• South African fashion design duo MmusoMaxwell made headlines last December when one of their designs was worn by American pop star, Beyoncé
  • Operating out of Johannesburg, MmusoMaxwell has become a darling name to many in the Southern African fashion scene
  • In this interview, we discuss how things have been after their brand was worn by Beyoncé, and their success journey so far

South African fashion design duo MmusoMaxwell made headlines last December when one of their designs was worn by American pop star, Beyoncé. This is not the first time that they’ve been in the spotlight, though.

They have appeared on various reputable fashion publications, including Vogue, True Love Magazine, Marie Claire South Africa, Elle South Africa, i-D Vice Magazine among others because of their great work.

It’s as if fate prepared them to team up to form a fashion powerhouse. Mmuso studied fashion at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein and obtained a diploma in 2013. Maxwell studied fashion design at the Vaal University of Technology and graduated in 2015. They had plans to launch separate design brands.

Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko applied to be on David Tlale’s television show The Intern in 2016. Competitors try to gain a spot in the South Africa Fashion Week -- and they did. When they met during the placement, they aligned and discovered their shared traits and interests. They would later move on to share a brand name that propelled them to success post the TV show.

Operating out of Johannesburg, MmusoMaxwell has become a darling name to many in the Southern African fashion scene. The duo comes across as down-to-earth, focused and ingenious. No wonder big names have won their designs.

I had a chat with them to discuss how things have been after their brand was worn by Beyoncé, and their success journey so far.

Harun Momanyi: In a March 2017 interview with Vogue Italia, you mentioned that your general stylistic inspiration is from how elderly women dress up in your locality. How do you manage to have such a theme appeal to the younger generation?

MmusoMaxwell: Regardless of where you draw your inspiration from, it’s very important to keep your interpretation of that particular theme modern. That’s something we always keep in mind when working on a collection, to create clothes that are not necessary trendy but sustainable, modern and relevant to present times.

Harun Momanyi
Model: Kate. Photographer: Eunice Driver

HM: In the same year, you won the Sunglass Hut New Talent Search held at the Sandton City Rooftop. The prize included agency representation for a year and attending the London Fashion Week. This happened just after you started collaborating as a duo in 2016. What do you feel has made you two successful at such a young age?

MM: You have to be very strategic with everything you do because with us we had already introduced our brand but needed to reach a wider audience. We knew very well that the new talent search competition would give us a chance to showcase on a national platform and introduce us to a bigger audience.

Even after winning the prize instead of going to London we exchanged the trip for machinery which was something that would benefit and contribute to our company in a long run.

We also used some of the prize money to contribute towards our SS18 collection which was our first independent show to re-introduce our brand in a way that had no affiliation to an internship program or talent competition.

Harun Momanyi
Model: Vanessa. Photographer: Eunice Driver

HM: You are among the South African designers chosen to dress Beyoncé during her Global Citizen Festival ‘18 engagement with a piece from your Spring/Summer '16 collection for a chic daytime look. How did it come to happen? What was the overall experience and what was the outcome of such a milestone?

MM: When it was announced in June of 2018 that Beyoncé would be coming to South Africa, we got in contact with Zerina Akers her stylist. She then picked a few items to be made for her.

Harun Momanyi
Beyoncé dressed in MmusoMaxwell, posing with dancers

We were obviously thrilled to get a chance to dress one of the greatest performers of our time but had not anticipated the actual impact it would have.

HM: In October 2018, Woolworths announced that it would be collaborating with you and fellow S.A designers. Specifically, you were to create an autumn/winter collection. How do you feel about having an internationally recognized brand collaborating with you as a young creative duo?

MM: The Style by S.A. Woolworth’s collaboration is something we had wished that one day we would be part of when it first started in 2017.

It’s an amazing honour because a collaboration like that adds credibility to your brand.

Also, the process of creating the capsules for them has been a great learning experience in both the financial and production side of things.

HM: In Sub-Saharan Africa, fashion is not as booming as it should be, partly due to economic hurdles and lack of local government support for upcoming creatives. Despite living in the most developed country in Africa, you still face the same challenges. Locals also tend to buy from international brands as opposed to supporting their own. How have you managed to overcome this barrier so far?

MM: We would not say we have managed to overcome that barrier as yet, it’s still a challenge to sell our product to locals. Social media platforms such as Instagram have made it easier though to create visibility and reach a wider audience which might have interest in what we do hence stockists like the Folklore in the U.S were able to find and stock our brand.

Harun Momanyi
Model: Sara. Photographer: Eunice Driver

HM: During week 3 of last year’s SA fashion week, Sowetan Live termed you as designers to watch. You are truly a promising force to reckon with in fashion. What do you feel is your next major step in your business? What has always been your long term goal?

MM: Well our long term goal is to have more stockists locally and around the African continent, then keep growing from there.

HM: Do you feel that if one of you did not study fashion you would still have a chance to work together or it was an inborn passion?

MM: Maybe not, being that we met through an internship programme that required one to have a diploma in fashion design.

HM: How is your normal day-to-day schedule like?

MM: Because we still make our own patterns, cut and stitch ourselves we are very lucky to have each other. While one is making patterns the other is running errands and vice versa.

Harun Momanyi
Model: Constance. Photographer: Eunice Driver

HM: Both of you were once interns with David Tlale. You’ve reached a point where younger designers look up to you and maybe would want to be given the same opportunity by you. What do you look for in someone you would like to work with?

MM: Someone who is passionate about their craft and is willing to learn.

HM: 10 years from now, will you still be a duo?

MM: Most definitely, there are Dianna Ross or Beyoncé aspirations here.

HM: How do you ensure that you never run out of creative juices?

MM: By constantly learning, you can never know enough.

Harun Momanyi is a lifestyle contributor for Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa. He covers fashion, does celebrity interviews and is a committed advocate for sustainable development. He has been a BBC Komla Dumor Award finalist and a Forbes Africa 30Under30 nominee. Harun has worked as a Global Schools Ambassador for UN SDSN Youth. Apart from that, he is a PR consultant for various brands and public figures. You can follow him @harunmomanyi on Instagram and email him on harun.momanyi@gmail.com.