Fashion can be a dark industry, riddled with sustainability and ethical issues. A fact that South African fashion designer – Leandi Mulder – became increasingly aware of as a fashion student. It became apparent that the fast fashion model was encouraging consumers to value their clothes less, at the expense of our natural resources. Surrounded by this compelling evidence, she decided to change her perspective and lifestyle to reflect a more ethical and eco-friendly approach.
Making the changes in her personal life inevitably influenced her design and production philosophies. In an interview with twyg. she elaborates, “My work as a designer therefore gravitates towards exploring ecological and sustainable design through recycling and upcycling. I look at the resource potential of waste-clothing, and through using an intuitive and creative process I transform scraps of fabric into textile pieces used in my garments.” Hence, when Leandi Mulder Designs was launched in 2016, sustainability was at the core of her label based in Durban, South Africa. Coupled with Japanese influences, her creations have won her recognition in the local fashion industry. We caught up with the sustainable designer to find out more:
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I am a part-time designer, born and raised in South Africa; growing in the east-coast city of Durban for most of my life. I also lived in Japan for two years, which significantly influenced my design journey and aesthetic. I’ve been sewing as an amateur for many years after being taught by my mum and grandma; but received formal university education from 2014 at Durban University of Technology. I will soon be heading to Beijing, China to complete my Masters in Fashion Design at BIFT (Beijing Institute of Fashion Design). With all of the technology available, I’m aspiring to learn new textile and design methods, with the aim of elevating my creations and brand. I personally make all my clothing – from textile weaving/construction to garment assembly and embellishment.
Why did you decide to launch the brand?
After launching my first collection as part of my university graduation show, I received an overwhelmingly good response. This definitely gave me a confidence boost in realizing that there is an interest market for my designs. At the moment the target demographic is directed towards the South African market but I’m slowly working on growing a presence beyond our borders.
My brand carries a message of sustainability and mindfulness
What message do you hope your clients receive from your designs?
In our consumer-driven world today, life is fuelled by instant gratification and collecting disposable commodities. Clothing is clogging up landfills at a higher rate than ever before because people don’t attach value to what they buy. My brand carries a message of sustainability and mindfulness; so by recreating artisanal clothing pieces from what is perceived as waste, I hope to change the way that people look at fashion.
Some may argue that your pieces are a little on the pricier side.
My garments fall into a higher price range, purely because all my textiles are hand-crafted and the designs require intensive construction time. I am also catering for a market that appreciate quality and artisanal production.
What materials does the brand use often work with and where do you source them from?
I mostly use upcycled materials to construct my textiles. I believe clothing design should start with creating a truly special and unique fabric, followed by establishing a design that speaks to the textile. I use handcrafting methods of weaving, patchwork and embroidery to create new textiles from disposable ones. I have sourced waste fabrics from various locations. I have found old jeans and denim from second hand outlets. I sourced denim sample swatches from textile mills. Some old fabrics were donated. And I bought many second-hand saris from the amazing Greyville Car-boot market in Durban.
If it’s my first-time handling upcycled clothes, are they easy to take care of and do they have a long shelf life?
They longevity of the garments can be extended for a lifetime if looked after well. My denim patchwork pieces are robust and easily cared for. The woven pieces need more care as the fabric is more delicate. I believe that in my textile construction style, garments will grow in character and texture the longer they are worn.
I took inspiration from the ancient art of Kintsugi, a spiritual practice in Japan where old and broken ceramics are repaired through craftmanship to give the act of restoration new significance.
We’ve noticed that you’ve released three untitled collections so far; 2016, 2017 & 2018. Why did you decided to not name them?
All of my collections thus far carry the same thread of meaning throughout. I took inspiration from the ancient art of Kintsugi, a spiritual practice in Japan where old and broken ceramics are not discarded, but rather repaired through craftmanship to give the act of restoration new significance. My collections adopted the essence of Kintsugi by giving waste fabrics renewed life, through embracing their flaws and finding ways to create wearable garments out of what otherwise, would have been discarded.
You’re currently working towards releasing the FRANCES VH X LEANDI MULDER collection. What inspired the mohair creations?
Having grown up on a mohair farm in the Karoo, Frances van Hasselt of Frances V.H Mohair Rugs has a close affiliation to the fibre, and has passionately shared her knowledge of mohair with me. From our years of friendship combined with my personal journey as a designer and seeing the importance of sustainability and end products supporting all aspects of the value chain, we both share the belief that it is time we start creating unique artisanal products locally.
Our planet cannot keep tolerating this current population of affluent buyers.
After completing a mohair residency together in Japan last year, Frances and I came home and started to look at the local textile industry in a new light. Instead of seeing the limitations and frustrations at play we starting focussing on the strengths and over-looked skills that are unique to the socio-economic make-up of South Africa’s textile industry. Frances V.H Mohair Rugs prides itself on a completely sustainable and local supply chain, helping to preserve traditional craftsmanship in rural areas of the country. Together with my fashion background and advocacy for sustainable design, we took these principles and applied it to our upcoming knitwear range. This collection is a celebration of handwork, hand-knitting and the incredible properties mohair fibres. It also commemorates the unique story of mohair in it’s deep-rooted connection to the landscape, farms and craftspeople of South Africa.
It can’t be easy being an eco-friendly brand in a mass-production, instant gratification market…
The main challenge has been to take the philosophy of the brand paired with the time-consuming construction of garments and establishing a consistent market-place for retail. The ideology behind my clothing also takes time for consumers to understand. Showcasing at AFI Cape Town this year has been a definite highlight. I really had no expectations as to what would result from the show; and was elated at the positive response that people expressed.
What more can African countries do to make fashion eco-friendly and ethical?
- Support your local fashion designers. This is the first step to ensure that you are not only supporting your local economy, but garments should most-likely be made in a more
- Source textiles that are not harmful to the planet, created in mills that employ ethical labour policies.
Ultimately, what’d you hope to a as a brand/ the legacy you hope to leave behind?
Our planet cannot keep tolerating this current population of affluent buyers. We need to send a message that by consuming less and consuming well, we will in fact; consume over a longer time-period. As a brand, we hope to encourage people to be mindful, intent and selective when they buy clothing.
We leave you with pieces from her 2016 collection which was entirely created from second-hand fabrics. What was considered worthless was given new life through a intuitive method that turned it into embroidered and patched textiles. Epitomising Japanese styles and silhouettes, the result was one-of-a-kind pieces that celebrate the impermanence and imperfections of everything.