These Stunning Rugs Wed Swiss Modernism And Swazi Tradition

Nkuli Mlangeni’s handcrafted rugs involve an unlikely pair: Swiss Modernism and traditional Ndebele and Swazi patterns.

Arising out of 1950s Switzerland, Swiss Style profoundly influenced modernist graphic design the world over. Since then, some of the most compelling design styles have been derived from the main tenets of Swiss modernism, but with their own experimentation and sense of character. There’s the punk New Wave typography of the 1970s and ’80s, for example, and the new Swiss Style of today—and now, these Swiss and Swazi inspired rugs from South African designer Nkuli Mlangeni.


Chosen as this year’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa for the design festival Design Indaba, Mlangeni’s handcrafted Sankara Rugs are a mix of old world craft and striking minimal graphics. The Barcelona-based Studio Carreras adapted the traditional patterns worn during the annual Umhlanga, or Reed Dance ceremony, practiced by Ndebele and Swazi girls. The resulting rugs have a distinctly South African color and pattern, mixed with the clean lines, geometric shapes and grid-based layout of Swiss modernism.

All of the rugs are woven by hand using traditional weaving techniques by artisans from Peru, Namibia and Lesotho. Rugs made from Karakul wool are sourced from different parts of Namibia, mohair from the Lesotho mountains, and wool from Peru and the Eastern Cape. The raw wool is dyed and spun by hand and sold online through Mlangeni’s Johannesburg-based company The Ninevites. “I found out that weaving is a dying culture, handmade craft is a dying culture,” she says in a video for Design Indaba. “So I did research around that in South America and the Southern region to find out how I could support and help preserve this culture.” The Sankara Rugs gives traditional techniques and Swiss and Swazi style a refreshingly modern twist.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the designs were inspired by the Zulu and Swazi reed dance. The graphics were actually inspired by Ndebele and Swazi reed dance textiles and designed by Studio Carreras.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.