Siphiwe Mnguni was a finalist in the first Fashion Futures showcase at London Fashion Week. Seven years on she has just graduated with a showcase at New Designers, and is already tackling important issues through her emotive textiles art.
When Siphiwe took part in Fashion Futures workshops as a teenager she always had a smile on her face. Behind her sparky exterior, she had a lot more on her plate then just getting a garment ready for London Fashion Week, as her graduate collection reveals.
Siphiwe, your Dad was diagnosed with Dementia and Alzheimer’s ten years ago. How did you cope with that?
“I never told anyone when I was doing FAD. It’s only through this project that I actually feel comfortable to talk about it. I feel able to articulate my feelings now. Before, when I was younger, I wasn’t able to do that.”
After Fashion Futures and the show at London Fashion Week, what did you do next?
“I took a year out. I worked with a charity called Lewisham Carers that work with young people who care for their parents. Then I went back to doing creative stuff. Firstly a foundation year at Ravensbourne, which was really intense, before coming straight to Farnham UCA to do a Textiles BA, which has been great.”
Tell us more about the thought process behind your final project?
“Initially for this collection I was taking lots of Polaroids of my Dad in his pyjamas. I visited a care home and I was looking at all these individuals – they were all in their own worlds. It was so intense. Some were silent, others talkative and some of them just really angry. I wanted to try and put that into a single image. So through photography I started thinking about how when you have Dementia and Alzheimer’s, you revert back to being a child, to your childhood. You are vulnerable again and in the care of others.”
You have just graduated. Where do you hope this will take you next?
“Because of this project, I feel very different to what is going on here with the other graduates. Coming to New Designers has really made me realise I am more fine art textiles.
I’ve been working for a year with an oil painter, which has been really eye opening, so I’d like to carry on working with her. But I feel really open to anything at this stage. I feel like I’m only just getting started – the stuff that I’ve been working on doesn’t feel like it’s finished yet – I want to do more research, more printing.
I’m excited but also nervous to have graduated – it’s like embarking into the unknown. But I think I have to just carry on and take it to that next level now. I’d love to do an MA but maybe in a couple of years after I’ve gained some more experience.”
How did taking part in FAD as a teenager help you?
“FAD gave me the opportunity to experience all facets of the fashion industry before I had even finished A-levels. From creating and presenting my initial designs in front of a board of judges, to exploring the HQ of Mango in Barcelona. With FAD I was given the best guidance and mentoring from seasoned professionals and creative graduates. They gave me the foot in the door I needed.
With the amazing support of the FAD team, I was able to see that my dreams were obtainable and not only exclusive to the top tier of society. The experience with FAD forced me to be independent and confident in my talent. I had to get myself to the weekly sessions, meet new people and over time my confidence grew. The FAD experience allowed me to have my own identity and I am very grateful for this.”
Do you have any words of advice for other young people who are struggling to balance education and caring for a loved one?
“Firstly and foremost, I would say speak up and tell someone. I never spoke about my father’s condition, not even to my friends. This brought added stress because I wasn’t fully myself with people. I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t hang out with them because I was looking after my dad.
Carers often forget to look after themselves because their full attention is on caring for a loved one. If you are happy and healthy, you will do a better job at caring for your loved one. There are organizations like Lewisham Carers that support young people from extra help with homework and even linking you up with other young people caring for parents too. Talk to your family, friends and teachers or even blog your thoughts.”
Tell us what you think of Siphiwe’s graduate collection on twitter @fadcharity. If you are a young carer in need of support search for your nearest organisation here.