In collaboration with Nataal Magazine, we profile the new wave of streetwear coming out of Cape Town and Lagos.
The global streetwear industry is estimated to reach US$551 billion by 2025, according to Global Data, and some of the most exciting new brands are emerging across Africa. Leading the way are Lagos and Cape Town with parallel movements that speak confidently to millennial and Gen Z consumers by mixing up streetwear's hip hop and skateboarding roots with decidedly local tastes.
"Youthful, expressive and authentic," is how British-Nigerian entrepreneur Ireti Zaccheaus defines the Lagos scene. She founded Nigeria's first streetwear convention Street Souk in 2018. "It’s a real community and everyone is moving together as one, sharing the same vision. Exhibitors from bigger brands will wear and post about newer ones and everyone is rooting for each other", she says. Street Souk has attracted collaborations with the likes of Off-White and Patta, alongside established local players such as Wafflesncream, Ashluxe, Vivendii and Motherlan.
Also pushing the scene forward is Homecoming, a music festival and cultural exchange founded by Grace Ladoja, alongside Native magazine, co-founded by Zaccheaus's brother, alté musician Teezee who, with the country's other music stars such as Burna Boy, Davido and Mayorkun, all do their part by platforming these brands internationally.
There are plenty of OTT characteristics unique to Nigerian streetwear, such as its aesthetic spin on early aughts Nollywood meets Y2K. Zaccheaus believes this extra-ness reflects the Lagos hustle, which results in a certain pressure to stand out. "There's something about Nigerians and the way we carry ourselves – people say that we're loud and it's 100 percent true", she laughs. "Being in a country of 200 million people gives you that drive and nobody wants to be left behind".
If Lagos is the innovative youngster vying for attention, Cape Town is its older, more established sibling, thanks to brands such as Twobop, which was set up over two decades ago. One of the earliest labels on the scene, it's now under the creative direction of Mario Ogle. "Cape Town is a melting pot of ideas and creativity, a community bubbling at the seams. It's exciting to see the diversity and growth", he says. "The scene has an authenticity that you can't manufacture. This is ultimately our secret ingredient and means that there are now so many labels that each have their own signature and subculture".
Joining Twobop have been the likes of Artclub and Friends, Good Good Good and Sol-Sol, who, like their Lagos peers, have fostered a uniquely collegiate relationship and close-knit following. And now the original coastal look and DIY approach is growing up. "The days of just screen-printing a cool design on a T-shirt are long gone", Ogle says. "Brands are honing in much more on the business side of things. Corporates are realising the value in the industry and are spending money on carefully curated collaborations. The creativity will never die. It's in our blood, remember, but a thriving fashion economy will be the reason the rest of the world really takes notice, and we are growing that from the streets up".
"For Pith it's about the message. We always want to put into context the fact that there are no systems in place here and everything is more difficult to hack, so we have to be a voice for the people", says Ojemen Cosmas, one third of Lagos-based brand Pith Africa. "We've been able to grow because we communicate directly to African youth and are inspired by them as much as we want to inspire them with our clothes, experiences and art. Pith is bigger than us, it's a voice of consciousness that speaks for a new age".
Founded in 2016, each capsule collection, or 'dilly', represents a chapter in the tale of modern Nigeria. "We created Pith to tap into the essence of being young, creative and innovative right now as Africans within Africa", says co-founder, Adedayo Laketu. "The kids are showing their individuality on a level that's never been seen before and expressing their hearts in so many forms. Pith was born to help them navigate through this era".
Pith Africa's first two dillys were masterclasses in balancing minimalism with streetwear, and while a utilitarian approach remains, the designers are thinking more about the city's environmental challenges. "During Covid we began to look at how we can tackle problems around sustainability while creating refreshing designs that still reflect our ethos", says Laketu. "We were struck by the volume of jeans piled up at the markets, so this was the jumping-off point for the first drops". Thrifted denim was transformed into totes, caps and jeans with striking silhouettes. "We want to reorient our community to the concept of upcycling", says Ojemen. "It's a message of care and preservation. We need people to understand that being a great nation begins with simple ideas".
There's power in numbers, and Pith Africa has teamed up with other sustainable Nigerian brands including Kkerelé and ThisIsUs for special projects, and also hosts regular parties to bring the community together. "It's no surprise that the Lagos streetwear scene is one of the most exciting on the planet right now. It's estimated that 70 per cent of Africa's population is under 30, making us a crucible for fashion and youth culture", says co-founder Nez Anazodo. "It's incredible to see how different Lagosians incorporate their essence and emotions using locally sourced and affordable garments".
"Ten years of good luck!" comes with every Broke Boys T-shirt, according to co-founder Andile Dlamini. But to call the creative collective a mere brand is to do them a disservice. Broke Boys is a movement that, Dalmini stresses, anyone can join. "Broke represents a family. It's a cross-cultural clothing brand that aims to represent those regarded as misfits or rebels. We value community above all else". There are no hard and fast rules as to what makes a Broke Boy:
Someone that's hungry and willing to go against the odds to better the situation for themselves or others – and crazy enough to try. A Broke Boy isn't scared to rebel because they know they're in the right.
Delani's own journey into the fashion industry was one of sheer force of will and talent. He grew up in the township of Khayelitsha and got into thrifting. Through that he developed his own look and after being scouted as a model for i-D by Dutch photographer Nick Van Tiem in 2017, went on to style Tiem's shoots whenever he was in town. All the while he was building Broke Boys with his friends Mzwandile Sithole, Simbongile Ntaka and Sindiso Tshuma; launched in 2020, they've since collaborated with Dutch label The New Originals.
Focusing on skater pieces – workwear-inspired jackets and roomy T-shirts – they draw on Nineties subcultures and whatever is currently popular in their Broke world, and in that sense Broke Boys offer real insight into contemporary Cape Town. "There's no other place like Cape Town", says Dlamini. "We inspire each other and there aren't really any outside influences".
They also work with even younger brands to help them grow and have set up the Broke Boys Sk8 Club. "I found out about this other movement in Khayelitsha called Ghetto Grunge. They're skaters, which I was intrigued by because Khayelitsha isn't a place that encourages it – there are potholes and sewage running through it, so I know that they're going against the odds. I decided to use the resources that I have to help them. At the time I had a partnership with Converse, so I gave them my skate shoes. I'm not promising the world and I might not be able to get them to point Z but maybe to point B".
"We’re just two boys from the same neighbourhood who wanted to make the hardest denim to come out of Africa", says 5200 co-founders Onanefe Utika and Divine Dickson. The duo up-end the idea of denim being just about practicality with their handcrafted designs and refreshing take on wear and repair. Intricately embroidered, patched with mesh and strung with neon ropes, the collections are defined by a razor-sharp, look-at-me aesthetic.
"Our drops happen organically", says Utika. "We're always sampling and don't even think of dropping until the pieces are right".
The childhood friends began mocking up samples in spring 2020 and launched in October the same year. "The fact that we were designing in lockdown allowed us to tap into the artistry and hone those finer details", reflects Dickson.
"It's our dedication to making these pieces that sets us apart. I would describe our aesthetic as unconventional. There's no moral principle to the craft, it's just us striving to transcend".
This talented pair are proud to be championing streetwear as it grows into a key part of Lagos's fashion landscape. "Africa's streetwear scene has been evolving over the years and in this part of the continent it's not yet entirely in the light but we're glad there's a community now and people get to express themselves in the way they want", says Utika.
"Luxury to me means a considered approach to design. It tells a narrative and creates representation, rather than merely meaning exorbitant price points that are out of reach", says Imran Mohamed, founder of Asa Sadan, the contemporary luxury brand that has disrupted the scene with its thoughtful and craft-focused apparel since 2021. "In years to come, we will undoubtedly look at this period as a turning point in Cape Town's – and South Africa's – creative industry and its relationship with the global marketplace".
Asa – Mohamed's grandmother's name – has various meanings including 'beautification', 'adornment', 'might', 'power' and 'capability'. The Central Saint Martins graduate uses his label to reflect on his heritage. "It tells the story of the lived experience of the Asian-African diaspora in the Cape, with garments as the primary medium. It incorporates a contemporary design philosophy with traditional artisanal techniques". Each exquisite piece is crisp and minimal; T-shirts and baseball caps alongside immaculately cut trousers and genderless skirts as well as military-inspired jackets. "Our aesthetic is a take on techwear infused with tailoring", says Mohamed. "Performance and aesthetics are our primary parameters and simplicity underpins everything. We create garments that are timeless, and use fabrication and details to achieve 'tangible' luxury".
Words Miriam Bouteba