The new luxury is sustainable and socially responsible – two defining characteristics of Khokho, the luxury handbag brand that is handcrafted in Swaziland. Khokho bags began as a collaboration between its three founders: creative director Sapna Shah, master weaver and production director Zinhle Vilakati and managing director Philippa Thorne. It was born of their shared vision to elevate hand-craftsmanship through specialised design to advance the development of local artisans, while preserving traditional, time-honoured techniques passed down through generations. The brand borrows its name from the Siswati word for great-grandmother.
Khokho bags are putting luxury African craftmanship on the world stage
The first Khokho collection was launched in 2016 after three years of development with a group of female weavers from the Ntondozi region of Swaziland who shifted their focus from making homeware items like handwoven baskets to creating custom-designed shapes and panels for Khokho handbags. The collective is now known formally as Buhle baKhokho, translated as Beauty of Great Grandmothers, and receives a percentage of every handbag sale. Khokho bags go on to share the beauty of traditional Swazi weaving with new audiences around the world.
The materials used for each Khokho bag include natural fibres from Swaziland with South African veg-tanned leather and Italian hardware. For the leather elements, local artisans were trained in the art of pattern-making, cutting and construction by a master Italian leather craftsman with over 40 years of experience in leather handbag production at fashion houses like Burberry and Marc Jacobs.
The Khokho founders let us know more about their brand showcasing luxury African craftsmanship on the world stage.
What inspires the design of Khokho bags?
Khokho bags originated from a desire to create timeless, modern pieces using weaving techniques and local fibres with inspiration drawn from the natural surroundings and vast landscapes of Swaziland. Simplicity and innovative constructions were key focuses in designing bags that seamlessly combine the woven element with leather. With each design, we aim to showcase the weaver’s unique style and texture, complemented by leather and hardware elements. Every detail serves a functional purpose on each bag. Every Khokho bag is fully lined with an interior pocket and handcarved cow-horn logo tag. Artisan craftsmanship defines every part of our designs and we hope the customer takes as much pride in wearing her Khokho bag as we have in making it.
Why is lutindzi grass and cow horn used?
Every handbag is a combination of multiple parts from its woven lutindzi framework to its outstanding leatherwork with handcarved cow-horn details. Every bag represents the collaboration of artisans and their time-honoured techniques. Lutindzi is indigenous to Swaziland and is sustainably harvested annually for use in traditional crafts. The cow horn we use is making use of parts of the horn that would otherwise be discarded. The horn is reworked and used along with the lutindzi to make use of natural materials and to minimise Khokho’s ecological footprint.
How does Khokho empower the local community?
We partner with a women’s association of 12 weavers and have trained seven technicians working within the Khokho studio. We strive to build skill sets through technical training in weaving and leather craftsmanship and to empower community members with leadership and business training. In addition to annual earnings, the weaving association benefits from a percentage of each sale, and the income helps develop their own community and business ventures. We are committed to making a deeper impact in our communities through sustainably growing the Khokho business.
What do you hope for the future of the brand?
We hope to see more people embracing the beauty and value of African handcraft and to build a sustainable following for the work we’ve built at Khokho.