Thebe Magugu Releases Look Book for Spring/Summer 2023 Collection “Discard Theory”
Words by The Folklore Team
On Friday October 7, South African designer Thebe Magugu staged his first-ever women’s runway show in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, as part of the institution’s annual Fashion in Motion series. Ahead of the presentation the LVMH Prize-winning designer released the look book for his spring/summer 2023 collection, which is titled “Discard Theory”.
Secondhand or unwanted clothing from the Western world have long been sent to the corners of the African continent, and one of those places is in downtown Johannesburg – Dunusa, which translates to “bend over”, after the motion one makes when shopping there. Piles of clothes, from denim jeans to soccer jerseys, are available for sale in the open-air market of imported garments. While the perspective of the global North sees sending secondhand clothing to African countries as a worthy donation to people in need, the impact it has on the receivers, the environment and the way of dressing is complex, which is what Magugu explores with “Discard Theory”.
“I’ve been rummaging through a lot of discarded clothing at Dunusa, an area in downtown Johannesburg where America and Europe dump piles of secondhand, often soiled garments,” Magugu writes in his notes about the collection. “It got me thinking about globalisation’s effect on national stylistic identity – it’s not rare to see a local woman wearing a traditional Shweshwe waxed wrap skirt, often reserved for special ceremonies, paired with a Vodafone or Manchester United polyester tee. This hybrid – an unintentional dialogue between ‘The West and The Rest’ – was the starting point of this collection”.
Taking inspiration from the ideas in Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 essay “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, the designer experiments with the idea of “trickle-up fashion”, instead of the trickle-down version discussed by Veblen, which argues that fashion starts with the bourgeoisie set and makes its way down the classes, eventually ending up in places such as Dunusa.
“With SS23, I am interested in how Dunusa can shoot items considered ‘old hat’ back up into a luxury space,” Magugu says. “The collection was built by sourcing discarded clothing at Dunusa, bringing it into the studio, where I analysed silhouettes and proportions, photographed them, cut into them to expand, then refashioned them in updated materials.”
The result is several discarded denim pieces transformed into an off-the-shoulder jumpsuit. Or a pair of jeans superimposed onto a skirt, and handbags fashioned to look like sacks of rice.
“I love how we always re-contextualize pain, and almost turn it on its head,” the designer told Vogue magazine. “I think that’s the case, when you’re taking something that’s essentially destroying us and our environment and where we live, but then we see how we can absorb it and make it work for us. And into something that makes us proud.”