Thabo Kopele

Interviewed by Kgomotso Kiggy

Tell me a little about yourself as a designer?

I am Thabo Kopele, a 23 year old designer from a small town in the Vaal triangle south of Johannesburg. I studied fashion design at the London International School of Fashion (LISOF) in Randburg last year and my parents were unable to continue paying for my tuition fees and I was forced to drop out. That motivated me to work harder and made me even more passionate about what I do.

Fashion to me is about much more than just clothing and looking good. It’s about telling a tangible story that will last for generations to come. Growing up I wasn’t always able to express myself the way I wanted to and fashion was my way of setting statements without saying a single word. I also believe that I was able to bring more of my personality forth through clothing but above all, I’m a huge art fanatic.

Please tell me the name of your project and who you've started/collaborated or work on it with?

My main project for this year is to create a trans-seasonal collection with my colleague, Deniece Marz who has joined the very small Thabo Kopele® team earlier on in the year as our womenswear creative director. The name of our project is yet to be determined, we have finished the first few phases of the collection’s development.

Please give me a brief project description?

In this collection we will be exploring afro-brutalism in what has seemed to be a new world. Drawing inspiration from both the Bauhaus movement and the architecture of the school itself. This included finding what some of the pools of inspirations that Walter Gropius drew from were and that lead to finding out that the way in which the columns of the building were made. Gropius has looked into some of the cubist ideals and used those as a skeleton for his own project.
We then followed the route and found that phenomenal transparency is one theory that worked beautifully with what he wanted to do. The interpenetration of figures conjures an ambiguity or contradiction of spatial dimensions. Not only will this be translated through our own interpretation of this narrative but it can definitely be a good conversation starter for the art sphere of the country. This is a narrative we do not always have in South African fashion, so we want to implement this as a way of suggesting something newer than what we've done in previous collections.

How long have you been working on this project?

This has been in the works for about 3 months now and is due to go under another 2 months or so before it is released.

What do you deem to be priorities of your project?

I believe our biggest priorities are to produce an absolutely cohesive collection, to make sure our narrative is translated well enough through the clothing. If our products are produced beautifully and neatly then the rest will be so much easier to do and be responsible for.

Is there a 'big idea' for all the work that you do? What is it and how does this project contribute to that big idea?

Yes. I had mentioned I think it might have been in my first ever interview with a publication in 2018 that my plan for the brand to be a clean, stylish and contemporary minimalist and to evoke and incite more conversations about art in South Africa through fashion.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Apart from art and architecture, inspiration normally also comes from life experiences, I enjoy being as observant as I possibly can and it has taken me to some very interesting places for sure.

What do you deem are the biggest needs of your industry currently?

Government support. The fashion industry of South Africa needs, at least, one properly functioning fashion council that helps regulate some of what we would call the 'grey area occupations' within our industry to facilitate our work in South African fashion. Additionally, we need infrastructural support of the brands and companies that are creating jobs and have the potential of creating  jobs that will contribute positively to the country’s GDP.

Do you believe in collaboration? why?

Most definitely, I don’t believe one’s dreams are big enough to make an effective change if they’re not willing to collaborate at all. I think collaboration is also a lot more delicate and should be appreciated much more than it is, that’s why I tend to be quite picky when it comes to this.

What are your views on playing and experimentation, and do these come through in how you put your work together?

I love play. Without it I doubt some of my praised work would have ever lived up to it if I had not played around with the concepts and ideas first, or even during the final execution process. There needs to be an element of letting things just transpire as you make them in order for them not to merely exist but rather stand out as much as it should.


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