School of Life Sciences

Ms Nombuso Khanyile wore footwear from Afrikan Passion Designs to her graduation.

Fashion Designer Lands BSc Honours Amidst Expanding Business

Ms Nombuso Khanyile, the talent behind the Afrikan Passion Designs eco-friendly brand that was selected as Design Indaba’s Emerging Creative 2020 and exhibited at the Dubai World Expo 2020 and at Africa’s Travel Indaba, graduated this year with her Bachelor of Science honours in biochemistry after juggling her studies and business activities.

Khanyile’s interest in science was sparked during her childhood in Ulundi where she witnessed the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and felt motivated to contribute to identifying a cure. Losing her sister to cervical cancer in 2020 also motivated her to pursue studies in the prevention and treatment of disease, and she enrolled at UKZN to explore the use of natural solutions.

An outgoing person, Khanyile demonstrated an entrepreneurial and innovative inclination from a young age, starting her first business while in high school.

While a student, she and Mr Nisbert Kembo co-founded Afrikan Passion Designs. Inspired by the Nguni people’s culture and the climate crisis, they create environmentally conscious unisex handmade leather accessories.

Her business excelled; in 2019, Khanyile won the Durban Youth Connect Innovative Business Competition, and in 2020 exhibited her designs at the Design Indaba Conference at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre. She was named among the top 50 Design Indaba Emerging Creatives and one of the top nine in Durban, leading to the company’s selection by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Design Indaba to exhibit at the Dubai World Expo’s digital showcase.

Afrikan Passion Designs was also among the exhibitors at Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban in 2022, one of the largest tourism marketing events on the African calendar and voted Africa’s best travel and tourism show.

‘Exhibiting at the Dubai World Expo and Africa’s Travel Indaba gained us an international clientele as well as trust and a reputation for reliability among our new local customers,’ said Khanyile. ‘We are beyond grateful for such opportunities.’

She credited Design Indaba, SA Tourism, Durban Tourism, Synergy Business events, the Department of Sports Arts and Culture and Durban Small Business Support for making this possible, and thanked Ikhono Thrive Global for business funding that propelled Afrikan Passion Designs forward.

The company now offers its products at three physical locations in Durban: Vittoria and Co at the Watercrest Mall, the Social Gallery at The Pavilion Shopping Centre, and DFF at the Midway Crossing mall.

Her honours studies enabled her to explore nanoscience, and she completed her project on media modification for improved nanoparticle synthesis and yield using Magnetotactic bacteria. This falls within green nanoparticle synthesis and has applications in both industry and research, including in targeted drug delivery, drug development, and waste water treatment.

While navigating the challenging post-graduation world of rejected job application and their impact on mental health, Khanyile is applying herself to full-time leather artisanship in Afrikan Passion Designs, working alongside other creatives in Durban to hone her entrepreneurial skills.

‘I am learning to apply and merge my science and entrepreneurial abilities to create opportunities for myself as well as other graduates in the same position,’ she said.

Khanyile has earned recognition for both her scientific and entrepreneurial pursuits; in 2020 she was congratulated by UKZN Vice-Chancellor Professor Nana Poku for being a Wonder Woman in Science, and her business has been featured in Forbes Africa, SAfm radio, Sibizi Magazine, Isolezwe, CNA, YOCOEyethu Community Newspaper, UKZNdabaOnlineBizcommunity and Twyg Magazine.

She advised students interested in entrepreneurship to develop solutions-oriented businesses, do extensive market and business relevance research, ask for assistance when needed, market themselves confidently, network, prepare documentation in advance and enter competitions, and use their unique traits as selling points. She added that students should prioritise their mental health in balancing studies and entrepreneurial endeavours.

Interested in pursuing master’s studies in the future and inspired by women like Dr Yanga Mdleleni working in human papillomavirus research, Khanyile hopes to undertake research combining nanoscience and immunology to contribute to the control or even eradication of cervical cancer.

She dreams of contributing professionally to an inclusive, diverse and safe space that promotes mental health and the absence of racial politics and microaggressions where her work will be valued.

Khanyile thanked her family, friends, Kembo and UKZN PhD candidate Mr Femi Olawale for their support, and the late Ms Ndoni Mcunu for enhancing the visibility of Black women in science. She also thanked her honours supervisor Dr Karen Pillay for her academic guidance and assistance.

Afrikan Passions Design’s progress is documented on their InstagramFacebook and Twitter accounts.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied