Creative director and founder Craig Jacobs opens up about what stirred him create the label.
You’re a journalist who quite surprisingly, decided to dabble in fashion. How did that come about?
I’m a strong believer that the universe sends us signs which we need to be open to accept and my life has been about being receptive to that. The first thing that happened was I was asked to co-present an episode of an international lifestyle programme called Fashion Avenue presented by British ubermodel Jodie Kidd and she turned to me at one point while we were filming in Cape Town, after falling in love with a simple Xhosa skirt with a screen-print of a calabash and a single cowrie shell as embroidery and said: “This is what I am looking for; something you can’t find in the high streets of London”.
Then I was interviewing the singer Thandiswa Mazwai and she told me that she wears different cultural garments – not just Xhosa – because we need to acknowledge the diverse cultural tapestries of our country and she told me about the Venda and I thought: This is interesting.
I always wanted to empower young creatives in what I do – that’s how I started my first company, STY(LIST)A back in 2004, and I met an amazing designer called Pumla
Ngxekana and I think we had a mutual appeal for a particular sort of design which was modern but inimitably African and so we started Fundudzi together. Pumla’s now in New York and I wish she could see how far we have come from those humble beginnings!
How do you reconcile the two worlds? Surely it is something which your colleagues in media and in design find a little difficult to grapple with?
Yes, I suppose no one in South Africa particularly, has done something like this. You know, it has taken me a while to try and come to grips with this apparently dichotomy. But I realized at the beginning of 2011, when I was in a bit of a fork in the road when it came to my label and what I knew I had to do in terms of moving forward, that what I am really is a communicator who uses words and clothing to transmit a particular message. It was also the moment when I decided that finally, I am comfortable with clearly placing my name to the label, hence the shift to Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs. The change also marks my closer involvement in the label – when I started, my label was oriented around mentoring young designers and it is amazing that the people who have worked under me have been able to go on to create their own viable businesses. I am still involved with various mentorship endeavours, but I am also now more directly involved with the design creation process while in the past I was more a gatekeeper of the creative process.
So what message are you transmitting through Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs.
We live in a world where social media is becoming so intertwined with our existence, and we are looking for information which not only builds our knowledge but taps into our diverse interests. Besides spreading the message of living consciously with our environment, and being more ethical in our way of life, I am dedicated to spreading positive messages about African and other indigenous cultures in what I do. Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs is really a conduit for me to tell people these stories. For instance, when I started my label so many years ago, many in the South African community could hardly pronounce Fundudzi or knew that it existed. My label was a way of saying, this is an ecological treasure which we need to start celebrating – it is part of the tapestry of our life!
What is the signature of a Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs piece?
I have unpacked key elements of African traditions such as head coverings and the manner in which women envelope themselves in indigo cloth or blankets and those processes are retooled into more modern, cleaner silhouettes.
We are also passionate about exploring handiwork techniques and in that way, we are helping to preserve handed down traditions while empowering different co-ops who can now carve sustainable businesses out of their cultures.
Then there are also key principles which we interrogate with every design – does the silhouette flatter, does it enable freedom of movement, is it comfortable? Those are simple elements which are often taken for granted, but they are hallmarks of our work.
Nestling in the foothills of the Soutpansberg mountains of Limpopo the people of Venda have long known that lake Fundudzi is a special place.
They have guarded it closely, believe you can hear their ancestors drumming beneath its waters at night. It is the sacred burial shrine for the Netshiavha Royal family of the Vhatavahatsindi clan of the Vhavenda people. They say also, that lake Fundudzi is the home of an albino python and a mermaid like creature.
This special place is the largest freshwater lake in Southern Africa – and research is showing is it arguably the world’s only lake to be formed by a lands slide.
Now the lake is on path to become listed as a national heritage site and this news has opened up a debate about what impact this will have on one of South Africa’s most precious ecological treasures.