I Wear What I Like: An Ode To The Pioneers of Post-Apartheid South African Streetwear

Since its inception, fashion has been used as an instrument to communicate personal, race, class and gender politics. It is most obviously used to gender people as we see the ‘mens’ & ‘womens’ departments, among other roles it plays.

Capitalism has done a great job at determining which kind of labour will be most strenuous and therefore least valuable. Black bodies have been tasked with the most physically and emotionally demanding jobs and at the same time, we have been convinced that these are the most menial tasks undeserving of a dignified compensation. In the event that society is unable to identify these people – uniforms have been given to them. From the domestic worker’s suit to the blue collar overalls, fashion has been used to clearly communicate uniforms as markers of position in society.

In defence of forcing working-class people to wear uniforms, it is often stated that a uniform attracts neither shame nor pride. It just is, police wear uniform, domestic workers wear uniform and that’s that. However, when one considers the relationship that poverty has with shame, it becomes clear that this is a shortsighted justification as it ignores the role that fashion plays as a tool in communicating prestige (or lack thereof). Furthermore, these uniforms identify people as poor therefore identifying them as powerless.

In 2014, the Economic Freedom Fighters emerged in Parliament dressed in the clothing of blue collar workers. This, they argued, was done to represent those they entered Parliament to fight for. But before the EFF wore overalls as a political statement, there were amapantsula doing so. When kwaito artists such as Trompies and Mzekezeke emerged in their overalls, it was clear that they were aware of the power these uniforms had and communicated the reclamation of this agency. These artists were wearing the shame of their parents, their grandparents and their forefathers with pride. These overalls could be understood as an ode to migrant labour – the shameful labour reserved for discarded black bodies.

Similarly, the popular gumboot dance/isicathulo paid tribute to mine workers who had to revert to creating a secret code to communicate as their employers forbade communication.

Even outside blue collar overalls, kwaito fashion still made a statement as it disrupted society’s ideas of how one should present oneself. This is how rhetoric about how kwaito artists were “vuilpops” came about. These young artists unapologetically wore their Converse All Stars, overalls and bucket hats – an item which has reemerged and often inspired discourse about who decides when it is a bucket hat or is’poti on the politics of class. This style is especially significant in post-apartheid South Africa as it signifies the freedom to be, be it unapologetically black, poor, or deliberately taking a stand against standards of respectability. It is from this context that Loxion Kulca emerged in 1999.

Sechaba Mogale was born in exile in Lusaka, Zambia where he was raised by his grandparents while Wandi Nzimande was born and raised in Soweto. They forged a friendship that would later birth clothing brand Loxion Kulca in 1997. They started out selling handmade t-shirts and caps from the boot of their car until they approached Sales House – known today as Jet, part of the Edgars Consolidated Stores (EDCON). By those with the lived experiences, Sales House is described as a retail company tailored for the interests of migrant labourers. While Sales House sold clothes similar to that of Brentwood for those who could not afford as at the time, Edgars catered to the exclusively white middle class. Mogale and Nzimande approached Sales House with their Loxion Kulca idea and an EDCON supplier, the late Brian Abrahams, assisted them financially and became their business partner.

In the context that this was a few years into democracy, the market was incredibly difficult for black people to enter and so Abrahams’ social capital would also prove to be very helpful. It was in this way that Loxion Kulca became one of the vendors at Sales House. Unfortunately, the brand did not perform too well in the first week of sales – which is usually used to measure how well a product will perform in the market. It was not until they got a kwaito star to endorse the brand that the sales for Loxion Kulca skyrocketed. From there, Loxion Kulca rose to prominence as a brand that celebrated being from the township through streetwear. In many ways, Loxion Kulca paved the way for brands such as Amakipkip, Eish Hade and the Cape Town based 2Bop .

It would be dishonest of me not to note the fact that Wandi Nzimande once explained in an interview with Sowetan that the brand was not born out of some special story to tell but instead out of the need to put bread on the table. However, I believe that fashion – like all other art forms – can be used as a window to reflect different experiences at the time. The name “Loxion Kulca” in a South Africa where black people were still trying to figure out where they fit in the world, is political in itself as it shows this pride in being from elok’shini.

It is difficult to engage with the clothing style of kwaito artists without engaging South Africa’s sociopolitical dynamics. At all times, it was about facing respectability politics through dress as kwaito artists hardly ever dressed according to what propriety required. This style has paved the way for my generation to be able to express ourselves through unconventional modes of dress and will live on forever as an inspiration.

*This post was written by Nomonde Tshomi and originally published on her blog HERE

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