting with a sewing machine at her home in Matanda village. The outfits she designed and assembled were the perfect blend of traditional patterns and modern styles. At the time, the concept wasn’t common in Limpopo. To test people’s responses, Mudau donned her handiwork to a friend’s wedding. It was a bold move. But six years later, her creations have become fashionable. Mudau shapes the multihued fabric of repetitive geometric motifs into backpacks, suits, and ballgowns. “The clothes I make allow people to express every version of themselves at the same time,” she says.

Mudau is preserving Limpopo’s rich cultural history. Believing in the talent of people there, she motivates future designers to make their own attire. “I’m set on using as many of South Africa’s beautiful traditional fabrics as possible to create garments that speak to the soul of our country,” Mudau says. When wearing a piece of her range, Pdesigns SA, she’s setting new trends while commemorating old patterns. Out of the past and the closet, heritage can now be worn on our sleeves.