EXCLUSIVE: Thebe Magugu Launches Customizable Wax Print Shirt

PARIS — South African designer Thebe Magugu, whose collections explore personal and collective narratives, is offering customers the opportunity to tell their own story through cloth.

Magugu has created wax print blouses, which can be customized with the wearer’s own images and names. They can be preordered from Oct. 6 to 22 via a dedicated portal on his website thebemagugu.com, and will be delivered from Dec. 10.

The heirloom blouse is based on a print from his spring 2022 collection that featured black-and-white family portraits in medallion frames. Magugu’s personal shirt features a photograph of his late grandmother Matiego praying.

“I always wear it to things that are quite big, that make me quite nervous, and I always feel like my family’s there with me looking down,” he told WWD from New York, where he accepted the Franca Sozzani award at Fashion 4 Development’s annual First Ladies Luncheon.

Magugu noted that African wax prints traditionally feature important historical figures.

“What I love about the family heirloom project is that I think it gives people the power to tell their own story,” he said. “Whether it’s blood family or chosen family, whether it’s someone who is living or has transitioned, I really love this idea of people being able to be memorialized through cloth.”

The designer created the order platform with Commission, a London-based design and branding consultancy, which conceived his brand’s signature Sisterhood emblem, and British digital design studio Official Business

Models in Thebe Magugu's heirloom shirt

Models in Thebe Magugu’s heirloom shirt.

Alice Mann/Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

“Obviously it was an incredibly ambitious project,” Magugu noted. “To pull it off from a production, logistics point of view has been crazy, but we have pulled it off.”

Priced at 7,500 South African rand, or $400, the shirt is available in women’s and men’s fits. It will be created in a semi-matte satin and comes in three colors — sky blue, candy pink and lime green — with sizes ranging from XS to XXL.

“As you key in details like the name of this person, their picture, it creates a 3D full-360 shirt in real time, so that you can get a preview of exactly what shirt you’re getting,” he said. Each customer will also receive an NFT version of their shirt. 

To promote the project, Magugu appears in images shot at his studio in Johannesburg, which also feature Florence, one of his machinists, in addition to a diverse cast of models and friends. It marks the first time the designer, who won the LVMH Prize in 2019, has stepped in front of the camera for a campaign.

The theme was inspired by images from the 1950s of fashion shows and couturiers at work behind the scenes. In one shot, Magugu recreated an old photograph of Valentino Garavani reading the papers over breakfast.

Magugu has scheduled a capacity for 400 shirts, but is prepared to make more or less if needed. “It’s a leap of faith. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I really feel like it’s one of those projects that will define my work,” he said. 

Thebe Magugu in his studio.

Thebe Magugu in his studio.

Alice Mann/Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

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