As’qoke content creator Bafana Mthembu reimagines fashion that celebrates South African heritage
As’qoke, an isizulu term which means let’s get dressed, was popularised by content creator Bafana Mthembu through his popular “get ready with me” videos. But those came with a twist, a take on the Amabhinca subculture that has become synonymous with some of Mzansi’s taxi drivers and top dressers within the isizulu culture.
The fashion staple being the famous Brentwood trousers that Mthembu pushing boundaries and giving the revered pants a millennial take on it.
And it is from these unorthodox fashion tutorials that the Soweto born creative bagged himself an endorsement with the New York brand – Skye Distribution. But more than making a fashion statement is the desire to celebrate this subculture that he grew up being surrounded by.
“Making the Brentwood trousers cool again is what caught the attention of the international brand and because of the one dimensional approach their brand had taken made it a little challenging to diversify their markets. But it was from this interaction that I saw an opportunity to broaden my influence with many other items they have.”
Mthembu’s journey started last May and in a matter of months he has managed to carve a name in the fashion influencing space – but the need for subcultures to be represented is what remains pivotal.
“I just realised that even in the content creating space, we lacked the element of paying homage to the subcultures and fully investing our energies on these whether it’s izikhothane or amapantsula subcultures that are big within our communities.”
“The ‘get-ready-with-me’ looks that I would see online all looked the same and hardly celebrated us as a country. I didn’t know where my decision would take me but I knew I had to take that leap into celebrating a subculture that had an immense influence in who I am.
“I took it upon myself to play within this space,” he said.
The 30 year old, who hails from Soweto, explained that fashion has not only expanded his reach and opened doors that he never imagined would open up to him.
But fashion for him started years before the as’qoke movement. He recalls being part of a collective dubbed as Khumbula – meaning to remember, that focused on thrifting old items of clothing and reimagining them. Hence the word khumbula.
They would walk around Joburg CBD and collecting clothes only to restyle those to not only reflect their own personal brands but also what Mzansi was and all about.
“When the crew died out due to each person pursuing their own individual dreams, what I kept from that journey was the appreciation of clothing and how clothes can speak for you.
“With that in mind, I thought why not give a voice to subcultures that are not being represented within the mainstream by reimagining looks online for a greater audience to appreciate,” he said.
Clothing is also a way of communicating for him, and through representing amabhinca and inkabi, it speaks to his upbringing, influences and who ultimately he is.
“Brentwood trousers carry so much memory for me and for many of us. Whether it’s from KZN or a taxi rank traveling to wherever. Why not celebrate this piece of clothing that has become part of our heritage with the rest of the world,” making it fashionable to wear even amongst his peers.
When asked if he has seen people take after his style, he modestly admits to having seen and heard a few people embrace these stone age pants and making them fashionable again.
“And that’s all that matters, owning our own stories whether through fashion, spoken word or music. Young or old,” he said.
The future looks promising for the senior creative strategist at DNA Brand Architects and hopes to produce a documentary this year that explores this subculture of amabhinca that has influenced him for over 20 years.
“To further explore this community of people that have been misunderstood for such a long time. Whenever I explain them to people, I always say to people to picture them as amapantsula who have their own language, fashion influence, music they listen to. Tell a story of how they came to be, in a way of protecting their heritage – outside of this portrayal of violence that has been perpetuated.”
“I want to get people who belong to this subculture involved, from musicians to actors and others. People who have started fashion brands around this community – and hopefully inspire our own creations of brands that speak to our heritage. I want to find those people who want to pay homage and preserve this culture for future generations to admire. To create accessibility to items of clothes that are affordable and also correct misconceptions that exist around this subculture,” he said.
Follow Bafana Mthembu on his journey to making our heritage cool again
Twitter/Instagram – @eezynkabi