Rich Mnisi: Crafting a legacy of love and equality

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Rich Mnisi (Photo: Rich Mnisi / Instagram)

Soweto-born Rich Mnisi has risen to prominence as a trailblazing international fashion designer, using his work and platform for LGBTQ+ advocacy.

His journey commenced at LISOF School of Fashion in 2014, culminating in him being recognised as the Africa Fashion International Young Designer of the Year at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa.

Today, the Johannesburg-based Mnisi stands at the forefront of a transformative wave, amplifying African narratives in global fashion.

From Local Origins to Global Recognition

Mnisi’s eponymous brand, established in 2015, is a testament to his commitment to providing a fluid expression of gender, celebrating youthful excellence, and exploring minimalist cultural tailoring. It’s more than just fashion; it’s a narrative that captures the essence of the LGBTQ+ community.

Gradually, over the past few years, Mnisi’s brand has woven itself into the fabric of the local and international fashion scenes. Collaborations with renowned brands, appearances at fashion shows worldwide, and a growing fan base have all contributed to the brand’s meteoric rise.

One cannot discuss Rich Mnisi without acknowledging the international acclaim his designs have garnered. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, a global icon, has adorned herself in the elegance of Rich Mnisi creations. His signature printed polo neck sweaters and short sleeves have become emblematic of style and inclusivity, challenging traditional notions of gender in clothing.

While openly gay, Mnisi is not overly vocal about his sexuality, which he instead prefers to express through his work.

In 2017, he told i-D: “For me, I’ve never spoken about my sexuality or felt the need to. Even when I came out to my mother, it wasn’t a true coming out, I just introduced her to a boy. I’m not the most vocal person so I deal with it through other means, mainly my brand.”

“Everyone knows but I address it through my work. Even then, there’s no caption because people should just take it and accept it. In South Africa we’re very privileged and everyone’s starting to have conversations about LGBT communities. But when you go higher in Africa it’s still frowned upon, it’s dangerous to admit that you’re even slightly attracted to the same sex,” he said.

Pride Month Capsule: An Artistic Ode to Identity

The 2022 “Out” collection by Rich Mnisi

Mnisi has for several years marked Pride month by producing designs that are an artistic manifestation of struggle and resilience as components of personal identity.

These limited edition collections strike a delicate balance between elegance and fluidity, capturing the nuances of the LGBTQ+ experience.

Speaking about his 2022 “Out” collection, Mnisi said: “As inequality rages on so does our fight, but within it, we celebrate the small wins. We choose joy wherever it’s found. Beyond the struggling and striving, we keep hoping for a better future, one of peace and freedom for every identity.”

Mnisi’s design philosophy extends beyond aesthetics; it embodies a celebration of identity and a call for inclusivity. The garments serve as a statement, a visual representation of the LGBTQ+ community’s triumphs and challenges.

Adidas Collaboration: “Let Love Be Your Legacy”

In a landmark collaboration with Adidas this year, Rich Mnisi once again positioned himself as a leading advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. The “Let Love Be Your Legacy” collection for Pride 2023 was a fusion of fashion and activism, with Mnisi’s designs transcending traditional boundaries. Inspired by a love letter he wrote to his younger self, the collection serves as a mission statement and rallying cry for active allyship.

The collaboration features a vibrant colour palette adorned with empowering slogans like “Love Unites” and “Let Love Be Your Legacy.” The apparel and footwear showcase Mnisi’s retro graphic print, a tapestry of monochrome circular checks and hand-drawn flowers, creating a visual language that speaks directly to LGBTQIA+ allyship.

In 2023, Rick Mnisi collaborated with Adidas

Beyond aesthetics, the collection is a tangible commitment to sustainability. It includes garments made, in part, with recycled materials and is produced in collaboration with Better Cotton, reflecting Mnisi’s dedication to environmentally conscious fashion.

Mnisi eloquently articulated the intention behind the collection, stating, “In creating this collection, I had a strong impulse to speak to my inner child and express to the world how LGBTQIA+ allyship can create a legacy of love. Unifying these themes together through my own visual language and Adidas’ iconic performance and lifestyle pieces is a powerful combination – making the collection a symbol for self-acceptance and LGBTQIA+ advocacy.”

Advocacy Beyond Fashion

Rich Mnisi’s commitment to LGBTQ+ advocacy extends beyond major collaborations. Partnering with THOUGHTS in 2021, he launched a Pride capsule collection advocating for better allyship.

This collection not only celebrated the LGBTQ+ community but also contributed to The Pride Shelter Trust, supporting Africa’s first formal haven in Cape Town that provides short-term shelter for members of the queer community during times of crisis. Ten percent of all profits from this collection went towards this crucial cause, exemplifying Mnisi’s dedication to creating a positive impact.

The 2021 THOUGHTS Pride capsule collection raised funds for The Pride Shelter Trust

A Legacy of Love and Change

In the realm of South African fashion, Rich Mnisi is not just a designer; he is a storyteller and a real advocate for change. His narrative unfolds in every stitch, every design, and every collaboration. The Pride capsule collections and collaborations with global brands like Adidas exemplify his commitment to using fashion as a platform for positive change.

Mnisi’s journey from a local designer to a global icon is a testament to the power of creativity, resilience, and the unwavering belief in the ability of fashion to shape conversations and redefine societal norms. Let his story be a call for all of us to let love be our legacy, not just in clothing but in every aspect of our lives.

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