Thando Ntuli is the Soweto-born designer behind the label Munkus and the 2022 winner of the South African Fashion Week New Talent Search. Thando's designs are a beautiful collection of stories told through bright colours and daring prints in classic and modern silhouettes influenced by 80s and 90s local fashion. The young designer advocates for proudly African creations and the support of local designers and artisans, while empowering emerging and aspiring creatives through her YouTube channel with videos on how to start a clothing brand. This year, she will close SAFW's 2023 New Talent Search show with her Isikhathi/Time SS23 Munkus collection, an evocation of the designer's childhood through pattern and colour. See the SAFW line-up and book your tickets here.
'The name Munkus ...was a nickname that my family used to call me at home, and over time, it became a part of my identity. I associate the name with a sense of warmth and familiarity, and it has always given me a feeling of being at home.'
What is the origin of the brand's name, Munkus?
The name Munkus ...was a nickname that my family used to call me at home, and over time, it became a part of my identity. I associate the name with a sense of warmth and familiarity, and it has always given me a feeling of being at home.
"They don't make them like this anymore". What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
At Munkus, we are passionate about creating fashion that not only looks good but also feels good to wear. We believe sustainable fashion is the future and we're trying to contribute. We aim to create bespoke pieces that are both long-lasting and timeless, with the intention of being handed down from generation to generation, ensuring that they stand the test of time and won't end up in landfills after just a few wears. Denim is a cornerstone of our brand because it's a fabric that gets better with age, just like a fine wine. We love the way denim fades and softens over time, developing its own unique character and story. Plus, denim has a lower environmental impact than other textiles, which means that we can create beautiful pieces without harming the planet.
'Sustainability is not just about the materials we use – it's also about how we design and produce our clothes.'
A key identifier of our brand is layering which allows customers to have multiple pieces that can be assembled in different ways. The direction is for future collections to be easily worn with existing pieces. Layering allows Munkus to not only narrow the age gap between women, but allows them to have creative input in how to style pieces while giving them versatility for different occasions. Munkus puts effort into technical detail and craft in the hope that the customer will build sentimental value and an appreciation for the item beyond quality and fabric. We value timeless pieces. I think being a designer that designs beyond a sale and looks at the entire lifecycle of a garment is truly a creation.
Why should people care about sustainable fashion?
To ensure the next generation has a fruitful and healthy life as we did, or better.
You showcased a range in Lagos. Tell us about that experience.
I had an incredible time showcasing in Lagos because it gave me the opportunity to interact with talented designers who possess cherished and passed-down skills. The experience was truly inspiring, and it has motivated me to continue learning and pushing the boundaries of what I can achieve with the resources available to me. I would like my next stop, Paris, to have the same influence on me, as it is where my husband and in-laws are from too.
Who do you design for?
Women. [My designs are] based on closing a generation gap, between the younger woman and the older woman. Quality bespoke pieces that could be handed down and dressed differently to suit each age group. The collection is based on the ‘ME' in every woman’s journey. My goal [is] to help women find themselves in the pieces I have made, by giving them an extension of their personality or the persona they want to have for that day. The collection is rich in colour and loud in print. A collection to face the world in.
What brought you to fashion?
Growing up, my family introduced me to the world of fashion through the way they dressed for different occasions – whether it was for work, weddings or funerals, their clothing always seemed to express a range of emotions. As I grew older, I began to use clothing as a way to communicate and gain confidence in unfamiliar environments. Clothing became my voice, and I found that it gave me the power to express myself authentically. Now, I'm driven to help other women find their confidence and voice through fashion, just as my family did for me.
"Every design is a homage to my roots and a celebration of the stories that shape who I am and what I create."
What's your most memorable fashion moment?
Getting my first pair of Converse shoes was a significant moment for me. As a brand, Converse represented not only my personal history, but also that of my uncles, brother, mother, and grandmother. It was my first real understanding of "brand value" and how storytelling can play such an important role. Through Converse, I felt connected to my family's past, and it was a reminder of the importance of passing down traditions and values from generation to generation.
How has growing up in Soweto influenced your designs and personal sense of style?
My personal identity and experience are infused with a lot of colour and depth, much like the vibrant and culturally rich place that is Soweto. This historic place is appreciated by those who truly understand and recognise ... its significance. To me, it is home, and the foundation for all cultural references and family ties. As a designer, my brand values family and history, which is reflected in my work through the use of silhouette and print. Every design is a homage to my roots and a celebration of the stories that shape who I am and what I create.
Who would you love to dress?
Yasmin Furmie. She embodies closing age gaps in fashion.
What do you hope to see as a fashion trend in the future?
Coats in summer! I just love coats!
Three things that influence you as a designer?
Colour, print and music.
You've shown your designs in Lagos, Cape Town, Johannesburg – where would like to go next?
Wherever you find your most confident self!
Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why did you choose it?
Braam, I get to meet a lot of creatives causally and see displays of beautiful work!
What 3 things should a visitor not leave Soweto without seeing or experiencing?
The twin towers haha! Train houses in Meadowlands have something really beautiful about them. Orlando East in general, just walk and understand the culture and peace that genuinely lies there!
What’s the one thing no one would expect to hear about Soweto?
That people may become successful but always hang out or get homes there! Because it's honestly the best place! Family, friends, memories, and community love.
The most underrated Joburg sight or experience?
One of the things I love about Joburg is the abundance of trees! Everywhere you go, there is beautiful and lush greenery that adds to the city's charm. In fact, it's not uncommon to find yourself admiring the trees and the surrounding agriculture as you navigate through the streets. If you get a chance to see the city from above, you'll be amazed by the perfect blend of buildings and nature, making Joburg a truly unique and picturesque place to be.
What is your favourite restaurant or cafe, and why?
Buitengeluk Broadacres! It has the most beautiful outdoor area, garden, greenhouse and pond!
The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
Magwenya and snoek fish!
If you could buy one Joburg building which would it be?
Victoria Yards! My art space and production dream. Such a relaxing shared creative space.
Favourite way to spend a weekend?
A drive to Orlando East to visit my gran, and taking her on errands at Maponya Mall.
Favourite Joburg brand, and why?
Viviers Studio. Anything they make is gold! Beautiful pieces!
On a weekend in Joburg, you’ll find me ….
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
Three words that describe this city
Big, Cheerful, Rich
What makes someone a Joburger?
When one makes Joburg their true home!
What do you love most about Joburg?
People push you to be better and are always willing to tell you about someone you should be speaking too!
What do you least like about Joburg?
The rainy season is not a joke here! You will get lots of rain and hail.
Your number one tip for a first-time visitor to Soweto?
Meet people who can show you places authentically.
What's happening in Joburg right now that you think everyone should know about?
SA FASHION WEEK! HAHA
Check out our previous #MyJoburg interview with drag performer, ADAM 'The Glamour Clown' for more insights into the city.