A creative revolution is taking root in Soweto, led by young South Africans like fashion crew The Smarteez, who refuse to be beholden to the past.
Huck’s Fiftieth Anniversary Special collects lessons learned and creative advice from fifty of the most inspiring people we know. Each day we’ll be sharing a new excerpt from the magazine. Today, we hear from young fashion crew The Smarteez, about the creative revolution taking root in Soweto, and how they're pushing into the future while refusing to be beholden to the past.
#48 – The Smarteez
Tucked away in the back streets of Soweto lies a small, cluttered studio. The walls are plastered with tabloid posters pulled from walls around Johannesburg, with headlines like ‘Frozen Chicken Train Wreck’, ‘Graveyard Harvest Time’ and ‘Goat in Sex Scandal.’ Fabric with bright colours and bold patterns is stacked neatly in one corner and smaller pieces are littered around the room. It’s home to Floyd Avenue, Kepi Mngomezulu, Sibu Sithole and Thabo Tsatsinyane, four menswear designers who, as fashion collective The Smarteez, have brought township street style to the catwalk and are helping to change Soweto’s image worldwide.
South Africa is experiencing a creative revolution right now, and some of the freshest ideas and most inspiring people are coming out of former townships like Soweto. The Smarteez are the best-dressed stars in this exciting new wave of art, music, photography and fashion. They create technicolor couture for the first post-apartheid ‘Rainbow Generation’ and are determined to take full advantage of their freedom in the new South Africa by defiantly refusing any constraints on their self-expression.
Floyd was eight when Nelson Mandela became president in South Africa’s first free elections in 1994. For his parent’s generation, Soweto is the spiritual home of the black freedom struggle but after two decades of democracy the area is reinventing itself as a creative powerhouse. For some of the older generation – who vividly remember the brutality of Apartheid – the flamboyant fashion experiments of The Smarteez can be hard to swallow. Floyd’s vintage-inspired pieces reference the past to comment on social issues and he remembers the bitter outcry when he repurposed the traditional pith helmet, a symbol of European colonialism. Floyd acknowledges the weight of past sacrifices, but argues it’s important to push forward. His generation is in a different place. Pointing out the multi-racial staff and customers surrounding him in the smart Braamfontein coffee shop he explains:
“We don’t really have that hate or divide between us, you know? Our parents are very submissive people. They were made to feel inferior and they wanted to pass that down to our generation: this is how you do things, this is how you don’t do things. We’re breaking through those barriers. We are all equal. We need to take pride in who we are and where we are, and that needs to start with supporting each other.”
This is just a short excerpt from Huck’s Fiftieth Special, a collection of fifty personal stories from fifty inspiring lives.