Kokonut Stylist aka Nomalungelo Koko Shabangu has always been passionate about clothing. She uses Swazi traditional material and transforms it into elegant ensembles. She is a passionate and creative being with an aim of creating a lasting fashion legacy that will outlive her.
Nomalungelo’s understanding of fashion came with discovering Coco Chanel, whom she thinks is the greatest fashion icon to have walked this earth. She is inspired by Chanel in her fashion journey and believes that she is the reincarnation of Coco Chanel.
Why did you choose to turn Swazi traditional attire into trending fashion items that can be worn on a daily basis?
The lihiya (Swazi traditional cloth) inspiration came as a result of contemporary fashion trends. As women, we are going back to our roots; rocking natural hair, wearing traditional wear as a fashion statement, etc.
I remember vividly wanting to create something that was unique to me being a Swazi woman, something that had never been done before. That was how we created our Atibuye Emasisweni range of Swazi-inspired accessories that later inspired the use of lihiya in the clothing we make. Atibuye Emasisweni means what’s ours should return to us.As women, we are going back to our roots wearing traditional wear as a fashion statement Click To Tweet
Why did you choose a career path in fashion?
I think fashion chose me and it continues to choose me every day. I am a qualified IT Business Analyst, complete with a Master’s Degree in IT and I have a full-time job in IT. Fashion has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Starting my business was merely an organic thing, I was already blogging about fashion, styling people and organizing tailors for people long before I opened the business last year January. I was born to create beautiful fashion pieces.
What is the state of fashion in Swaziland and how would you like to see it grow?
Swazi fashion is exciting and we are culturally a vividly colorful nation. The exciting thing about Swazi Fashion right now is how the contemporary fashion is embracing our heritage.
There’s a beautiful unorganized movement where everywhere you go, you see people beautifully dressed with hints of lihiya and this is even more overstated at weddings; it is a really beautiful thing to witness.@KokonutStylist is a qualified IT Business Analyst with a full-time job Click To Tweet
Which designers have you collaborated with and why was it memorable?
So far none because Kokonut Stylist has only been in formal business for a year this month. However, I will only be collaborating with a skilled designer from SA who does the best men’s suits now in 2017. I am excited about this collaboration because it widens Kokonut Stylist’s portfolio. We will start doing men’s apparel this year.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far? It was being selected by Africa Fashion Reception to represent Swaziland in Ethiopia and Paris and having our first ever runway show at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
It was so surreal and thinking about it still feels like I was perhaps dreaming. I had never walked down a runway before and I still remember how gratified I was to do that as a designer. It felt like life was affirming to me that I belonged on the runway, with models wearing my designs.Life was affirming to me that I belonged on the runway @KokonutStylist Click To Tweet
What advice would you like to give to young people who would like to turn their passion into a business?
Be bold…VERY BOLD and empower yourself with all the skills you need to turn your passion into a profitable business. Never conform, except when it’s conforming to who you truly are as a creative person.
Do you think that designers are given enough training to turn their passion into a business?
I believe that as a designer, you have to find out for yourself how you can be the best in a way that best speaks to you…there is no generic solution for everyone and no one will give you training for free.
Learn from only the best, teach yourself to aspire to greatness and you have to constantly want to better yourself. In terms of turning your passion into a business, we are all just winging it until we find what truly works for us and capitalize on that. Does anyone ever truly know what to do for sure? I doubt it.
Art and culture form a big part of our identity as Africans, do you think it is given the value it deserves?
The saddest thing about our art and culture as Africans is that it is truly given value after it’s been exploited overseas. For example, Louis Vuitton did a line on entirely African Inspired artifacts (they called it the Sahara Collection) and it has Massai Blankets, the famous Khonzekhaya bag print and it was like people were seeing for the first time.
An American beauty parlor will package our clay and blog about its “ancient beauty benefits” when we have been using red clay on our faces for years! We don’t see how valuable our art and culture is until it’s sold to us and that is sad. However, even with that being the fact, it’s beautiful to observe that African creatives (fashion, contemporary, graphic designers, etc) are now largely going inwardly (back to our roots) for inspiration.We don’t see how valuable our art & culture is until it’s sold to us @KokonutStylist Click To Tweet
What do you think sets African fashion from the rest of the world?
There is no place as beautiful, diverse and wondrous as Africa and this translates even to our fashion, Africa is, simply put, magic!
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