Sibabalwe Ndlwana is a textile maker employing the unique process of traditional weaving methods combined with natural dyeing processes. In doing so, she works to keep an ancient practice alive, while driving creative innovation in her industry and championing sustainable design.
While working towards her diploma at the Cape Town College of Fashion, Ndlwana found herself unsatisfied with the state of the South Africa. Instead, “I found myself telling a story through the collections, which was my own story as well.”
Ndlwana’s journey to sustainable textiles still held some twists and turns: after graduation, she worked as a freelancer, pattern-making and taking small orders for sewing jobs. Feeling a need for more creative stimulation, she became curious about crafts and joined a weaving class. From there, things happened fast — particularly when she was awarded a scholarship to complete a Master of Arts in Fashion and Textile Design, at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano in Italy.
Today, she uses plant-based pigments for dyeing raw yarn fibres and fabric. In this way, she’s preserving an ancient process through experimental textile design inspired by imagination, nature, science, culture and tradition of indigenous African textile-making, and incorporating natural materials such as tumeric root, eucalyptus leaves, fynbos, bark and timber to produce unique colours.
Aware that her work exists in something of a niche, she has nevertheless been able to apply her skills to widely varied projects, including a number of successful collaborations. Working on a once-off project for ready-to-wear clothing label Selfi, she created a once-off collection of handwoven, pure wool scarves, complementing the brand’s apparel offering. In collaboration with Cameron Barnes Custom Furniture, she was able to create a fabric dyed with the eucalyptus used in the construction of these wooden pieces, which was then incorporated into the finished product. — Cayleigh Bright