Iintsizwa Ziphelele

PICTURE: UBUNTU

All pictures are by Ubuntu: Iintsizwa Ziphelel co-founder  Mogomotsi Magome and I. 

Quirky, quality clothing that celebrates the arts and the African culture and heritage is what the Iintsizwa Ziphelele brand is all about. Based in the vibrant and energetic township of Pimville in Soweto, Joburg, the label launched in 2006 and is recognised as one the coolest and oldest streetwear brands.

I meet co-owner Mogomotsi Magome  at their studio/factory early on a Monday morning as the township comes to life. The studio facing the street is a kaleidoscope of colour, displaying t-shirts , headwear, jackets and shirts in mixed prints and fabrics. Chatting over a breakfast of puffy amangwinya (vetkoek) and polony, Magome tells me that Iintsizwa Ziphelele, which loosely translated means Brotherhood, is a story of brothers united by their love for fashion and the arts.

PICTURE: UBUNTU

PICTURE: UBUNTU

Magome and his friend and business partner Mthunzi Nkosi met when they were studying at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).

“We were studying things that had nothing to do with fashion. I was doing operational management and Nkosi was doing management services… very corporate stuff. We got involved in the arts such as poetry and over time an idea about having a clothing line came about and it wasn’t just him and I at the time, there were other friends involved,” he explains.

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“The idea was to create a clothing label that we could identify with, away from mainstream and retail clothing. Mostly because we were in the arts and working with musicians and artists, we wanted to create a brand that people can identify with… an African brand but not your typical African. A blend of African prints mixed with modern styles and fabrics,” says Magome. 

Their signature t-shirts display cool graphics telling stories of African traditions, such as their popular t-shirt with the word “Lobola” on it. This in many African cultures, such as in the Zulu and Xhosa nations, is a price paid by the groom to the bride’s family before marriage.

“The name ‘Iintsizwa Ziphelele’ represents the principles of a brotherhood,” says Magome.

“When we were in tertiary, for a lot of us it was unchartered territory and for us to survive we had to stick together as a collection of friends. There has always been a necessity to keep brothers around, help each other to survive socially and otherwise. That bond that we formed gave birth to Iintsizwa Ziphelele and it has been like that ever since,” he says..

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“In the beginning we were just printing t-shirts using a small one-colour screen printing machine, the most basic method of printing that you can use, in a garage. Back then the trend was to print political icons such as Steve Biko on t-shirts, it was about what was happening on the streets and people wanted to see that.

“As time went on we worked with graphic designers to create different kinds of images. It’s a big jump from where we were, we have now moved beyond t-shirts and are creating a variety of things,” says Magome.

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Although the brand primarily produces menswear they also have a handful of women’s t-shirts and bucket hats on offer. During my visit I styled their menswear collection for their summer look-book. Their pieces, such as the camouflage shirt and sleeveless bomber jackets work as unisex pieces.

‘’The printed images on our clothing speak about life in the townships and homelands, and represent our daily reality as black peoples no matter where we are in the world. The brand celebrates Ubuntu and the last remnants of our cultures, post apartheid,” says Nkosi, who I interviewed later.

“Through the clothing we get to tell our stories. Fashion has played a role in defining people and eras, telling tales of different generations from the 1600s to the 80’s and now post slavery. We are inspired by the rich history that our country tells, the unique nation of this world – in fashion, music, languages and the different cultural exchanges that come from the different ethnic groups,” he says.

PICTURE: UBUNTU

PICTURE: UBUNTU

From humble beginnings to now having a fully functional mini factory at the back of their studio boasting the latest technology in printing, sewing and embroidery machines, the duo now employs young graduates and offer their services to other brands and organisations.
Not only is their clothing popular in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Joburg, they also have clients overseas.

“The business is funding itself. What we did is to try and create a business model that can sustain the brand. The machines that we use to produce our brand, we also use them to produce printing services to other brands;

A lot of young brands get killed because it’s not that easy to get out there and make as many sales as possible and produce again. We had to find some innovative way of making it work,” Magome explains.

PICTURE: UBUNTU

PICTURE: UBUNTU

 

“Obviously growth is inevitable. Three years from now we should be in every corner of the country in department stores;

One of the business’s primary objectives is to create jobs for our people and play our part in this country’s economic growth, not only by enriching ourselves but by building our community here in Soweto,” adds Nkosi.

 

PICTURE: UBUNTU

PICTURE: UBUNTU

 

Connect with Iintsizwa Ziphelele on:

Facebook: Iintsizwa Ziphelele
Website: http://www.iintsizwa.com

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on October 3 2016. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat: @Nontando58

 

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The story of the man in suits

WELL-SUITED: Brian Lehang sports an ensemble at the biannual menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Italy this year. PICTURES: FABRIAZIO DI PAOLO

WELL-SUITED: Brian Lehang sports an ensemble at the biannual menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Italy this year. PICTURES: FABRIAZIO DI PAOLO

THESuitableMan, Brian Lehang’s story began at Retlile Primary School in Soweto, when he and a group of friends decided to dress like gentlemen to impress their peers and teachers.

“We used to be naughty boys at school and just before graduating we realised that we needed to do something that would get our names into the school’s good books,” he explains.

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Dressed in black trousers, khaki shirts and ties – Lehang’s tweed was borrowed from his uncle – the effort earned the group a spot in the principal’s good books.

“I suggested that we wear ties with our uniforms so we would look more like gentlemen than naughty boys. Mine had sentimental value as my uncle had inherited it from his father. Even before we got to school, people at the bus stop were already giving us strange looks.

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“That day the principal gave us a smile for the first time,” he says.
I first noticed Lehang at the inaugural SA Menswear Week (SAMW) last year.

He was dressed in a classic “five-piece suit” – a pants, jacket, waistcoat that also included a shirt and tie (or bowtie).

Dressing up for a fashion week is not uncommon as most people are there to be seen and show off their outfits. However, wearing a suit these days without good reason, such as to a wedding or a black-tie event, is rare, unlike the early to mid-20th century, when the suit was an acceptable look for day and night.

Lehang’s sartorial look – complete with a matching pocket square, hat and clutch bag – therefore raises as many eyebrows as it draws stares.

Brian Lehang Golf

Introducing himself as a professional golf player, Lehang says his journey to becoming The SuitableMan was established on the golf course. After trying a number of sports at high school, including running, swimming and soccer, he fell in love with golf after seeing a neighbour practise the sport in a backyard.

“I immediately thought: ‘This is the sport for me’. I was drawn to its uniqueness at the time… no black kid in Soweto played the sport. I started playing with my neighbour after school and I did everything to learn about the game, from reading about the sport to visiting golf courses,” says Lehang.

“Playing golf is expensive so in Grade 10 I started working at a golf club in Roodepoort as a caddy in return for golf gear, equipment and a place to play.

“A new era began. I gave away all my denim jeans as I only wore formal pants or chinos and golf shirts to work. I became popular in my community… people were curious about the young boy catching a taxi with a golf bag.

My golf was not that great at the time, but I very much looked the part.”

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Growing up in a female-dominated home, Lehang’s only source of style inspiration came from magazines and books, and from studying what golf pros such as Tiger Woods wore on and off the course.

“There was no father figure to show me how to wear a tie,” he says. Lehang says fashion and golf are interconnected.

“I fell in love with fashion as much as I fell in love with golf, to a point where I started looking at how men used to wear suits in the old days.

“I have spoken to old men who used to live in Sophiatown and Meadowlands, and they told me fascinating stories of how they only wore suits on pay day.

“I fell in love with suits and started buying them at jumble sales.
“A neighbour would alter them to make them the perfect fit,” he explains.

Now fashion has become a serious business for him. Not only is he a permanent feature on the fashion scene, but he has made it his goal to visit the world’s top fashion capitals, such as Paris and New York to learn from the masters.

At the recent biannual menswear trade show, Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy,Lehang was among the most photographed people there.

“I felt like I was at home in Florence. People were not looking at me with raised eyebrows, like they sometimes do here.

“It’s not just a place where people go to be photographed. I met tailors and shoemakers from around the world since I am trying to learn as much as possible in terms of how to put together a suit and where it comes from. It was a magical time”

“As much as they say that fashion is unrestricted there is certain etiquette that a gentleman has to know when it comes to suits.

“Such as if you are wearing braces or suspenders you can’t put a belt on as the braces were meant to hold up the trousers.

“Or when you are wearing a slim fit tie, you wear it with a slim fit tie clip for it to look more proper. There are also rules on how you wear your hat.

“I believe in being a traditionalist when it comes to suits… keeping it sartorial all the time,” Lehang says.

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Brian Lehang’s style tips

●Buy a suit off the rack and have it tailored to fit.
●Do your homework. There are many shops that sell suits, so take
your time and compare prices and quality.
●Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most sales people are very helpful,
so don’t shy away from asking for information even if you’re not planning to buy at the time.

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on March 31 2016.