Loxion Kulca: Pioneering post-apartheid streetwear
Sechaba Mogale was born in exile in Lusaka, Zambia, where he was raised by his grandparents, while Wandi Nzimande was born and raised in Soweto. They forged a friendship and went on to create the brand Loxion Kulca in 1997. The wordplay of the ‘Loxion’ in the brand’s name is that it is a stylistic take on the vernacular word for the township, ‘elok’shini’ (location). ‘Kulca’ follows this stylisticly, respelling the word ‘culture’. Nzimande explains:
For me, apart from poetic licence: being brave, being young and saying, ‘fuck it, we can do whatever we want’, we knew that we couldn’t spell it in a way that… We knew that if you call it something that people knew, they wouldn’t buy it. We wanted to be as foreign as possible because, for me, anything that is foreign instils fear. And, sometimes, fear instils respect. So, we were excited about the misspelling.
The brand Loxion Kulca was a representation of the cultures that these designers were exposed to. Nzimande and Mogale had started out by selling handmade t-shirts and caps from the boot of their car. They then approached Sales House, known today as Jet Stores, part of the Edgars Consolidated Stores (EDCON). Sales House had started off as a retail clothing store tailored to the interests of migrant labourers. Sales House sold clothes similar to the Brentwoods and Pringles favoured by amapantsula, but at more affordable rates and with extended credit. Edgars was catering to middle class white people at the time.
Mogale and Nzimande approached Sales House with the desire to become a vendor at the store, and one of the EDCON’s suppliers, the late Brian Abrahams, assisted them financially and became their business partner. The period being just after apartheid, the market was incredibly difficult for black people to enter, and Abrahams’s social and economic capital came in handy for the duo. Loxion Kulca became one of the vendors at Sales House stores, but unfortunately the brand didn’t sell very well in the first week, which is usually used to measure how well a product will perform on the market. It was not until they got kwaito artists to endorse the brand that the sales for Loxion Kulca skyrocketed. From there, Loxion Kulca rose to prominence as a brand celebrating the township identity using streetwear. Not long after its inception Loxion Kulca began to be worn by major kwaito artists such as Mshoza and TKZee.
After the death of business partner, Brian Abrahams, the brand then seemed to lose prominence and momentum due to a series of reasons. One major reason given by Nzimande was that, in its popularity, the brand had created such great demand for the products that they were unable to meet required supply. Largely because of this, counterfeiting of their brand increased drastically. At one stage, he recounted for the Sowetan newspaper, there was R10-million worth of bootlegged Loxion Kulca products being sold on the streets.
Loxion Kulca, and Wandi Nzimande agrees with me on this, owed a great deal of its success to the kwaito movement, becoming something of a symbol for the culture. Needless to say, as kwaito left the mainstream, Loxion Kulca followed suit as the genre had facilitated and championed its success. Whatever other reasons may have led to the brand’s decline, it is undeniable that Loxion Kulca paved the way for streetwear brands such as Amakipkip, Eish Hade and the Cape Town based 2Bop. Izipoti (bucket hats) have especially made their way into mainstream streetwear today, propelled even more following the video of Caracara released by KO ft KiDX in 2013, which paid homage specifically to Trompies but to kwaito as a genre and a culture as well.
The song sampled Trompies’s popular hit Bengimngaka, and the artists wore bucket hats and even made reference to TKZee’s 1998 hit, Dlala Mapantsula. The fact that bucket hats have made their way back into the mainstream through hip hop is quite profound. Whether deliberate or not, this move highlights the way in which our identities today, as black people living in postapartheid South Africa but also in the global village, are not as rigid as we like to make them out to be. Is’poti, or the bucket hat, signals that there is a bridge between two different cultures that young black South Africans find themselves grappling with today. Loxion Kulca’s brilliance was also in the brand’s ability to remix history, so to speak. The contemporary youth, just post-apartheid, struggled to place or limit themselves in one cultural space, as this was also around the time when globalisation’s effects became more pronounced on South African society. The first post-apartheid generation could not escape the politics of its past, and yet also sought to find a different identity from the apartheid generations.
Loxion Kulca clothing and gear was not necessarily traditionally township; influences from black American fashion were also prevalent. In fact, Wandi Nzimande and Sechaba Mogale had been people who prided themselves on being fans of hip hop and were also avid basketball players, so this fact shouldn’t be surprising. However, for all its attached sentimental and political meanings, Wandi Nzimande is on record stating that the brand was not born out of some special story to tell, and instead came out of their need to put bread on the table. ‘To us it was a means to an end while to some people it gave them belief, and others created music with it. Some people even thought we were a political party,’ he once recounted for City Press.
Without imposing an unintended meaning, I would say that many of the actions that we make do not necessarily have one meaning. A lot of times, they are in response to actions that have already been made. If we interrogated further, we would find that many of our most significant actions are informed by the world around us.
Fashion, like all other art forms, can also be used as a window to seeing and making meaning out of the experiences that people have of a certain time and place, even when that was not the explicit meaning of the designer. The name ‘Loxion Kulca’ in a South Africa where black people were still trying to figure out where they fit in the world is political in itself, as it shows pride in being from elok’shini, a place which was supposed to be the site of hopelessness. The clothing, reflecting the black South African township experience even as it had been influenced by global super-culture, reflected the one thing that black folks cannot be stripped of: our identities.
Things were slightly different for female kwaito artists, however. Because my engagement with kwaito is with hindsight, as I was a young child when the culture was prominent, there are many things that hold sentimental value to me. Boom Shaka wearing crop tops that were perceived as revealing, for example. Boom Shaka’s style, clearly influenced by African-American fashion even through its music, was critiqued for how ‘loose’ an image it portrayed. This was an aesthetic that even 999’s Abashante followed. The women were clad in revealing tops and long pants as it was the trend at the time, imported from black America.
Considering the role that men played in creating these images, I struggle to think of them as bold attempts at reclaiming their agency. I can’t shake off the feeling that the kwaito men instructed them to cultivate these images, specifically for the male gaze. It is difficult to engage with the clothing style of kwaito artists without engaging with South Africa’s sociopolitical dynamics. At all times, it was about confronting respectability politics. It serves as a window into the socio-political climate of neo-apartheid South Africa, where apartheid is no longer legislated but remains stubbornly reflected in the socioeconomics of its people. The fashion and culture kwaito style ignited paved the way for our generation to be able to express ourselves through unconventional modes of dress, and will live on forever as an inspiration to us.