How Rich Mnisi’s Gender-Fluid Designs Are Empowering Communities
Rich Mnisi is a South African fashion designer whose eponymous gender-fluid label has taken the fashion world by storm. Mnisi is a multi-talented artist who has made waves with his bold, gender-less designs and his dedication to representing the LGBTQ+ community in his work. He has also become known for his unique approach to fashion and furniture design, drawing inspiration from his upbringing and the spaces that have shaped him.
Founded in 2015, the brand is committed to creating clothing that can be worn by people of all genders, reflecting Mnisi’s belief that fashion should be a space for self-expression and individuality. What differentiates him from others is his intricate patterns, bold and colorful designs with unexpected shapes and combinations of fabrics and textures.
However, Mnisi is not only focused on creating exceptional clothing but also on supporting the LGBTQ+ community. As an openly gay designer, he has been vocal about the importance of visibility and representation for queer people in the fashion industry.
“The desire to create a space that embodied an authentic expression of gender fluidity through an African lens and the complexities of identity inspired me to start the RICH MNISI brand. For me, fluidity represents inclusivity, a tenet I hold very close to my heart,” he explains.
The designer goes beyond creating the garments to craft a storyline that aligns with individuals who share his background, physical appearance, and experiences. While growing up as a Black African child, Mnisi found familiarity with queer expressions within an environment that did not necessarily understand that world. “This inspired me to create a bank of visual cues that represent blackness and queerness as one—exhibiting an individual as a multifaceted celestial being who can’t be pinned now,” he shares.
The aesthetic of his brand is rooted in his deep connection with the women in his family. Through his work, he narrates the story of his loved ones, stories of powerful women who have birthed the next generation of powerful women—a never-ending exchange of information and passing down of traditions. “I love telling stories from lived experiences—this rewards the viewer with a cultural exchange at its most authentic and presents them with the importance of community,” he shares.
His commitment to his roots and community also emerges from the fact that he chooses to shoot his lookbooks and campaigns in the spaces where he grew up to showcase the beauty of his country.
Apart from fashion design, Mnisi’s second largest love is architecture. It’s rare for a designer to be equally talented in designing clothes and furniture, but Mnisi is simply the exception to the rule. Indeed, his furniture designs are bold and innovative, featuring unconventional forms and vibrant color palettes. “I create for the human body—beyond gender, race, and geographical lines. Whether designing clothing or furniture, the process is always an intuitive one for me,” he highlights.
Mnisi’s approach to fashion and design has derived from the same starting point, drawing inspiration from the same sources and using similar techniques. “An aesthetic and philosophical fluidity underpins my broad design vision, and it is reflected in my approach to all design. However, this doesn’t only mean in terms of movement and flow but also signifies the breaking down of boundaries,” he explains.
Mnisi’s architectural designs are characterized by their clean lines, bold shapes, and use of natural materials. He often incorporates local materials such as stone and bronze into his designs, which give them a distinctive African aesthetic combined with contemporary pop culture.
When creating a cohesive and successful collection in both fashion and furniture design, Mnisi pays increased attention to the story. “The story helps you weave a cohesive body of work because it enables you to identify who you’re creating for and helps you build a character. In return, this results in a conversation between the piece of art and the person consuming it,” he declares.
Yet he manages to narrate a unique, different story with his audience every season while keeping the conversation alive. “Our unique story paired with the ability to trigger new conversations with new pieces is what makes the brand stay current and innovative in the ever-evolving fashion and furniture design industries,” he discloses.
His stunning campaigns are an invitation to explore his whimsical world, filled with signature gender-fluid designs, vibrant colors, and passion for South African culture. For those LGBTQ+ designers but also for any young and aspiring entrepreneur who wishes to make a positive impact in the fashion world, Mnisi suggests, “Acknowledging the times that we live in, with so much access to information and exploring the power of the internet is the key to survive.”
In honor of Pride Month, the brand released its annual pride collection as part of the global Pride campaign, available on shop.richmnisi.com.
Among the collaborations of RICH MNISI with iconic brands, such as Adidas and Coca-Cola, is also this one with Smiley. The capsule merges RICH MNISI’s sustainable clothing with Smiley’s iconic logo and upbeat aesthetic, resulting in a collection that exudes an infectious sense of joy and optimism.
“It serves as a reminder of how powerful a smile can be; a smile you can find within, a smile gifted by a stranger—an endless network of happiness, opportunity, and change,” he adds.
In the last decade, there has been an emergence of fashion designers who aren’t just queer but have aligned their fashion vision with their identity, creating demystifying collections and radical concepts and ideologies to represent the inscape of non-conformity, fluidity, queerness, and androgyny—whilst maintaining a quick balance with their cultural roots. Mnisi’s work is a testament to the power of fashion to inspire and empower people and to the importance of creating a fashion industry that is inclusive, diverse, and sustainable. His dedication to the LGBTQ+ community, his commitment to shooting his lookbooks in the spaces where he grew up, and his unique approach to fashion and furniture design set him apart as a truly innovative and inspiring artist.
TROORA MAGAZINE | JUNE 2023
WRITTEN BY STELLA POLYZOIDOU
PHOTOS COURTESY OF RICARDO SIMAL | RICH MNISI