Less is more when it comes to Simon Deporres’ minimalist approach to menswear
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon
Started by Simon Pocock and Mpilo Ngcukana, and later joined by Jesse Lange, Simon Deporres is a menswear label that eschews trends to instead focus on simple garments that are built to last. Looking to simplify daily life through the products that they create, the lads at Simon Deporres make the type of thing that they’d want to wear, and that will last forever, and they've been improving on their original recipe for success for just under a decade now.
We visited them at the Superior Goods Store on 69 Roeland Street, a destination shop that’s become something of a clubhouse with drop-ins and fly-bys grabbing beers from the bottle store next door and then waiting for their wi-fi to connect. Half the space is dedicated to a retail shop front, and behind the counter is a working studio with a desk in the middle, a comfortable couch at the back, bike racks, fridge, kitchenette, samples, patterns, storage and a basket for the shop’s mascot, Pablo.
Humble to a fault, they’re the first to admit how far they’ve come since starting their brand in their final year at Rondebosch Boys' High School.
“I was quite loud in school,” laughs Mpilo. “So I went onto the matric lawn, gathered all the homies and told them we were starting a label: Forever Epic. They were like, ‘Awww, that sucks bro! It sounds like Hang Ten!’ So we went back to the drawing board and while sitting in geography class this guy, I’ll never forget, Michael Muller, suggested Simon Deporres, and it stuck.”
Deporres is Mpilo’s second name (as well as the first black saint) – the kind of thing you get mocked mercilessly for at an all-boys school. In this context it worked, and they soon started printing T-shirts with the type of thing you would’ve frothed for in 2007 – headphones, ice creams, cassette tapes and every font in the book that wasn’t Helvetica. Even better, though, they had customers – and were able to convince two-thirds of matrics to buy an “I (heart) Plett” T-shirt for Rage.
“We made them pay a deposit, printed the tees, and with the profit we did some other things,” says Simon. “There wasn’t much thinking and no end goal in sight, we just had fun and it grew organically from there. Do a batch of T-shirts, sell them, skim some cash off the top for ourselves and then make something else.”
Still, they wanted to do more than simply print T-shirts and so Simon and Mpilo did an audit on every single clothing shop on Long Street, asking if they made their stuff or imported it. Of the guys who did manufacture for themselves, the pair asked for their contacts. Some obliged, and soon they had someone to work on their first cut-and-sew jacket.
A wholesale business until 2013, when Simon Deporres opened up their Superior Goods Store, they applied the same tricks they’d learned from building their brand – just figure it out as you go. With no real budget, they shop-fitted the space themselves, and it has a palette as clean as the clothing is. The brick and mortar allows for better margins and can complete the circle: they now design, manufacture and sell their own wares. The national footprint has since stepped over to include Australia.
“Andrew McDade was a good customer of ours when he lived here,” says Simon. “And he’s been wearing our stuff in Oz since moving there. He coincidentally shares an office with a distributor there, and one thing led to another and we were Skyping with the guy who then placed an order for his store in Sydney called The Stables. So that becomes a small pat on the back: getting noticed organically without having to go out and beg.”
Likewise, Brad Armitage from Alliance Brands has come on board as an investor and something of a big brother. Then there’s the uniform side of the business, which is the perfect R&D for putting the product through its paces. Frankie Fenner is the latest team to get that SD touch.
The duo brought in a third member, Jesse Lange, after meeting him at a party and admitting that they didn’t know enough about the planning, merchandising and financial side of the rag trade.
“I was working at Superbalist at the time,” says Jesse. “I really liked their stuff and as a favour was working with them after hours, doing different things to streamline the operation so that it could operate as a business. When they asked me to come on board I sold my GTI, bought into the business and have been formalising the retail, cash flow and buying side of things ever since.”
The three members agree that it’s best to work with friends and will always look to outsource to people that they consider their extended family.
“The Seppis shoot our stuff,” says Mpilo. “Lukey Lifestyle, from Not Seen models for us, and so does The Party Rasta, Kent. It’s a nice culture that we have here, where everyone close to the family is also doing their own thing. We’re just all trying to help one another out where we can.”
The fact that none of them ever studied fashion means that they’re not following any formula, and it’s allowed them to explore and be much more creative in how they approach things. Organic is a word that comes up a lot throughout our interview and is used to describe everything from how they’ve grown their business to the evolution of their clothing.
“We simply want to make product that a guy will buy now and in five years' time he'll still want to wear it,” says Simon. “Clothing that’s been through hell and back, but wears in instead of wearing out.”
Simon Deporres has grown with the lads as they’ve matured, with quality being the characteristic that’s remained constant. Since day one they’ve agonised over the product, and this has got them noticed for all the right reasons. They’re no longer the loud mouth matric students beating their chests on the school field, and have found that the best way to get heard is a quiet confidence in having their clothing speak for itself. Keeping things simple like Simon and having a black saint watch over you surely doesn’t hurt either.