At just 22 years old, Sowetan native Nicole Ncube is redefining luxury streetwear. She is the designer behind Ascend – the latest brand taking the South African fashion scene by storm.
Through her clothes, she aims to rewrite societal norms and expectations, with a range of gender fluid, versatile pieces that can be dressed in multiple ways. Being inclusive is extremely important to her, and she aims to represent the LGBTQI community, as well as support women empowerment through each of her designs.
GQ SA caught up with Nicole, to gain more insight into her debut collection, the symbolism behind it, and her hopes and dreams for the future.
You are the founder of luxury streetwear brand Ascend Label. Tell us about your journey to starting this brand? How did you get started in the fashion industry?
I have always wanted to get into modelling, particularly print and catwalk modeling. I tried getting in touch with agencies with no luck, and was rejected at every turn. So I focused on something else that I loved, which was fashion. The best part of it all is that I could still fulfil my other dream by modelling my own clothes. I thought, well, I could turn my interest in street style into something profitable that will feel less like a job and more like a hobby. It wasn’t an easy start since the brand was established during Covid, and the market was very thin.
Can you explain a bit more about your label? Who is it for and what does it aim to represent?
The label is a street wear luxury brand, catering for people with diverse styles. The main aim is to bring something different to the street wear culture. I also really wanted to include the LGBTQIA+ community and women empowerment as these are issues that are not heavily addressed in Africa in general. The label is a representation of individuals from all walks of life. Through it, there is a story told that whatever clothing one wears does not necessarily have to conform to societal norms, but rather, it’s about comfort, quality, and representing our unique personalities and styles.
What inspires you to be creative?
My love for fashion. I love looking good and standing out in the crowd. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world, and I want people to experience that when wearing Ascend.
I am also inspired by people and their stories. I draw a lot of inspiration from everyone that I meet, the energy that they vibrate is what I always have in mind when a new design comes to mind.
You are still so young and have so much ahead of you. What are your goals for the future of the brand?
In the future I hope to “Ascend to greater heights”. I want Ascend to be a household name, not just recognised in Africa but internationally too. I would love to see a lot of influential individuals wearing the brand not only for promotional purpose but mostly because they find the items fashionable and they love it.
Do you have any plans for future collections?
Yes, I am currently working on introducing a bag line and some items for the summer collection which I am extremely excited about. I hope everyone will love it as much as they did the current collection.
What does it mean to you to be a woman and business owner in South Africa today?
It means having to work harder in a male-dominated industry and having to dodge some forms of exploitation from all angles. There are so many issues that women face like not being taken seriously, expectations to overachieve compared to their male counterparts, for example.
I believe that given the same resources and treatment, we can achieve better and beyond what we are already doing.
How would you describe your personal style?
Cool, simple yet sophisticated, bold, and commanding. I would also say my style is tomboyish. I love transforming formal clothes to fit into street style, so I would also say edgy and daring too.
Who are some of your style icons?
Yasmin Furmie. She rocks all styles effortlessly and coordinates all her outfits very well. Rei Kawakubo, for being one of the first women to establish her own street style brands – that is amazing. DJ Zinhle fits perfectly well with the brand and her style is on a level. Also, Yohji Yamamoto and Samuel Ross, I just love their work and they are people I look up to.
You mentioned that you initially wanted to be a model. What are some of your other passions besides fashion?
I love to sing. Although I am not trained or have any musical experiences I dabble in a bit of music from time to time, informally. I did a bit of drawing back in school which was something that I really enjoyed, and I guess that also influenced my design interest.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I spend my free time listening to music, socialising and reading. To enrich the mind you have to be more aware of your surroundings, and understand the world through the eyes of other people, hence the reason I engage a lot with them and read as well. I love hanging out with my loved ones and also going to art galleries.