19.05.2016

Meet the Originals

Five standouts from the Levi’s Calling All Originals casting share their stories

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Chris Saunders

There’s a guy wearing a single brown leather glove in his trucker jacket like it’s a pocket square and another in Carvela’s and a Nehru shirt. A pair of girls are twinning in clean white sneakers and clean white T-shirts, and are the antithesis to the young guy they’re chatting to in the NWA patched trucker jacket and denim shorts ripped, torn, bleached and patched to perfection. Crisp white jeans worn with tasseled leather loafers, no socks and a pink blazer with the sleeves rolled up like Miami Vice. An outfit comprising a pair of handmade denim sliders, oversized vintage dungarees and a white denim jacket that’s older than the guy wearing it. There’s the full spectrum, from unwashed denim that’s stiff as a board and dark as a bruise to stuff that’s so worn-out, ripped up and distressed it’s nearly unrecognizable. The common denominator? The sea of denim undulating around us is exclusively made up by Levi’s.

The minimum requirement was to show up at Shine Studios wearing at least one original Levi’s item, but people did far better and there were displays of double denim and triple denim and even some instances of sextuple takes on the hardwearing fabric. Stylists Jamal Nxedlana and Melissa Maxted had brought in three rails and a couple ammo crates of apparel to style whoever wanted it, but admitted early on to not having much to do on the day, as the people who attended the casting refused to have anyone else interfere with their look.

With 17 different ways to cuff your jeans as well as plenty of flips and flourishes and rolling up of jackets and tucking in of T-shirts, with layering so textured you’d need a miners helmet to get to the bottom of some outfits, choosing just five people to feature was never going to be easy. And while it’s exciting to see how others have interpreted the aesthetics introduced by the lads at I See A Different You and the Sartists, it’s refreshing to see just how many new styles there are now.

Yep, our job was a difficult one, needing to identify five standouts from a pool of 200 young people representing tribes that included punk rock, neo-punk, Afro-punk, preppy, street, sporty, grunge, hip hop, folk, and every other sub-culture you can think of . However, after much deliberation we made our choice, visited these in their spaces in order to find out what makes them original, and then got them to share their original stories with us. Meet the originals.

Chadwyn

We visit Chadwyn Moses at his home in Buhle Park where his dad’s in the front yard working on his bicycle, his mom’s playing with their puppy and his brothers are rolling around on their BMXs. Chadwyn’s absent though, his bike propped up against the family’s one-room RDP house, because he’s inside ironing his jeans.

“I always iron my jeans. I like them to be as crisp and clean as my T-shirts are. I’m going for that classic look. When you wear something as simple as jeans and a T-shirt it’s all about how you wear it. So I always tuck in my T-shirt and cuff my jeans, because it looks clean and you don’t ever want anything to get caught in the bike that will send you over the handlebars.”

Chadwyn didn’t initially plan on attending the casting, and it was only after his cousin gave him her Levi’s and a push that he made his way to the event. Good thing, too, because his beaming smile and warm energy made us gravitate towards him.   

Originally a skater, Chadwyn says he was “good, not talented,” and that after his family lost their home in the suburbs he decided to quit skating. He’s found that his current neighborhood’s dirt roads and potholes are far more conducive to BMX anyways, and nowadays only feels alive when he’s touching his grips.

“Whatever problems you have, the BMX doesn’t care, and if I wasn’t riding I don’t know what I’d be doing now. It’s a creative outlet. You need to be stylish on your bike. The way you do your tricks has to look good. BMX is like a metaphor for life where if there are obstacles in front of you you have to hop over them and keep moving. BMX has also taught me patience. You can sometimes spend five hours trying a trick and you still won’t get it, but you just keep on doing it because like Dr. Maya Angelou says, ‘A man who masters patience can master anything.’”

Case in point Chadwyn’s high-school years where he took issue with his family’s demoted social status, having to wear hand me down school clothes and an arduous hour-long bike ride to school every day. After repeating two grades Chadwyn’s motivation came in the form of a teacher who told him that he’d never amount to anything.

“I did a 180, changed my attitude and got that head boy blazer. My name is on the wall at my school now. That teacher? She actually left.”

Buda

As part of the AFI Fastrack, Sibusiso Malete, or Buda as he prefers to be known, was selected as one of the top ten emerging designers in Africa. After showcasing his work at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week the young designer’s collection went to Rwanda and not the type to rest on his laurels, right now he’s busy planning an editorial that will explain what his clothing is actually capable of.

“My whole concept was transcendence, to change from one thing into something else, so my jacket turns into a bag, pants turn into a jacket and you can combine other things to make a kimono. It’s kind of crazy and stuff the runway shows can’t always show.”

Buda’s brand Digital Fabricz started four years ago and was the catalyst for his studying fashion because he wanted to become an expert in his craft and, “didn’t want to be a brand that only printed logos on T-shirts.”

 

Looking to dominate in whatever he does, Buda’s competitive spirit comes from growing up in the south where him and his crew would throw shapes in Soweto’s dance battles.

“Our crew wore 501s that we sewed up at the bottom to turn into skinnies. We called our dance ‘isibourgeois’, which is simply an interpretation of how a song makes you feel. It’s important to have strong denim for when doing the type of dance moves that can split your pants.”

What Buda loves about his Levi’s is how he’s able to keep them forever and how they get even better with time. In order to stand out from similar items in the streets, he does things like cut his jeans shorter and roll the high cuff that he likes. 

“Guys were laughing when we did those first few dance battles in our skinnies, but a year later they were in skinnies, too. So to stand out I started rolling my pants up, and then they copied that, too, so now I’m doing my turn up so high that my pants are sitting up on my shins.”

At time of interview, Buda’s got a safety pin doing the job of laces in his brogues, wild style hair that he wants to grow until it touches the ground, and we can’t help but wonder how soon we’ll see others adopting this look.

 

“I do things on my own terms and just need to stay true to myself. We all have a different fingerprint and should embrace our differences, embrace our uniqueness. I’m 24-years-old right now, not even the prime of my life, I’m pre-prime, and I know what I need to do, I have a clear vision, this is just the beginning. It’s inspirational to walk down the streets of Braam and get to meet Riky Rick. But I don’t want to be, like, ‘put me on, put me on,’ I want to show him my product. I can’t use someone else to uplift my career, I must do it myself.”

Bruny

Having only studied at LISOF for half a year now, the creative design student with dreams of becoming a fashion designer is already known around campus for her oversized denim jackets, brightly coloured braids and mismatched boots.

Today, carrying a toolbox filled with the instruments of her trade – different coloured threads, measuring tape, pins, pens, fabrics, stencils and a pair of scissors where whenever she completes a garment she ties a piece of fabric around the handle – Bruny Dusabe moves from floor attending classes like garment construction and pattern design. When she gets a gap she takes us onto the roof of the school’s building, a quiet space where she often goes to read, and tells us the story behind her collection of oversized jackets.

 

“My dad is not in the picture anymore, but he left some of his Levi’s jackets behind and the memory of him is still on them. This one I’m wearing is my favourite, it’s like my armour, and it’s also nice to wear because it has all these pockets, so it’s like a handbag or a backpack, and really suits my lifestyle. I feel the older it gets the more valuable it becomes. Priceless actually. Something that I’d like to pass on to my children.”

And while Bruny took the denim jackets that belonged to her dad she gets her style inspiration from her mom, particularly her turbans, oversized glasses and other treasures she uncovers from deep within her mom’s closet.

“Original style isn’t always what you wear, but how you wear it; little things that come through and allow you to communicate what you’re about. That’s why I love wearing my parent’s clothes. Also your body language does a lot for what you wear. I don’t ever get worked up. I like to be relaxed. I’m always chilled. So stay cool.”

No surprises then that this cool customer was selected as the winner of the Levi’s Calling All Originals Casting, bagging herself a year’s supply of Levi’s product that’s she’ll be able to pass on to her kids one day.

Iman

25-year-old Iman Mkwanazi is a model-slash-entrepreneur-slash-student who wears a lot of hats but has one pair of jeans to see her through everything that she needs to do. A BSC graduate currently doing her honours, Iman is also the owner of a construction company, Mkweni Groundworks, creative director for an online application, Mad Mash, and a model for Boss in Joburg and Base in Cape Town.

How does she do it? It’s all in the shoes.

“One pair of jeans and then I have a pair of gumboots, a pair of heels and a pair of brogues in the boot of my car, so depending on where I need to go I’m always able to switch things up. On site it’s the gumboots and my helmet, if I’m at a casting or at school it’s the brogues and then for evenings out I’ll put on a jacket and heels.”

 

The slashie’s story starts with her studying medicine for three years, and then realizing that most doctors only make real money after a decade or two, and so she decided to find a business opportunity. By then her studies had changed to a BSC and Iman felt she had the background information necessary to go into construction.

“I found a partner who was also young, black and female, and our first contract with City Parks came six months in. One and a half years later we were featured in Forbes Woman Africa, and last year we became Levi’s Pioneers, which allows young entrepreneurs to share their stories with other young people.”

Mad Mash started with a friend who was new to Durban and had no idea what to do there, and so together they came up with an application for visitors to the city to find out where to go on the east coast.  

“Basically it’s an online magazine that you can access on Google Play or the iStore. I take care of the creative and working with contributors and things.”

 

The modeling was a way for Iman to make some extra cash while studying at Wits, and while it’s always been a part time thing for her, this year she decided to prioritize it and has moved down to Cape Town to see what happens.

Iman's first encounter with denim were her mom’s Levi’s 501s, which she still has and have influenced her to the point where nowadays she’s still all about mom jeans. Something else she’s learned from her mom – you need to be as strong as your jeans are.

“Especially in the construction business where men will think you’re just a pretty face, underestimate you and expect you to know nothing. I prefer it that way, because there are no expectations, it’s better to be the underdog.”

Lethabo

When we first meet up with Lethabo Motlale to prep for our shoot the next day, he’s between takes on the 52 episode local series he’s working on for SABC 1.

“This is 12 hours a day for six days, really hectic, so when my own thing comes up I need to break the rules a little bit.”

The junior wardrobe stylist’s ‘own thing’ is doing whatever the hell he wants, something that infuriates his boss, but then Lethabo has had a problem with authority since day one. Which is why he prefers working as a personal stylist where he gets to dress people in the spotlight.

“When Amanda (Du-Pont) has an event on she’ll contact me and I’ll source things for her and then Somizi has so much clothing, to the point where he doesn’t even know what he has, and it’s up to me to put new outfits together for him using his stuff. I shouldn’t actually say this yet, but I’m dressing both of them for the SAMAs.”

 

Why do these people feel the need to seek out Lethabo’s styling assistance?

“Because I’m so dope and they need my help! I’m kidding. I think it’s because my style is very different compared to the trends you see at the moment. I’m not scared to mix and match stuff that’s maybe a bit outdated with stuff that’s happening right now. Futuristic meets vintage, that’s me.”

But what about his own severely distressed, look?

“I like to rip my own jeans and instead of buying a pair with rips in them I always take a clean pair and will use a razorblade, knife or pair of scissors to make my own rips.

I like adding a bit of my own character to whatever items I get my hands on. It’s more authentic to do it youself because you don’t want the same rips as someone else. I don’t like being a mannequin, it’s not dope.”

The pair that Lethabo wore to the casting are no longer the same jeans he was photographed in, after he accidently caught his toe in one of the rips he’d made and tore the jeans in half.

“It’s all good though, I think I’ll turn those into a jacket or something.”

 

This is the beauty of Levi’s – how in the case of Chadwyn, Bruny and Iman they can be passed down from one generation to the next; or like Buda’s engineered skinnies and Lethabo’s ripped denim are able to transform from one thing to another.

The work we do today has changed over the course of the century, but our uniform is still the same as what miners, farmers, labourers and construction workers have been wearing since Levi's introduced their durable denim in 1873. It's how today’s originals choose to wear their jeans, in ways that make their Levi's distinctly theirs, that will keep evolving and being interpreted for generations to come. 

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