VUT fashion student’s journey from a novice to a Bernina Competition finalist

By: Qhawekazi Memani – 02 November 2023

Zandisile Khumalo during the competition

Zandisile Khumalo, a third-year Fashion Design student at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) is slowly but surely permanently embroidering her name with bright colours in Mzansi’s fashion books.

Born and raised in the country’s biggest and vibrant township, Soweto, Zandisile is without a doubt cut from a different fabric – her passion for fashion design began at an early age, as she delicately worked needles and threads to bring her creative visions to life. For so long, competitions were uncharted territory for her until Bernina extended an invitation that would change her trajectory.

In the renowned Dress Your Style competition, Zandisile embraced the challenge of creating sports luxe designs, igniting a surge of inspiration within her. For first and second-year students, the competition offered coveted sewing machines and overlockers as prizes. Meanwhile, for third-year students like Zandisile, it was a chance to showcase their talent to the discerning eye of South Africa’s fashion luminary, Gert-Johan.

Being selected as one of the top five finalists was a whirlwind experience for Zandisile. Representing VUT and competing at this level was entirely new territory for her. Her time at the Bernina House was transformative, surrounded by like-minded individuals. “I absorbed knowledge like a sponge, immersing myself in every lesson, technique, and distinction to refine my craft,” she said.

As the sew-off in Johannesburg approached, Zandisile felt a mixture of nerves and exhilaration. The city’s skyline seemed to pulse with creative energy, echoing the beats of her resolute heart. With every stitch, she poured her soul into her creation, guided by the wisdom she had acquired.

When judgment day arrived, Gert-Johan meticulously assessed each design. “My heart raced; dreams complicatedly woven into the very fabric before me.”  Then the announcement resonated through the room, affirming Zandisile as one of the chosen few. She had stood tall amidst fierce competition, her talent shining brightly.

She shares that, the experience with Bernina was an awakening one: “I returned home with a newfound confidence and belief in my abilities as a designer. It was a beacon of light that shattered the self-doubt I had carried for so long. Now, I am unstoppable,” she said.

Her message to aspiring designers: “Dreams are not confined to the realm of sleep. With belief, consistency, and unwavering focus, they can be woven into reality. The path may be lined with critics and naysayers, but those are mere stitches in the grand tapestry of a designer’s journey.”

According to Ms. Ilani Wilken, a lecturer at VUT’s fashion department, Bernina SA hosts a prestigious competition annually, open to students pursuing fashion-related courses at tertiary institutions across South Africa. This year, VUT’s third-year Fashion students were given the opportunity to participate, submitting one of their meticulously crafted garments. Out of 95 entries from eight (8) universities, Zandisile Khumalo’s design stood out, earning her a coveted spot among the top five finalists.

“These five finalists embarked on a week-long journey in Johannesburg, tasked with drafting patterns and meticulously sewing their garments. Although Zandisile didn’t secure the top prize, the experience proved invaluable to her growth as a designer. VUT is proud of Zandisile and thank her for flying the VUT flag high.”