‘I want to be part of conserving the aesthetic of Xhosa culture in modern society’ – UP Consumer Science master’s student

Posted on May 03, 2024

“Clothing is a complete language that has internal and external influences on all of us,” says Zandile Zamela (33), who will be graduating from the University of Pretoria (UP) with a master’s degree in Consumer Science, specialising in Clothing Management.

Zamela has taken her passion for fashion to a new level with her master’s research, through which she sought to determine the impact of Westernisation on Xhosa women’s beauty standards and clothing habits.

“The goal was to determine if Xhosa women preferred popular Westernised beauty criteria – in relation to body size, body shape, skin tone and hair texture – or their own features,” she explains. “I also wanted to know if Xhosa women’s continual exposure to mainstream Westernised society had made them disinterested in their indigenous dress traditions, or if they were interested in Xhosa clothes. My research revealed that most of them showed a significant preference for Xhosa beauty criteria, with the exception of physical size. Despite the fact that Xhosa culture praises and supports larger forms, they preferred smaller body shapes.”

Through her studies at UP, Zamela came to appreciate the science behind textiles and knowing how to utilise different materials for diverse clothing. Interestingly, she began her studies in geoinformatics and subsequently moved on to consumer science, mostly because map programming and land surveying no longer inspired her.

“Two years into it, I realised I was not passionate about anything I was doing and it was my amazing mother, Beauty, who pointed out that I had always been a creative child, and that perhaps I needed to pursue a career that had some creative aspect to it,” Zamela says.  

She adds that she enjoyed every aspect of her studies in consumer sciences, which features a good balance of creativity and analytical subjects to keep her motivated. In third- and fourth-year, she learnt about visual merchandising and trend forecasting, and developed an appreciation for both the psychological and technical components of the degree, which include studies in textiles, pattern drafting and garment production.

“It takes expertise to transform a two-dimensional piece of fabric into a three-dimensional garment,” she says.One person who made a significant impact on Zamela during her studies was Dr Bertha Jacobs, a senior lecturer in the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences. Dr Jacobs’s participatory seminars on the various social elements of clothes were among her favourites.

“Dr Jacobs was supportive and enthusiastic about cultural and social aspects of clothing, which made her an appropriate supervisor for my studies,” Zamela says.

She enrolled in a master’s programme with Dr Jacobs as her supervisor, and recalls things going well at first.“However, as many research students will tell you, things got challenging, especially when I had to balance a job and my studies – but my supervisor’s support never wavered,” she says.Zamela hopes to be in academia and, through her research, influence clothing retail and fashion design spaces towards cultural inclusivity, beginning with her PhD, which will be solution-based for the gaps in her master's study.

She predicts that the future of Xhosa fashion will be a blend of Western designs and Xhosa aesthetic features, allowing for cultural representation in everyday life while still preserving the distinctiveness of Xhosa traditional dress.

“I see a modern version of maintaining Xhosa culture’s significance through the use of Xhosa stripes and geometric shapes as well as glass beading – I want to be part of conserving my culture’s aesthetic in modern society.”

- Author Yolanda Rakobela

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences