How Kabelo plans to run the retail race

Performance and lifestyle: Kumo is yet to release an in-house brand, but when it does, Kabelo Mabalane hopes to strike the perfect balance between streetwear and performance 
Pictures:supplied
Performance and lifestyle: Kumo is yet to release an in-house brand, but when it does, Kabelo Mabalane hopes to strike the perfect balance between streetwear and performance Pictures:supplied

#Trending sits down with a man who was at the forefront of the kwaito movement. TKZee lives on as one of the best groups to grace the airwaves, and now Kabelo Mabalane is venturing into fitness and wellness. Phumlani S Langa pays him a visit at his new lifestyle and wellness facility, Kumo 

Legendary kwaito artist Kabelo Mabalane is hard at work at Kumo, his wellness and fitness centre. The store is quiet, but it’s located on a busy road on the corner of Stan Road and Grayston Drive in Sandton, in a lovely building with a quaint garden in the front.

His space looks quite impressive – it has that feeling of a high-end sporting outlet.

Nutrition is about as important as working out, if not more, and Bouga Luv’s wellness centre is equipped with an eatery. After climbing a sprawling flight of stairs, you are greeted by his nutrition centre where you can grab a bite, but it’s not just any old snackwich and cola. The food served here adheres to the various nutritional pointers that his in-house specialist provides as part of the service offered at Kumo.

Through some glass doors and down a wooden ramp, his running retail store stands before me, looking as chic as any performance outfitter I’ve stepped into.

Before greeting us, Mabalane is on the phone talking about a kid who has an Afrobeat and hip-hop feel to his music.

“I liked that verse, but it sounded too much like Drake or something,” he says before ending the call.

This leads me to ponder what his thoughts are on the current soundscape.

The humble pioneer of kwaito, accomplished broadcaster and now entrepreneur explains how his centre came about, and where his love for physical and mental wellbeing stems from.

“From the music business, living a lifestyle of debauchery ... I changed my life, did the whole rehab thing. I went from cocaine to strawberry muffins and cheesecake, so I put on a lot of weight. When that happened, it didn’t really feel like the real me, especially after being active esgela [at school] and playing sports.”

The lean and superfit icon of local pop culture says things got so bad at one stage that he couldn’t reach down to tie his shoe laces. He had always trained to some degree, whether it was through tennis or on his rowing machine, but running is what really made him come into his own at the time. Then he signed a deal with a major sporting brand that was involved in the Comrades Marathon.

Bouga loves shoes

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He says that, at that point, he began to think about running the Comrades.

“I ran my first one and the rest is history. I fell in love with that. As a South African growing up, I remember watching the race with umagriza [my grandmother]. We were big Bruce Fordyce fans and because it happens every year, it’s one of those things that I was like: ‘Yazini [You know what], I’ve got to do this thing.’”

I nod politely as I have never felt such an impulse, but I do dig watching people run the marathon.

Mabalane says he loves the solitude of the sport and that there aren’t too many things you can’t solve after a 10km run.

He has 12 Comrades runs under his belt and had been toying with the idea of branching out into something like his new wellness centre.

“I started thinking as an athlete and whenever I use that word I tend to be careful as people assume you mean Wayde van Niekerk or Caster Semenya. Phil Knight said it best: ‘If you have a body, then you are an athlete.’”

Mabalane thought about his wants and needs as an athlete and decided they should all be available at one place. Everything from technical gear and running assessments to a place where healthcare professionals are easily accessible happens to be things that Kumo provides.

The training centre will be completed by September and #Trending will be sure to send our resident fitness expert there to try it out.

Black mogul talk

Mabalane owns the business entirely.

“The challenges of that are, of course, that the buck stops with you. I’ve never been one to shy away from responsibility. The biggest challenge has been getting over a warped self-image of myself,” he says.

“I think we all struggle with that thing that says you won’t make it or you’ve bitten off more than you can chew – believing untruths about ourselves.”

Naturally, he is already looking at expanding his business.

“After the fitness centre in September is completed, I’ll gain an understanding of how the ecosystem works. Right now, we’re in a proof-of-concept phase and I know it will work.”

His focus is on observing the mechanisms that make the business work so he can recreate the formula elsewhere.

Given that the man is a legend in the local music industry – I mean he is the K in TKZee, which is easily one of the best kwaito groups our country has so far produced – I wonder what his thoughts on current music are and if he will grace the airwaves with his lyrically intensive approach again.

“I’m definitely coming back. I was actually in studio last night. Musically, I think we’ve come full circle. You hear a little bit of TKZee in everything. I get excited when we focus on being African. Nobody can do that like we can. We’ve tried that before, where you go hip-hop and go to New York and the guys would say they have guys in the Bronx without deals who would smash us. So do you.”

Kumo 1s and athleisure

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The store boasts brands such as Falke, Nike and New Balance, and full-on performance spandex and mannequins that look like they’re bursting down a track. There’s even an anti-chaffing cream for all those sensitive bits, and sports watches that do way more than tell the time. Mabalane says comfortable clothing is best for running.

“Obviously, you partner with the usual suspects, which helps a lot. I was able to build those relationships through things like my boot camp. The Kumo brand will eventually have to stand on its own. I wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel – every sports outlet does that; they have their own in-house brand.”

Back in the cut, this brother partnered with Reebok and released a pair of Bouga Luv sneakers that were actually hard as nails. Mabalane may have been the first person to have snagged himself a sneaker deal in South Africa. Will he be able to marry performance and streetwear with his brand?

“They call it athleisure ... That would definitely be at the core. From a lifestyle perspective, that would be further down the line because I have to choose my battles – either streetwear lifestyle or performance. Athleisure is where [the two converge].”

The name Kumo is actually his son’s name spelt differently. He felt the traditional spelling of Khumo threw people off. I would probably wear a pair of Kumo 1s made by a kwaito legend. In the meantime, I should probably book myself a running assessment.

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