The Original Maitele Wawe

The Social Market founder and Fashion Rebel shares his original style story

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Chisanga Mubanga

Wonderfully different and highly eccentric, the Fashion Rebels co-founder is used to expressing himself through style. Problem is, because not everything is as tough as the denim he wears, it’s really starting to take a toll on his hair.

“From when I first started out until now, I’ve probably had about thirty different hairstyles. It’s a sad story for my hair. I had amazing hair, really long with lots of volume, and then I started playing, started to bleach it and started to apply different colour dyes to it, and it just ate up my hair.”

What has grown stronger over the two years since Maitele Wawe started running The Social Market in Pretoria (an 012 turn up that celebrates art, fashion, music and food) is not just his own afro-punk look, but an entire scene that now subscribes to a similar aesthetic.

The Fashion Rebels have been described as a post-street style, Pretoria-based fashion crew united by a shared love for their loud and proud style. Think Boom Shaka braids, customised Levi's and vintage thrift-shop finds, which culminate in looks that Andre 3000 would tip his hat to. Joined by Thifhelimbilu Mudau and Sizophila Dlezi, Maitele formed the crew to show other kids living in Pretoria that they didn’t have to always look to other territories for their style inspiration, that instead they could be the ones setting trends for the rest of South Africa and even the world.

After starting The Social Market, which opens on the first Sunday of every month, like-minded youth started showing up in droves to show off their swag. With originality and innovation being the name of the game, one need only follow The Social Market’s Instagram to see how those involved are pushing things further with every meet.

“Everybody always thought I was from Joburg, but I’m from Pretoria, actually I’m from Venda, I was there until matric, and when I started doing my thing people started to recognise it. I went ‘snap’, and thought that maybe I shouldn’t stop doing what I’m doing, even though I was getting a lot of criticism because not everyone got it at first.”

In order to truly express his sense of individuality through fashion, the larger-than-life Maitele embraces his weird side and inspires others to do the same. What's especially noteworthy is how the style maverick is able to take the same Levi's items that are available to you and I, and by channeling himself come up with outfits that have people asking to snap a photograph of him. 

“I don’t believe in outfits. If you’re stylish or are supposed to be 'someone' in fashion, but your look doesn’t say something to me, then I don’t believe you. You can’t have the same hair as everyone else. Same if your shoe game is normal. And you can’t ever copy someone else, ever.”

Which is why even if Maitele showed up to our initial meeting wearing flip flops, a tank top and shorts, he’d be able to elevate this beach-bum look to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

“I think my hair says a lot about me, and if my hair game is strong and my accessories are on point, I’m literally not going to look like anyone else, ever. There’s always something about me that shouts, ‘look at me!’ I change my hair up a lot, in fact I change up my style all the time.”

Now what many wouldn’t know is that with just a single subject hanging, Maitele is supposed to graduate in logistics from the Tshwane University of Technology. In his first year he actually studied engineering. This didn’t work out, but he was always interested in fashion, and he now makes a living through his personal style.

“Right now, I’m trying to do everything at The Social Market. Host the thing, give props to people for coming, market it… People just need to come and see it for themselves. It’s crazy seeing people experience it for the first time. Like, is this really in Pretoria? AfroPunk wrote a story about the social market, which was huge, but I still feel that it needs to reach more people.”

Having realised that his influence comes from fashion, and that his look has helped him to meet and inspire people, Maitele wants to take The Social Market outside of Pretoria.

“And outside of South Africa too, because I have a bunch of mails from people in Botswana, Kenya and all over talking about doing collaborations and bringing the Social Market to them. That’s the dream.”

Maitele believes that we need to start celebrating our differences more and the things that make us unique, and that instead of looking to international trends and copying the Pharells and the Kanyes we must come up with new looks that will inspire them instead. Not only does he have the guts to do things differently, but as a long-time thrifter and hoarder, Maitele has the resources, too. Maybe he just needs to get better at organising everything. 

“My wardrobe is huge and I’m really trying to cut it down now because there’s a lot of stuff in there that I haven’t worn in ages. There’s some really nice stuff there that I don’t even get to see because it’s packed so tight.”

Not everyone gets Maitele's boundary breaking style, and plenty of people misdirect their ignorance as outright loathing for the young man doing things like wearing white 501s with a tartan double-breasted blazer, loafers, no socks, a turban and a bunch of gold accessories.

“Over here people look at you and judge you without even wanting to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. There’s a lot of hate. It’s funny though, how a lot of these kids are doing what I was into four years ago, or are now claiming they know me, how we’re from the same place, when they were the same cats who never recognised me when I was there with them…”

There’s some real power here and an opportunity to create something huge, and if Maitele won’t allow closed-minded people to hold him back, then what does he perceive as a hurdle between becoming an even bigger success?

“Can I tell you something, and it’s not even something I’m ashamed of saying, but I think that because I had the vision and there’s a dream, I feel like now, maybe, what I need now is somebody to manage the dream, that vision, for me. I feel like I need help, and it’s not even a problem for me to say something like that, because the thing is, you might be relevant now, but after two years that may not be the case anymore. I want to stay relevant. My mind keeps buzzing with ideas and if I don’t execute them, that might suppress new ideas.”

Social media has allowed Maitele to make friends with like-minded individuals all over the world, and he’d like nothing more than to take his flavour to, say, the Berlin Arts Fair, or to bring international artists to Pretoria.

“It’s amazing to hear from people who I look up to, or people who are doing what I’m doing, them telling me that they love my work or love what I’m doing. For me, that’s so humbling. It’s amazing. It’s not just about the turn up, it’s about being someone relevant, being a part of this new generation and inspiring the kids.”