From Beyoncé to Alicia Keys, the world is going nuts for South Africa's Maxhosa by Laduma knitware

Business Insider SA

Laduma Ngxokolo, designer for the label Maxhosa by Laduma poses for a portrait during the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience.

  • Maxhosa by Laduma emerged from an academic thesis on the wardrobes of Xhosa initiates who have to wear formal clothing as a rite of passage.
  • The clothing line has gained a considerable following and endorsement from celebrities like Swiss Beats, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, and Rafael Saadiq.
  • Maxhosa by Laduma is available in Switzerland, Paris, Japan, Nigeria, and is a hit in the US and Netherlands.

Maxhosa by Laduma Ngxokolo has emerged as one of South Africa's fastest-growing fashion exports.

The knitware is garnering celebrity endorsements from across the globe - including from the new "carioca funk" phenomenon in Brazil, Dream Team do Passinho, to Beyoncé and Alicia Keys.

Ngxokolo’s brand has amassed considerable international éclat since being featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The acclaimed actor John Kani and his son, Atandwa, walked the red carpet draped in his Maxhosa pieces at the Hollywood premiere of the international blockbuster, Black Panther.

John Kani and son, Atandwa in Maxhosa by Laduma garments.

The designer tells Business Insider South Africa that he is actually "still amazed and honoured by the journey and rapid rate at which a local brand can gain a global following."

The clothing line was born from a final year project at the Nelson Mandela University. He wanted to create a knitwear collection that reflected his isiXhosa heritage, and decided to focus on the male initiation ceremony. The rite of passage from boyhood to manhood involves the purchase of a new 'mature' wardrobe, which usually include a premium quality jersey. He created knitwear for the project that he believed resonated with young Xhosa initiates, and this sparked a business idea.

"I believed there was a gap for knitwear," Ngxokolo said. 

Models dressed in Maxhosa by Laduma

After crunching the numbers, conducting market research and looking for the best suppliers, Ngxokolo made his first market-ready product in 2012 — with financing from some seed funding supplied by the university's incubator programme. 

Although demand is something that every small business always wants to have, too much of it proved to be a strain.

“There were points where demand was under-supplied. As a result, we now make sure that we don’t under or over-supply. The methodology we use to control, and drive demand is to ensure that we change the theme of our collection every six months but remain consistent.”

Another gruelling challenge for Ngxokolo was production.

"Because South Africa doesn’t have an established premium knitwear fabric production industry, I had to change suppliers over-and-over again because they couldn’t meet my (expectations for) quality, level of craft," he laments.

He overcame this challenge with a 'horizontal integration strategy': acquiring his supplier's factory. This allowed him to control quality, and achieve economies of scale, which lowered costs.

The acquisition will also prove to be valuable in competing with local and global competitors in the luxury market. Europe especially is a very competitive market. "Going into the market with South African-made products, compared to the high-level craftsmanship in Europe is a tough challenge for us."

He often travels to his target markets.

I go and conduct studies on what people are wearing and determine competitors’ price margins to try. I also search for platforms that we could use to market our product and brand in a sustainable way.
Laduma Ngxokolo

Ngxokolo attributes his success in the global market to being able to showcase the brand at international fashion shows.

The next step? He believes his brand should not be limited to fashion and is looking to expand it into the hospitality, education, food and beverage industries.

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