Bespoke Beadwork

By September 10, 2019 No Comments

Lunga Ntuli was never destined to be a beach car guard in Ballito. His refusal to settle is nothing short of inspirational. Now, he’s the author of five self-published books on love and relationships, will soon appear on CNN, and has just returned from Africa Fashion Week in London where he showcased his bespoke wrist watches. He sat down with Life & Style, on his birthday, to share his story.

“I’ve always been a big dreamer,” states Lunga Ntuli. “You know those SAB TV adverts with Vuyo, the big dreamer?” he asks rhetorically. “That’s me!”

Lunga’s first love was certainly not fashion, never mind watches. It was cricket. There was never a doubt in his mind that he would one day play professionally, but when he could not continue his school scholarship into his tertiary studies, he had to face the reality that his childhood dream may not materialise. He applied all over but was systematically turned down. Left reeling from rejection, Lunga became a car guard out of necessity, but it occurred to him to start a girls cricket team at Sizani, and RA Padayachee, the two schools he had attended.

Lunga Ntuli taking a bow on the catwalk at Africa Fashion Week in London, 2019.

“Within a year, we made the league,” he states, “with six girls making district, and two making provincial sides.” In the meantime, he was saving the money he was making guarding cars at Ballito and Salt Rock beaches, and he applied to the Durban University of Technology to study sports management. He attained the three-year diploma, and throughout his studies he freelanced as a writer for local media.

One of Lunga’s distinctive watches, based on the designs of traditional Zulu love ‘letters’.

“I saw a gap in covering women’s sports,” he explains. “I wanted to write about something that no one else was, so I started doing profiles on women in sport.”  While still a student, he was awarded the prestigious G Sport Award, journalist Cas Naidoo’s acknowledgement of men who promote women in sport.

He interned with the municipality as a sports facilitator, before writing his first book, Love versus Sport, in 2011. He would go on to write four more books, both in isiZulu and English, all with an  was as a marketing tool for his books.

The idea of traditional Zulu love letters, the deeply symbolic beaded tokens exchanged by lovers, seemed an appropriate auxiliary marketing device. Ucu, referring to the instances where the ‘rules’ of the practice are deliberately broken for design purposes, allowed Lunga to freestyle with the tradition, and the motif of time seemed fitting.

“Men working on the mines would utilise these symbols of love,” he adds, “and now, for me, they’ve become a symbol of friendship and ubuntu too.”

“They are gifts of undying love, and in the old days they had so much impact,” explains Lunga. “Men working on the mines would utilise these symbols of love,” he adds, “and now, for me, they’ve become a symbol of friendship and ubuntu too.”

Lunga utilised his existing social media channels to sell the timepieces, adorned with the symbolic beadwork as the straps, and they just took off. The watches seem to have universal appeal,  and he’s already making up to 100 units per month. He’s employed three women as permanent staff to complete the beadwork, but when the orders stream in he has up to 10 women working around the clock to ensure his four-five day turnaround time.

The watches are unisex, and can be customised, although the existing models offer the traditional combinations of colours and designs which speak to the origins of this craft.

High off his London trip, coupled with his birthday, and his time spent with the CNN crew, Lunga seems unstoppable, much like Vuyo.

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