‘Just because you sell branded T-shirts doesn’t mean you’re a designer,” said a fashionista who scoffed at the idea of T-shirt brands being showcased at this year’s Joburg Fashion Week.
Whatever the fashion snobs had to say, the T-shirt makers invaded their space this week and injected much-needed new blood. And they are cashing in.
Just ask Nick Kaoma, co-founder of brand Head Honcho, which has become synonymous with “cool” in the three years since its inception. Head Honcho, according to Kaoma, is now “a million rand-brand”.
“Honcho means a leader, a role model and someone who takes their destiny into their own hands. I believe that’s what appealed to those who like the brand,” he says.
Kaoma also says the aim is to motivate and inspire the young generation to live and think progressively.
“We target the mind-set, not age. That’s why this brand can be worn by a 13-year-old right up to working professionals.”
As for what the Joburg Fashion Week will do for the brand, Kaoma believes that the catwalk – where the clothing was modelled by local celebrities such as Khanyi Mbau and hip-hop artist AKA – will attract the attention of relevant stakeholders.
“We had an opportunity to showcase our clothing and to show that we’re more versatile than people think.
We have many items – from denims to cardigans and sweaters,” says Kaoma, who has retail space in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Another brand that is making waves, despite its being only four months old, is Vandal Active Wear (VAW) by DJ Sbu Leope and his sidekick, Trevor Madondo.
The Vandal brand began – much like most ingenious ideas between friends – when Madondo and Leope used the slang word on their Metro FM show.
“We wanted a word that people already knew and associated with Sbu and myself, and vandal (and vandy for females) was it. And it’s not vandal as in a person who messes things up, but in the sense that you’re a street-savvy trendsetter,” says Madondo.
Their brand movement began slowly on Twitter in October and a month later, most of the twitterati (local twitter subscribers) who knew the partners were sporting T-shirts of their own.
“We gave away about 800 T-shirts during the promotion phase, but since then we have sold about 4?000,” says Madondo.
And 4 ?000 is not pocket change, considering that each T-shirt costs R250.
So, while many were expecting the “vandals” to walk on the ramp, Madondo and Leope showed their ability to evolve by including items like leggings, cheeky high-waisted shorts, hoodies, women’s cropped jackets and even some avant-garde jackets with funky shoulder detail modelled by various local personalities.
“The jackets can be tweaked to the customer’s specification,” says Madondo.
The partners intend to introduce the items over the next few months, starting with the hoodies and jackets in time for winter.
“Like our slogan says, ‘They never saw us coming’, most people thought this brand was a joke.
Four months ago all of this, including being at Joburg Fashion Week, was just a dream. Now we intend to take over,” he adds.
The recent street trend was undoubtedly made popular by the Ama Kip Kip brand by Nkosana Modise.
It began five years ago with a flurry of celebrities wearing the branded T-shirts with the unmistakable logo.
Modise says: “When I started this brand, it wasn’t just a business opportunity. It also came from the heart because I had realised that up until then, there were no local T-shirt brands worn by people on the street.”
He says the name was chosen not only because it was easy to pronounce, but because it signifies something for many people who grew up in the township.
Unfortunately, like the township brand Loxion Kulca, Ama Kip Kip has also fallen victim to knock-offs.
“That was a big compliment, but it had to be nipped in the bud because it can ruin a business. Fortunately, we go through various themes that can be difficult to keep knocking off,” he says.
As for competition from newer brands, Modise claims that he’s encouraged and inspired to keep growing.
“The brand has been profitable since day one and even now, on our five-year anniversary, we will continue to try and do everything we can to make Ama Kip Kip one of SA’s best local brands,” says Modise.
So if you plan to go into the business of branded T-shirts, it is clear that there are a few things you have to take into account.
Get a cool logo, quality material, a celebrity or trendsetting ambassadors, and serious guts and a good business plan.
After that just laugh all the way to the bank.