Just days before her 38th birthday, South African designer Palesa Mokubung was confirmed as the first African designer to collaborate with Swedish fashion giant H&M. Mokubung will make history this August when her collection hits the shelves of over 60 stores worldwide, joining the list of high-profile fashion designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander Wang, Moschino and soccer legend David Beckham, who have collaborated with the retailer.
The Johannesburg-based designer, who started her label Mantsho in 2004, is a firm favorite among local stars, including actress Terry Pheto (who starred in the Oscar-winning best foreign language film, Tsotsi) and Mokubung also counts this year’s costume design Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter among one of her biggest fans.
“She’s my sister on the other side of the world,” Mokubung told THR in reference to Carter, who discovered Mantsho when she walked into its Melville store in early 2018. “She just walked in, one day before Black Panther was released, and liked my collection at the time, which was a range of mud-cloth dresses. And she bought one dress and a signature accessory and said she would wear it at the Black Panther premiere. She got so much praise that, soon after that, she said, ‘Please can you make me another dress?’ And I did. It’s been ongoing since."
Mantsho (which means "black is beautiful" in Mokubung’s native Sesotho language) is known for its use of vibrant fabrics and bold, edgy designs. And Mokubung believes Carter is a true Mantsho woman: “She compliments the clothes in every way. It’s such an honor to have her, in all her glory, being a fan of my work. I really am flattered."
Mokubung has shown various collections in South Africa, and has also graced a number of runways in the United States, Greece, India and Senegal. The H&M collaboration means her designs (which up until now have only been sold at one store in Melville, Johannesburg) will now be available in dozens of countries. For Mokubung, the partnership has created the chance to bring her take on the African aesthetic to a global audience.
“The kind of woman that identifies with my brand is the woman who is a style leader among her friends, who is looking for something quirky and unique, who values comfort, originality and overall consideration for the female physique,” she says. “All these qualities are qualities that every single woman from any background can identify with. We all want to feel unique special and understood and adorned. The collection has that, even though it’s a commercial collection. That’s where the collaboration is a nice fit.”
H&M’s Pernilla Wohlfahrt, assortment manager for collaborations and special collections, says that the company is excited to bring Mokubung's work to the rest of the world: “Palesa is such an inspiring talent and personality. We love how she works with color, print and silhouettes enhancing the female shape in a flattering and playful way."
The collection will be available in H&M's flagship stores in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico, Chile and Israel starting on Aug. 15.