“The majority of my clients are younger. I’d say they’re typically in their 20s or 30s. Then 16 to 19-year-olds love my stuff and they’ll say: ‘I can’t wait to be rich so I can buy your pieces.’ I think it’s great that these girls already perceive me as a proper brand and that there’s that aspirational element,” says the founder and Creative Director behind the brand in question, Siyathemba Duma. The South African who works out of his design studio in Johannesburg’s Houghton neighborhood, founded the Matte Nolim brand in the year 2014. Over the years, Matte Nolim has morphed into a universe of flirty colorful fashion, where miniskirts and high waist oversized pants are part of the same galaxy. “Ladies in their 40s gravitate more towards the oversized shirt dress. Also coats have crossover appeal between different generations,” the fashion designer shares as we browse through a rack of his designs. “I personally feel fashion grows younger – and that’s what excites me. He adds, “Cause in the end, also that woman in her 40s wants to feel young and fresh.”
There are challenges along the way however, for those trying to win over South Africa’s under 35 consumers. Pricing being a key issue, in a nation where 38,2% of the population aged 15-34 is unemployed, according to Stats SA data. “Young people are used to buying at a Zara or H&M price point – when you produce locally things become a bit more expensive. There are things I can retail at a lower price, such as a t-shirt, but I cannot do that across the entire collection. So that’s the tricky part – explaining why the garments carry these price tags. A jacket and skirt will retail for 5500 Rand ($394 at the current exchange rate) if custom-made, and 3500 Rand ($251 at the current exchange rate) if mass-produced. 5500 Rand is a lot for these younger girls.”
In keeping with his millennial fan base, the young designer recently wrapped a collaboration with Hyundai, that was part of last December’s Afropunk Festival Johannesburg. The collaboration saw the Matte Nolim Creative Director designing three looks inspired by three customized models of the automobile manufacturer – inspired by New York, Paris, and Johannesburg.
Accountant-turned-entrepreneur Theo Baloyi founded his sneaker brand Bathu in the year 2015. “Bathu,” South African township slang for the word shoe, amassed a loyal following of young South Africans by way of its signature mesh sneaker design. The design, available in six different colorways, shall soon be joined by a range of loafers and Bathu ready-to-wear apparel.
On the retail front, Bruce Whiffler is providing a breath of fresh air locally, in the form of a concept store that serves a niche audience. In October last year, the South African with a background in wholesale, opened the doors of Partisan. The retail space located in Johannesburg’s heavy-on-hipsters Maboneng Precinct, retails fedoras and baseball caps by Goorin Bros. alongside locally designed apparel. “We’re still working on the product mix a bit more before we’ll give our Instagram a boost. We’re looking to bring in more local brands, as well as some Japanese brands,” the Partisan founder says. “People enjoy it, it’s fresh, and a welcome alternative to being inside a mall. Customers enjoy being on the street, and I feel things are going back to that. We are exposed to all the creatives that live here in Maboneng, plus we have many guys visiting the neighborhood. We cater to the individualist – the guy that’s not trying to fit in somewhere. Having more competitors around us – right now it’s mainly eateries – would help bring in more people. But right now, we largely rely on word-of-mouth marketing.”