South African designer Sindiso Khumalo made her debut at Milan Fashion Week with a collection based on American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
With the pandemic keeping many presentations digital, Khumalo’s namesake label presented a fashion film to feature the new collection and honor the life of Tubman, who used the Underground Railroad to free dozens of slaves after reaching her own freedom in Philadelphia. The film shows a model wandering through fields and farmland, hinting at the landscape Tubman might have known as a child.
The collection, “Minty,” titled after Tubman’s childhood nickname, features illustrations by Cape Town artist Shakil Solanki and tailored styles in hand-printed silk taffeta and handwoven cotton from Khumalo’s workshop in Burkina Faso. Khumalo’s brand also works with the NGO Embrace Dignity to employ women who were previously in sex work to hand crochet and embroider garment details.
Khumalo, who earlier this year was one of the joint finalists to share the €300k ($352k) LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, along with London-based Priya Ahluwalia, focuses each of her collections on the life of a historical Black woman.
Her previous collection highlighted the Egbado princess Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who was taken as a prisoner of war as a child and spent many years in the British Royal household under Queen Victoria. Her next collection will be inspired by South African activist Charlotte Maxeke.
“As a Black woman I want to make sure that we’re also part of history,” Khumalo said over a video call. “Harriet Tubman was my height – she was tiny – and freed 70 slaves. I want my kids to know that there were superheroes who were Black and female and petite.”
Having studied architecture at the University of Cape Town, Khumalo worked with lauded architect David Adjaye in London, where she also completed a masters in textiles at Central Saint Martins before returning to establish her label back in South Africa.
We caught up with Khumalo about her collection and presenting her work at Milan Fashion Week for the first time.
CNN Style: What do you want to communicate through your label?
Sindiso Khumalo: I am paying homage to specific Black women from a specific time in history to ensure their stories are told. I can’t believe there are some South Africans who don’t know who Harriet Tubman is. I want to educate people on Black culture and Black history and I think it’s really important that I use my platform to educate, and to bring hope as well. I feel like if I share these stories, people will feel like they can make some change, even if it’s small. It’s important for us to have these role models and talk about them because they are icons of our history.