Presenting his SS17 Look Book, Matte Nolim’s latest collection titled « Mirror Mirror » which the designer Siyethemba Duma (whose alter ego is Matte Nolim) described it as « really being about me wanting woman to see themselves in my clothes when they look at them. »
The designer, who credits his amazing team for shooting this collection, says some people have described his clothing to be very « Western » saying, « Most people don’t know my face and try to guess what I look like (Laughs). I am always the total opposite for those who don’t know me. I think this has woken up the Zulu in me to say « Haaayi Nina » (Hey you!!) I’m as black as they come! »
I interviewed the designer to discuss Philip Lim, minimalism, his love for women and inspiration behind why he does what he does! Get ready for laughter, plenty of emojis and a look at his creations.
Hello Siyethemba! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! Much appreciated!
What time is it over in Johannesburg?
19:48 ,coming from my 1-hour nap about to hit « Night Shift » mode. 🙎🏽???💪🏾
When people ask you “What do you do?” what do you tell them?
I never say I’m a Fashion Designer ever. I think that term can be used by anyone who thinks they are creative and loves clothes. (Laughs) It’s used very lightly. So I become lame and say 🙎🏽??? « I make clothes for women. »
What’s the inspiration behind the name Matte Nolim?
Matte Nolim isn’t my birth name and surname although a lot of people think it is. To be specific, it’s my Alter Ego. I used to tell people it’s my Boss and they laughed at me!
You created Matte Nolim in 2013 after your internship and graduating. Tell me a little it about that period in your life. What were the lessons you learned?
2013 was an interesting time in my life. All my peers went on to seek employment and put their qualifications to good use actually. I couldn’t call another man « Boss » but I tried it for 3 months and realised I couldn’t save the money I hoped I could. So my 3rd month in the job, I quit! I skipped paying rent at my accommodation and went back home with money to buy my own sewing machine. It didn’t take long till I was making money and worked in a little corner of a fabric shop. I paid minimal rent, got customers from the shop and that was it for me. I realised I could make a living from my own two hands so that was my foundation .
You’re originally from Kwa-Zulu-Natal, and are now living in Johannesburg. Do you think having lived in both these places has influenced your work in any way?
Totally! If you look at what I was doing back home and who I viewed as my market, how I described my [Matte Nolim] woman, the language I speak now, and the things I say about my target market. Without a doubt a rural boy will adapt to the City life and forge his own way. 🙏🏾💪🏾
How was it growing up in Kwa-Zulu-Natal? What are your fondest memories?
First, I miss my mom right now 🙎🏽???💓! Kwa-Zulu-Natal (KZN) is a very laid back Province/State. It allows the dreamers to dream and see beyond the mountains 🐄🚶🏾. My fondest memories are of me at home wishing, dreaming of some of the things happening right now in my life. I wanted my work to be seen by the world and not just by my mom and myself. I would wake her up at 4am to show her what I had been making while she was asleep (Laughs) poor woman ?😥.
At that exact moment his mother sends him a text message
(Laughs) She just sent me a text asking if I’m ok (Laughs again) #moments
Talk me through your creative process? What are the steps you take when coming up with a new series or collection?
Great question! I have to get a feeling and a sense of direction and what message / impact I want to send out. I then work my way towards finding clean, minimal with a bit of drama to express that because I can’t loose the aesthetic. That’s who I am.
Once this stage 👆🏾 is clear, God takes over 100%! I start getting shocked by [my] ideas and get excited all by myself…I basically become a child 🙈!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re just like ‘what am I doing here?” when you’re in the creation process? How do you then manage to get unstuck creatively?
🙋🏾??? This happens to most of us before a great idea comes to life. But I’ve learned one thing that is the reason I create…
Who or what influences you?
👩🏽Women💁🏼,Women🙋🏽, Women! Women are my fuel! I need to be surrounded by stylish beautiful women in order to make beautiful clothes for everyone. This journey has been a weird one because at first I thought it was one woman who held the key to unlocking my [inner] beast so to say and later realised, I just needed to find her attractive, that feeling is my escape from designers block. I just need to know what they want and who better to help me understand than a woman. I hope that makes sense! 🙎🏽???💓
Are there any designers currently out there whose work you admire? If yes who?
I’m loyal to the ones that influenced me in the beginning; Victoria Beckham is my inspiration. How she’s built her brand to be so solid in a short span of time, no one saw that coming but her ?🏾.
Another designer is Phillip Lim. He is a like the dad I never met 😆 (Hi @31philliplim 💓💐). I’ve been studying him since 2013; his success rate was remarkable too. In 5 years he became one of the top brands from inception. I want that!!
Most of all I am sooo happy to be a part of this generation of young designers [from around the world] who are doing great things. We now have the Internet where we can see each other’s work; we don’t have to wait for fashion weeks anymore. I’m inspired by all of these young brands we have today who are creating ready to wear clothing with an edge. This is what pushes me to create something current and fresh. The Internet should be my home, I’m here all the time!
What is the one place in Johannesburg, you would highly recommend people to visit?
Mmmm Braamfontein?!! It’s more lively and young. Most people end up there eventually (Laughs) So yeah Braam.
Talk me through a typical day at Matte Nolim.
GO TO BED: Jot down tomorrow’s plans in A, B, C, D…
06:00-WAKE UP: Listen to some inspirational audio.
START with my A, B, C, D’s
10:00: Something unexpected is about to happen; a magazine urgently needs samples to shoot.
12:00: I’m probably doing my B or C (sewing or doing admin) then an order comes through that needs to be shipped out that same week.
14:00: Samples being returned from another publication or a courier coming to pick up client parcels
17:00 – 18:00: I need to nap for an hour to regain energy & make up for the unexpected things that took over my day that might have set me back a bit.
20:00: I’m good to go! I start wrapping up or preparing for tomorrow’s A, B, C’s and D’s and delegate what I can.
Not glam at all (Laughs)
You work with a number of fabrics and materials to create your collections. What’s your favourite type of material to use and tell me about your technique when creating a collection?
I used to love « Matte » fabrics like scuba (Laughs) 💁🏽???, but quickly got over that when I realized what Duchess Satin could do 😍 and that soft lux sheen it has was just beauty 😻. The one thing this material is great for is its volume and structure. With my aesthetic it just does the most, I owe a lot to it.
Are there any fabrics you haven’t worked with yet which you would like to try?
I played with velvet in University but recently got « touched » by it once again and will revisit it soon. I also bought a roll of denim with plastic coating; there’s something there too but for now I’m experimenting.
What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at that fuel your work?
I’m currently obsessing over clean African aesthetics throughout the continent starting with my own tribe of course and terming the concept « Modern African Minimalism ». I’m deep in feeling African with music especially.
Name one thing you don’t think you can live without.
My dream 🙆🏽??? and the tools to make them come true. #deathofme
Name me a famous person/people living or dead you would invite over for dinner.
What are the biggest struggles you’ve had to face since becoming a fashion designer and how do you deal with them?
People thinking you make dresses and comment, « Oh my grandmother was also a designer. » 💁🏽??? (Laughs) No, no, no!!! I won’t deal with this comparison 😀
But jokes aside!
At times people don’t appreciate the skills we [designers] put into making these pieces and want to negotiate on prices when they wouldn’t dare with a more established brand. It’s the respect we all seek as designers who don’t compromise on the work we put our names on. We can only set our own standards and be firm and correctly market our products.
Do you see your work as autobiographical at all and do you think your personal history works its way into creating a collection?
This question is so beautiful because I’ve always seen my life as a movie and definitely, definitely the things I’ve gone through have shaped my clothes; I’m just lucky that people relate to it. Maybe you haven’t noticed but there’s always a small dramatic moment with me! That also shows in my clothes.
What’s one clothing item you think all women should get rid of?
I would say leggings but I’m afraid I’ll get killed! (Laughs). Women love those so let’s leave it at that (Laughs)
What are you most proud of?
That I managed to stick this thing through. It hasn’t been easy. I’m sure the rewards are going to be great but the fact that I’ve stuck through all this time makes me realize what kind of a person I am. I’m proud of that so far.
How do you unwind after completing a collection?
This is a tricky one. I always have mixed emotions. You want to celebrate but you then ask yourself « Is it the right time? » 🙆🏽??? You want to go out but you need to rest more. 😀. This moment always feels like a cat being asked to choose between milk and fish so eventually I drop dead and sleep! 🙈
What do you want your brand to do for people?
I love your questions so much 😘!!!
I want people to understand « Minimalism » better; beyond the basic concept of less is more. Clothes shouldn’t be shy or loud. They also shouldn’t quickly sum you up in people’s eyes.
So with that said, what I want my clothes/brand to do is give women wearing it a sense of a beautiful curiosity about that them. And I want people to always have this reaction of « There’s something about her! » when they see someone wearing my designs. 👩🏽
What’s your dream for the future of Matte Nolim?
I need to take this thing [my brand] to a fashion capital & stockists around the world. I want it to be the first brand from my country to be one of the next greats and to be up there with them. 🙏🏾
Can you tell me, why do you do what you do?
I love women that much, they inspire me. 😍
Is there something you are currently working on, or excited about starting that you can tell me about?
My Autumn/Winter collection for next season, but for now we just thinking about wrapping up the year on a good note.
Can you remember the best piece of advice you received? Who was it from?
Wait! ?🏾 (Laughs) This has to the best interview I’ve had. Your questions make me want to ask you questions too! (Laughs)
Anyway, this was from one of South African Designers interviews Thula Sindi who said, « You need to IDENTIFY where you are needed as a designer 🙌🏾 and not force your something something… »
That first part alone hit home hard. I sat down and thought to myself, what am I doing? I was targeting the older woman but I had no interaction with her; we were living two separate lives and I was so young making women feel older and reserved. That one line transformed everything for me. I started looked at the women around me. The younger women or girl who was growing into a woman.
What’s the one question you wish people would ask you in an interview but never do?
(Laughs) The question you asked previously! ?🏾😀💓
And finally, any advice to readers who want to start their own line like you did?
You won’t find glam if you want to be a designer. You will give it. And once in a while, they will celebrate you. Find yourself and who you want to be. That’s what will help you through your journey. Be willing to make a lot of sacrifices (not just sleep). In the end, just love what you do and study your industry not just the course your currently enrolled in. Xxx
View the entire Mirror | Mirror Lookbook here.