Dunusa, it’s the isiZulu word that describes the act of bending over to pick things up. It’s also the name of an area in Johannesburg where people rummage through discarded clothing that comes from the west. This sets the scene for Thebe Magugu’s S/S 23 collection titled DISCARD THEORY. No stranger to exploring deep issues that impact his home of South Africa, the Johannesburg-based designer previously tackled corruption in his S/S 22 menswear show inspired by journalist Mandy Weiner's book Whistleblowers.
This time around Magugu's ruminations around the topic of textile waste and globalisation is the basis of his latest collection, which is also accompanied by a short documentary charting his creative process. Shot in downtown Johannesburg on site at Dunusa and in his studios, the film also highlights the relationship between the city's people and second-hand garments shipped from North America and Europe.
'I see it in Johannesburg all the time - people wearing items from their cultures and merged with a rouge, extremely American product found at places like Dunusa', explains Magugu. 'I don't support it and I don't condemn it. I find it a wildly fascinating phenomenon. This site acts as a nexus between the global and the locals, and the collection riffs on this.'
The documentary highlights Magugu's research process citing the ideas from Thorstein Veblen's 1899 essay, The Theory of the Leisure Class'. Subverting Veblen's notion of trickle-down effect, which argues that fashion starts with the bourgeoisie and trickles its way to every class, Magugu's collection experiments with the opposite. For the designer, the idea of a 'trickle-up fashion theory' best explains how, in spaces like Dunusa, items considered old are given new life as luxuries for a new demographic.
Beyond the socio-political implications of Magugu's analysis, the designer also subverts ideas around environmental sustainability. Repurposing what the Americas and Europe view as textile waste, Magugu built his S/S 23 collection by sourcing garments from Dunusa. 'There is a ‘soft decay’ about the collection from a design perspective. Once magnificent clothing is seeing the early stages of damage. Fraying appliqué, gashes of slits and pleated skirts that seem torn into are motifs that communicate the season’s direction,' the creative maverick explains.
The DISCARD THEORY lookbook will be released on 7 October with highlights from the collection being shown in London as part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “Fashion in Motion” series.
Check out the DISCARD THEORY documentary below.
Director: Francesco “Franasonic” Mbele
Production: The Social Shack
Consultant: Declan Gibbon
Model: Ponahalo Mojapelo