Design Indaba 2017: Sankara Rugs

Nkuli Mlangeni's graphically modern textiles untangle a diminishing handicraft to win the festival's Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award

Tying together the world’s artisanal past and millennial future is multidisciplinary designer Nkuli Mlangeni, who, at this year’s Design Indaba festival, took home the award for Most Beautiful Object in South Africa with her graphically modern Sankara Rugs. Mlangeni grew up in Kagiso, a township in the Gauteng Province outside of Johannesburg, but spent three years studying social innovation and entrepreneurship in Bern, Switzerland, as part of KaosPilots’ alternative business program. It was there that she started to investigate weaving and realized it was becoming a lost art form among her own country and South American regions in like Peru.

As she explains in the video for her MBOSA nomination, she felt inspired to affect change by combining things she’s passionate about: social revolutions, contemporary design, handicrafts, under-told African narratives and black aesthetics.

The upshot is a collection of naturally dyed, hand-woven textiles that pull visual references from the traditional dress worn during a Zulu Reed Dance. Mlangeni originally prototyped the rugs in Lima with raw wool sourced from Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia and Peru.

Sankara Rugs are now made to order and can be purchased online through The Ninevites—a collaborative, creative platform run by Mlangeni and two friends. Through fashion, textiles and events, the trio pushes to create a future that reflects the “vast beauty and invention” found in the history of southern Africa. It’s clear that Mlangeni also brings to the world a part of her own personal narrative, where back home in the Tswana language “Kagiso” means “peace.”

Images courtesy of Sankara