For the bulk of my adult life I have watched the luxury fashion landscape go from an exclusive pedestal to the ground level in a world which has shifted away from the traditional idea of what upmarket means. I grew up in the prime of street-wear with South Africa and Africa on the whole not really being considered a contender for contemporary fashion innovation status in the genre until recently. If you were trained at a design school there was always a focus on “high fashion” as the pinnacle of fashion design. While I personally admire couture designers for their creativity, it’s not as prevalent in local society as daily worn ready to wear fashion. I’m often seeing how designers both local and international who came up under the street-wear category are rejecting the label as something negative, however I do understand that now it has come to encompass everyday fashion on a broader scale. My problem with this is I feel like the basis of what brought you to a creative industry such as fashion will always form part of your identity as a creator. If we decided to eradicate the term Hip Hop in favor of Pop I would be highly pissed off although in all honesty that seems to be the direction it has taken in recent years but here is history and culture behind it and to eradicate the name is to eradicate the past building blocks upon which it stands today. Street-wear, just like Hip Hop, has a brash in your face mentality with a hard focus on attitude and street culture. Now it seems most street-wear brands are clamoring for a seat at the table within the very institutions that would not ever give us an opportunity to sit with them in not so distant past, inclusion is a hell of a drug. In the formative years of my self-taught and still ongoing fashion education, I learnt a lot from people I worked around and retail stores I worked in which helped form this opinion. The South African fashion industry was always closed off in many ways to up and comers if you did not come from an esteemed fashion school which acted as a feeder for the industry. Today I see the same industry rushing to fuck with street-wear labels to a point where they are letting just about anyone in just to maintain some form of relevance with the youth. My fear around this is what happens if and when street-wear is no longer the flavor of the moment, which designers will be left by the way side and who will remain in the inner circle? Those who build businesses upon the golden handshake will suffer the most when they fall out of favor to whatever becomes the new black. The streets however are always brimming with inspiration and ripe with innovation purely because we create for survival and out of a need to put out new ideas rather than to please boutiques, wholesalers and media, which is what happens once u reach a certain level of acceptance and success within the industry. Most young brands don’t really know who their customer really is and don’t always take the time to learn the industry enough before jumping straight in. At this early stage of my brand journey there is no doubt I can benefit greatly from such exposure from Fashion weeks and the media coverage that comes with it but I would want to build the house for myself first and have a better, more refined offering for the public when the time comes to take the stage, at which point, I will be able to do it my way. I take a leaf out of the indie music playbook. In the past the music industry forced artists to play by their rules to get a recording contract which ultimately puts less power in the artists hands. To someone coming from less means this is a God send as it allows them to eat, live and create, not without restrictions though as many find out later on in the process. Now we have the internet as a tool which has totally broken down all the barriers to allow artists who care to grind hard and long enough to create their own music, distribution and means of speaking to their fans directly and more efficiently than ever.
Even as part of the “fashion” industry, I never consider what I do as fashion and hope to never be seen as a traditional fashion brand because then I might be tempted to start behaving like one just to keep up with an industry which itself is always in flux. I show love to the young creators out there grinding hard for years knowing that the payoff is still a long way off but are willing to play the long game to build a solid weather proof house. As we start the year off, I say to all the those creating on the independent grind, let the work speak, keep grinding, do it your way. Salute!