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Zee Fashionista: The Philosophy of Style #8


The Philosophy of Style #8

Style is one of those things in life that cannot be bought. It cannot be forced. It is one of those things that simply shows itself.

Yves Saint Laurent famously said that, "Fashion fades, style is eternal." Style is not about following fleeting fads and trends, and possessing all the latest designer clothes. Style is timeless. It is unique to the individual. It is about self-expression, history, culture, innovation, self-esteem...

Those who love style will not bend to fashion rules set out by fashion editors tucked away in their ivory towers.

They know what they want.

They are no longer buying into the "emperors' new clothes" doctrine; "just trust the experts and wear it whether you like it or not" philosophy. They want real clothes, and they want their attire to reflect their beliefs without them having to utter a word. They want their garments to live in synchronicity with their core values.

I bring you the Philosophy of Style series of posts, detailing selected fashionistas' ideas on style.


What is original? That which precedes all others? That which is new, fresh? That from which reproductions are made?

After a three-month search in 2012, adidas Originals crowned Styla Gang, the Soweto-bred  fashion-forward crew composed of high school friends Boitumelo Mathega, Itumeleng Molotsi, Keletso Thlapane and Mpho Makua, South Africa's most original crew. Their style as documented on the Tumblr site - undeniably fresh and unique, or umswenko as they call it. Their dashiki t-shirt - loved by many, copied by some, and capturing the interest of not just South African's but cool kids across our boarders. I spoke Mpho Makua, aka Guy Stylez, on the philosophy behind his crews' trendsetting style.

ZEE FASHIONISTA: Why the name Styla Gang?

GUY STYLEZ: To keep it trill? We used to listen to a lot of Wiz Khalifa. We used to listen to Taylor Gang [an independent record label founded by Khalifa]. And before we used to collect kicks and shit.

ZEE: The clothing thing - making your own clothes. Did you feel like there was something missing?

GUY: Yeah, that’s why we made and sold shit. We came up with this and a lot of people starting catching up. You see there less local brands that make the kinda stuff we make. And people like how we dress. You wear shit and people ask you, “Where’d you get that?” And we know where we got them. So we’re like, let’s buy them and sell them and be the middle men of everything.

ZEE: And so when you started selling, did you start here at The Grove or eSoweto?

GUY: No, we started here. We knew that street cred and being on the fashion side wasn’t that big, so we came up with a unique vision. We started running the streets all the time. We been hanging in Braam and you see, they didn’t know our style here. It started there vele.

ZEE: Did you start being on Tumblr immediately? Or how does the internet factor in with Styla Gang?

GUY: How it came about is that we were a crew and we didn’t know about Tumblr. Tumblr came probably about four or five months after we came up with the name. And then we started hitting up the Tumblr page and that’s where people could see shit. It was useless just talking about it – with Tumblr, now people could see shit and we could document it.

ZEE: So what are the kind of people you think you influence? Is it a large group of people?

GUY: It’s growing hey. Like it started small, but now it’s large. It’s youth from 10 to old people. Young boys wanna see us rocking J’s and they want that shit.

ZEE: So when was your first collection? Was it this year or last year?

GUY: Last year we actually we had a t-shirt line. You see after selling vintage we started customising clothes - we started adding things to denim. We don’t know what happened, but it just happened.

ZEE: How would you describe the brand?

GUY: The brand is street wear meets high-end. Do you know what I mean? That confusion going on there. You know people are either commercial or their high-end. We mix that. You know it’s strictly South African style – umswenko. You know, what we see in the hood. We’re not tryna be mainstream. If you’re cool and you align yourself with our brand, and nathi we see that you deserve to be part of our brand, we can fuck with you. Because with fashion – there’s different styles all the time. It’s about diversity. It’s about different fashions – putting it all up there. I would say that I want it to be worn by the CEOs of the streets.

ZEE: If you could dress anyone in South Africa, right now, who would it be?

GUY: Now? I’d say AKA, I think. I like his confidence, you know what I mean? A brand – you need a lot of stuff to sell it. You need confidence. You need to know who you are. You might like AKA’s music – you listen to his sound. But on the other hand you’re helping me out. You see gear bay’bona kuye and that’s extending our message.

ZEE: How was the reaction to the dashiki t-shirt?

GUY: It was massive. You see the other time I was in a cab and you know you’re moving around in there, and my underwear was showing. And they started yelling all of a sudden. And I thought, bra, I need a long shirt to hide my shit. So we came up with the whole idea to add the print trim detail. The t-shirt still looked nice but there’s a reason behind that which people don’t know – to hide my undies when I’m sagging my pants. That’s where the t-shirt was born. Then a lot of people started wanting in country started wanting our shit.

ZEE: Yeah? How did they react?

GUY: Yoh. The reaction was sick. Now we get shops calling us to style their shit. You know what I mean? Hence we took our shit to the manufacturer because they know what to do so it can come out in bulk.

ZEE: And then the lookbook, you released that this year?

GUY: Yes, this was the first collection we made.

ZEE: What have you done so far with the lookbook?

GUY: The look book came out on blogs. We did have talks of going to print it out so that it can be physical. But we got people that help us – like a mentorship program – and they told us to chill so we can get everything sorted properly. They told us to wait basically. That’s why we’re not out there like, “Oh yeah, come get our clothes!” They told to relax and get everything done so that it’s all good. We even had to pull out of the IFS [the International Fashion Sale] – we were one of the chosen designers to participate in the young designers showcase. You see it’s not just about the money. It’s about the clothes, the street cred.

ZEE: I was gonna ask about that – what do you think about South African streetwear?

GUY: You see the kids are starting to take it seriously now. Street wear brands we love are the Unicornz. They’re from the South [of Johannesburg]. Styla Gang is of course up there. W.A.T.E.R. 

ZEE: What about the more famous ones? 2 Bop?

GUY: Yeah. They’re major. Abo2 Bop they’re established.

ZEE: So what do you guys wear yourselves?

GUY: We wear a mix of both local and international.

ZEE: So what have you had so far in you line?

GUY: Caps, t-shirts, pants. Crew necks, hoodies, shorts, beanies, meggings, leggings, high-waisted pants. It was just a sample of everything we thought we would do. There’s stuff that we didn’t take out, you know what I mean. 

ZEE: Which media players – magazines and the like – do you guys believe get what you’re trying do?

GUY: You know, GQ and stuff. How many street wear brands do you see in GQ? We’re trying to break that shit. One of the editors did get into contact with us. But you know these guys, they wanna see progression. They wanna see growth. So with everybody that we approached, it takes time. Everyone we approached was like, “We’re down to help you guys but let’s give it 3 months and see how you guys can just manage by yourselves. We’ll help you; but let’s take 3 months and see how it goes.”

ZEE: So you just sell at The Grove? Because there’s other markets…

GUY: Yeah, we’re not trying to be everywhere. You know I see someone who wants some shit and I give them my number and they know where to get it if they want it again.

ZEE: How did the adidas Originals gig come about?

GUY: They were looking for the best crew last year in SA in terms of anything – whether you skate, rap. You know if you’re a crew nje, woza. We knew pretty much in the last month of the competition that Adidas is looking for that shit. So we entered in the last month.

ZEE: And people had to vote?

GUY: Yeah, for people to vote you had to log onto Facebook and create an account. But you know how people are – “It’s a long process”, whatever. But Adidas was looking for an original crew and people didn’t understand that concept. They were looking for something that’s never been there – stuff that people wanna see. You know what I mean? So people voted. We went from like number 739 but people kept voting and we kept going down on the list. A lot people started taking us seriously now because ‘Best Crew in South Africa’ means a lot, especially for us as a small brand in Soweto. People now started looking at us on the internet. So a lot of people started coming up to us asking, let’s do some.

ZEE: Where to for you guys now? What more do you want to do?

GUY: Have a factory. Build a factory that supplies a lot of shit. Not just our clothing but even with Mr Price, you know – trying to make a t-shirt with them or something. It’s all about that. But in the next couple of months I think we’re gonna have an event sometime in September or October – we’re still trying to confirm shit.

Styla Gang is on Tumblr, Twitter @GuyStylez, @Tsophilus, @Kari2Fresh and @kamkhalifa, Gmail at stylagang04@gmail.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

Below, Cassper Nyovest SGODING (wearing Styla Gang gear!) in his newest video "Gusheshe" featuring Okmalumkoolkat.

(Photo credit: Styla Gang)

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