Chunky knitwear, tasteful v-necks: South Africa's Xhosa get a style makeover

Story highlights

  • In South Africa, Xhosa boys undergo an initiation when entering manhood
  • After a month-long process, the men swap traditional clothes for formal attire
  • Designer Laduma Ngxokolo makes clothes that match the Xhosa aesthetic

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Eastern Cape, South Africa (CNN)The journey from boyhood to manhood is a poignant time in any community. This goes double for the Xhosa men that live in South Africa's Eastern Cape. Males between the ages of 18 and 20 undergo an initiation, whereby the don traditional robes and paint their faces in clay before they are circumcised by traditional healers.

"We have to go through an initiation process, where we have to go to the initiation school for about a month, and learn about manhood protocol and learn about our culture as well," explains Laduma Ngxokolo, a leading knitwear designer, and himself a Xhosa man from the Eastern Cape.

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But for six months after initiation, as a symbol of their journey, Xhosa men swap their traditional clothing for formal wear -- typically tweed jackets, khaki trousers and checked caps -- all distinctly Western in their origins.

"For me, that's awkward because we are practicing a traditional culture and yet wearing clothes which are Western," Ngxokolo says. Spotting an opportunity, Ngxokolo decided to create menswear that incorporated more local designs and materials through his label MaXhosa.

"I decided to come up with something that would speak a language of the Xhosa, and actually use some of the aesthetics which is well known among Xhosa." He uses patterns inspired by Xhosa bead work, and uses wool and mohair available in the Eastern Cape. It's a look that has resonated, not just at home, but in the global fashion community as well. Last year, he exhibited at Labo Ethnik Fashion Week in Paris.

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    But even as his popularity grows overseas, he remains proudly South African. "There are a lot of products coming into the country that don't support the economy and which don't resemble any of the heritage and culture around us," he explains.

    "I would prefer to celebrate what I have here before going abroad and celebrating things that are out there."

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