DESIGNER TO WATCH: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RICH MNISI

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For all the right reasons South Africa based Fashion Designer RICH MNISI is already turning heads with his brand founded in 2014. The sentiment of Africa is masterfully celebrated in Rich’s designs shaped with his unique minimalist approach to craftsmanship. For Design SCENE October issue Rich talks about his beginnings, inspiration and Africa’s fashion scene.

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How did you first get interested in fashion?

Growing up I was always fascinated by my sisters aggressive desire to outshine her peers – she made her own afro’s, bleach was her best friend and a pair of jeans meant it could be a skirt or jacket or anything she could imagine – the way she reworked and altered her clothing was absolutely inspiring. This of course triggered my desire to play around with clothes; at a very young age I was getting into the trend of cutting up clothing, wrapping curtains around my body and cutting up magazines to make paper clothing. My mother would always find me in her closet being mischievous. I think my love of fashion trickled down from my love of conceptual design in different spheres as well, every career path I’ve ever imagined myself in is widely involved in creating visual appeal.

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How did your training at the LISOF Fashion Design School shape you as a designer?

LISOF is a very retail focused design school so they made us understand the wearer. The school really helped with understanding the need for curation and subtle impact. Having experienced the recklessness and enthusiastic aesthetic of a young aspiring fashion student to actually going past that and running a fashion label, I can confidently say that the experience helped me understand where I wanted to position the brand. Especially considering the South African consumer who is pretty conservative, I decided to challenge what we view as conservative and almost introduce the other “conservative”. In a way what I was taught became an object I peal off to view the inside and how I can take each element and revise it to fit into an ideal I am comfortable with for my brand.

You were African Fashion International Young Designer of the Year 2014. How did that award help you in your career?

It was more of a personal thing for me, it was an indication that I have a story to tell and people are willing to listen. When I got the award I was still going through the motions of being in fashion but not necessarily being strict about it or about solidifying my identity within it and the award quickly snapped me into shape as a reminder that there is definitely work to be done. It is definitely one of the many reason’s I decided to launch this brand and to me every accolade or mention is a reminder of how much more work can still go into the brand.

What is the philosophy behind your work?

The philosophy stems from the need to remind people of the importance of expression and not feeling lost in a world of globalisation and trends but to use this more exposed world as your motivation to live fully. Its about being unapologetic about your stance and knowing that it may never be accepted by many but as long as you do it well it will translate as what its supposed to be.

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What are your sources of inspiration?

Quite a lot of things actually, I am always curious about local and international trends in the social sphere and I always find these exciting to visually interpret. Having conversations with people that have a passion in a particular subject, whether it may be gender, race or science is always a way to form a new idea or a multitude of ideas that form a solid story. Its conversations, things I see, hear or get exposed to by others.

What sets apart Africa’s fashion scene from the main stages such as Milan, Paris, New York?

Because fashion is so new to us, I think we’re all telling personal stories of how it is to be a modern designer living in Africa. Our observations are honest and almost based on personal insight, which adds to the richness of the work. Designers like Orange Culture, LukhanyoMdingi, Thebe Magugu, Tzar, Maxivive, Selfie and Young & Lazy are pushing boundaries and almost introducing a new African aesthetic that can’t be duplicated nor understood completely because of it’s relationship with the continent and the world.

Does the fashion tradition of your country influence your design and what is more international in your work? 

The tradition of my country has always been honesty – whether it’s honesty in who you aspire to be or embracing who you are. Honesty has always been a key theme in the South African fashion scene and that’s what my work is. A honest representation of my thoughts and observations. I think what could be international about my work is its relevance to the conversations being had globally.

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What is the most important lesson you have learned so far about fashion?

It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s a very complex industry, you almost need to stop thinking about it too hard to make the best decisions. The support for young designers could definitely be better as well but its also on the young designers themselves to educate and find means to communicate their ideas. I’ve also had to learn about the business, that sometimes creative meets corporate and the two need to work together, I still go 60% creative and 40% corporate though for my sanity.

Do you think fashion can still influence society?

Yes, fashion sometimes comments on important issues but i think the main contribution it has is giving groups of people an identity, spaces a level of grooming and us a level of discipline. It also motivates us to be ourselves by giving us the tools to further communicate who we are without saying a word.

What do you think of the fashion system today?

The system has become a lot more inclusive and accommodating, more people see themselves celebrating fashion than being outsiders. People have become more exposed to the many careers within the industry and have more access to the trends through fast fashion and the sense of globalization making the local international and vice versa. The industry has definitely opened itself up a lot more and it’s enjoyable to witness and be a part of the constant evolution.

How do you see your brand evolving from here?

I continue to want the brand to be seen as more than just a fashion brand but a brand that is conscious of design, storytelling and workmanship, being a social commentator to get the curious even more curious. There are plans in place to keep this vision and I look forward to watching everything play out and chop and change as we go along.

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