A charismatic, young and dynamic designer with no off switch, Mnisi’s creative skills and curatorial eye have allowed his to translate between a number of creative disciplines, ensuring his distinct, signature designs are, already, in the closet or the ‘Wishlist’ of a diverse set of consumers, fashion lovers and celebrities alike.
Nicola Cooper, Senior Trend Analyst and Cultural Strategist aimed some rare questions to the, notoriously, productive designer. This is what the man behind the RICH MNISI brand had to say about life, his Mom and what it feels like to dress both Queen B’s.
What was your first introduction to the fashion space and how old were you?
I was 4 years old. My sister looked at a pair of jeans and she saw a skirt – the way she reworked and altered her clothing was absolutely inspiring.
She triggered my desire to play with clothes myself; at a very young age and got me I into the trend of cutting up clothing, wrapping curtains around my body and cutting up magazines to make paper clothing.
You are formally educated/trained in Fashion, do you think this gives you an advantage or a point of differentiation for other designers?
Not necessarily, besides technical skills, fashion is really about having a good eye.
Creatives pull inspirations from a variety of sources, where is your starting point for a concept for a range, a shoot or a product, how do you kick start the process?
Generally my design process is different from season to season, sometimes it starts with a song, fabric, the core inspiration or just me strutting down my corridor imaging how a skirt moves.
South African designers are often limited with fabric, you have gotten around this through the use of clever cuts, textures such as pleating, print design etc. Do you think that the limited accessibility of materials has pushed you into being more creative?
Yes and No, in the beginning that was definitely the case. I had to design smart and within my means but now I’ve developed my own aesthetic and there’s certain things that will always be in a RICH MNISI collection.
How does it feel to receive news that Beyoncé/Naomi Campbell/Bonang Matheba is wearing a RICH MNISI piece?
It means that we are magic and that our work travels well globally. That we have a growing market to attract.
I always feel incredibly humbled and motivated to do more when people wear my clothes no matter who they are. As long as people feel good in them, then I am fulfilled and more so when I get to fly my country’s flag high.
You have referenced your Mom as inspiration behind your work, what is the thing you want your Mom to be most proud of in you? Each parent has a dream for their child, I hope her dreams are realised when she thinks of me. I want our family name to be referenced in history.
You are known as a Designer, but you have moved beyond this categorisation into Art Directing/Creative Direction/Furniture Design and much more, is there a reason to this?
I do it to recharge my creativity, to feel uncomfortable and to explore my creativity fully. Fashion can get repetitive and you can find yourself being comfortable and relying on your past successes.
What is your favourite outcome this far into your career, anything that came out even better than you anticipated or could plan?
My collaboration with Southern Guild on my furniture pieces has been the highlight of my career. The process, the outcome and the response were a pleasant surprise and I’m only excited to make more.
As a successful, young, black, African designer do you think/feel that you are paving the way for other designers and does this add any additional pressure to your career?
I think everyone’s contribution to the local fashion industry contributes greatly to how the industry is shaped.
If you could sum up – in your own words – Young, Contemporary African Aesthetic.
And how does the Rich Mnisi brand fit into this?
My work is based off lived experiences.
You surround yourself with equally talented friends and often work with them as well, is it easier or harder to work with friends?
It’s very fluid, and never forced. The best is that it’s ‘ignited’ by conversation and mutual interests.
Beyond your talent you have become “somewhat of Celebrity” is there a difference between your private and public persona?
I’m always myself.
What is the perfect soundtrack to a Rich Mnisi life?
Beyoncé – Bigger
What do you do to disconnect or relax?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever fully disconnected to be honest.
How would you explain your personal style?
Informed by how I feel or want to feel.
Is there an end goal for you or are you just seeing where life takes you?
We have a lot of amazing plans for the future of the brand.
Do you have something new that we can to the Africa Is Now Audience?
After a year of research, design and prototypes – I am excited to announce that I am collaborating with Southern Guild on a group show opening on the 24th of October 2019. The show will launch my new furniture pieces titled Nwa-Mulamula: Alkebulan. A fashion collection with the same title will follow shortly after.
This release will be different to what I usually do each season.