H&M announced in April it would be releasing its first ever African collaboration. I called up Palesa Mokubung, creator of Mantsho, the brand the fashion retail giant teamed up with, to chat to her a little more about how it all came about, what it meant to her, and what it’s like having Ruth E Carter as a fan of her work.
The story published in The Hollywood Reporter, and I remember thinking how far off August seemed. I should’ve known it would have been here in the snap of a finger. The collection is here and I went to the launch, at H&M’s New York HQ, on Thursday. The setup was wonderful and chic — gorgeous Proteas, South Africa’s National flower filled the room, models luxuriated in the clothes on sofas and chairs, swaths of material used for inspiration behind the clothes hung from walls. Small bites of yummy food from SA-inspired restaurant Kaia were served, as we ogled what Palesa Mokubung has created for this collection.
Palesa herself wasn’t at the event, having sent actress & UNHCR Ambassador Nomzamo Mbatha in her place. This is a big year for the 38-year old — not only is she making history with her collection hitting 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, but she’s also about to give birth to a baby.
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 me, about 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. 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.