Dancer to designer: Verushka Pather blends her Indian and African heritage to create stunning garments

Dancer to designer: Verushka Pather blends her Indian and African heritage to create stunning garments

  • Verushka Pather has taken her love for Indian and African culture, and blended the two to create the most beautiful designs. 
  • The dancer ventured into the world of fashion with the idea of showing the best parts of South Africa to the world.
  • Khanya Designs combines eye-catching African prints and fabrics with traditional Indian designs. 

Verushka Pather is on a mission to take the best of South Africa and share it with the world, and she’s doing it all through fashion.

A trained dancer, Verushka expresses herself through Bharata Natyam, a classical Indian dance. And while she so proudly showed off her love for her Indian culture, Verushka wanted to find a way to incorporate her South African heritage into her clothing too.

“Being a dancer, we love stories, and our dance is created from stories. I started looking at what are beautiful things about Indian culture and Indian fabrics, and Indian saris that are so unique, and then thinking how would the everyday South African woman be able to wear these things?” she explains.

And from that idea, Khanya Designs was born. 

It’s a blend so unique, taken from different worlds, each with their own bold patterns, colours, and designs, yet they meld together so seamlessly. “Indo-African” fashion, she calls it – joining Indian patterns and eye-catching African prints. 

READ MORE | 14-year-old Joburg girl to study medicine next year and has already completed a Harvard course

After living in India for several years, Verushka says she was exposed to the most beautiful materials woven by locals. But upon returning to South Africa, she struggled to find anything that resembled the vibrant textiles she had become so fond of. 

“I was a little disappointed because I looked at all the stores and just couldn’t find authentic cotton and just the bold, beautiful colours.”

Knowing just where to go, Verushka’s friend took her to Durban’s bustling CBD. “It became my second home,” she says. 

“I fell in love with being in Durban town and learned amazing things from the gogos of town, [like] how to choose fabric, and then I started just buying small quantities, and then bigger quantities, and it just started from me making clothes for myself. 

“Wherever I travelled around the world of dancing, I would always wear ishweshwe and the African wax prints and everyone loved my clothes, and it was always very different because it looked Indian, but it wasn’t Indian, and they kept saying: ‘Why does it look so different and unique?'”

It was then that Verushka realised she had something special on her hands, “because it had its own unique flavour. It’s a kaleidoscope of stories, because it’s two different cultures, two different nations”.

‘There’s something unique about SA women’

The designer also kept the South African woman in mind when she created her collection, making a point of celebrating curvaceous bodies. As a curvy woman herself, Verushka often struggled to find clothes to fit her body type when residing in India. 

“In India generally, I don’t get clothes to fit my size. It’s not the everyday size because they’re very petite woman, so I started looking at designs that are created for the everyday woman, for the South African woman – our beautiful big busts and bums. There’s something about South African woman that’s so unique, that’s different from the rest of the world, and that’s what makes our cultures so beautiful.”

Verushka credits her large team for helping her bring her work to life. The dancer had no previous design training, but learnt from friends along her journey. 

One of her closest companions, Cosmos, creates all of the beadwork that accompanies her garments.  

“Cosmos is an amazing soul, I’ve known him for so many years now, he’s done things for my kids and then, when we started Khanya designs, I would sit with him on the pavement at his place on Avondale Road.”

Together, they watched video tutorials, learning how to take Cosmos’ beading skills and transfer them into the world of fashion. 

“I design pieces of jewellery to match the clothes, and then Cosmos and his sister, they do all the beading for us. And when it’s a big order, then they are able to employ other people. So that’s the idea, we increase our team, eventually I’ll be able to take everybody off the street and into my own space and have my own people – seamstresses, tailors, pattern makers.”

‘The weave of our land tells us our culture’

As Verushka gets ready to launch a new collection for Heritage Day, she tells me about the unique coconut shell buttons she created by hand to accompany her designs. 

“I’ve personally made my own coconut shell buttons – collected coconuts from temple grounds and holy places and made buttons from the shells. It’s been hand done. It’s beautiful, and now our clothes that are being launched on Heritage Day are going to be adorned with the first coconut shell buttons.”

Verushka has always been an advocate of supporting local brands, even encouraging her children to only wear local designs. That love is evident in Khanya Designs. 

“It’s been our vision that we be proud of our own heritage in South Africa and wear our own clothes, wear our own fabric. 

“You know, the weave of our land tells us our culture. That’s what’s going to keep us true and authentic to holding onto ourselves.”

While Khanya Designs has created beautiful garments inspired by traditional pieces, Verushka says she has also taken her love of Indian and African culture and used to make modern clothing too. 

“It’s really my wish that I’m allowed to take the best parts of South Africa to the rest of the world. Khanya is a medium for social cohesion, a medium for collaboration. It’s a powerful tool for bringing us all together.”