SA MENSWEAR WEEK: A CONCEPTUAL PRESENTATION ON COMMUNITY AND HUMANHOOD

Unknown Union was set to close off SA Menswear Week 2017, a tremendous task for any brand. The normalcy of process at each fashion week is what most show goers would expect without much left to be said. Founder and CEO, Jason Storey chose a common, but directed route this time around. A conceptual approach. Eighteen individuals that had a story to tell, most of them non-models. Stories of awareness, community, expression, and culture. Voices of everyday persons who thrive in pioneering their own lanes. A multidisciplinary collective, brought together by one brand, Unknown Union.

The ‘models’ consisted of individuals with a diverse set of interests, all adorned in Unknown Union apparel. Teachers, photographers, musicians, visual artists, radio personalities, chefs, film makers and environmental activists to name a few. Each person connected to the other, through community and expression. The very last people you would expect to be seeing on a ramp, which is precisely the point. Unknown Union is committed to storytelling and a collective expression through their design and interaction. Paying homage to what has already existed in neighbourhoods, villages, classrooms, and conversations. A celebration of what it means to be human, in the most potent way.

Storyteller and spoken word poet, Adrian “Diff” Van Wyk opened the show with a piece detailing the history of a people. Gliding down the ten-pillar stacked ramp, he spoke into the audience whilst raking up heartfelt reactions. Songwriter and rapper, Patty Monroe followed suit with her twenty-sixteen single ‘Castles’, an ode to youth and freedom. To close off the show was rapper Uno July, with an offering on hustler’s ambition and dream chasing. In between was every other individual making their statement clear on the runway. Crowd reactions strengthened with each person starting their walk. Every individual was a story that someone in the audience could recognise. Each person was able to offer something that mirrored the expression of community and everyday people. Anyone sitting in the crowd could see a glimpse of themselves on the ramp.

The show was a commentary on humanhood. The way we live it in its most natural form. A testament to the fact that we exist in a collective. However unknown to the next person, human stories are diverse, detailed, and ultimately similar. The collaboration between Unknown Union and these eighteen individuals became a vehicle for the delivery of a subtle, yet fundamental message. Like the Chokwe designs on UU t-shirts, inspired by the cultural groups in central and southern Africa, and the workmanship of the Basotho blankets that inspired the well-known range of authentic Basotho print UU jackets, these are the stories of the people. Stories that speak of culture, advancing sustainability, and the authenticity of humanhood. Stories that are paramount and foremost about being human. 

(Matimu Rikhotso for Unknown Union)

 

Some images below. Check out more on the UU Instagram page: @unknownunion

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Uno July

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Sanele Xaba  

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Theodore Afrika  

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Koketso Mbuli  

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Akuol De Mabior

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Adrian "Diff" Van Wyk

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Catherine Grenfell

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Philani Sikhakhane  

On Peace, Rain and Plenty -- King Moshoeshoe and the Founding of a Nation

[If you missed the first part of this series, click here.]

The Sotho people lived in Southern Africa for hundreds of years prior to King Moshoeshoe’s reign; however he is considered the father of modern day Lesotho as, under his rule, the nation was consolidated into a governing kingdom with established borders.   

Moshoeshoe began his rise to prominence as the local chief of a small village.  Legend suggests that his mentor, Chief Mohlomi, shared an ominous vision of an embattled and war-torn era that would appear like a “great red cloud descending over the south”.  Heeding this warning, Moshoeshoe led his people to Butha-Buthe to establish a mountain defense. This was followed by a second mountain stronghold at Theba-Bosiu years later which proved a successful defense and military advantage to the kingdom.  Neither the Boers invading from the South, nor the Zulu King, Shaka (encroaching from the East) were able to overcome Moshoeshoe’s powerful combination of militant strength and tactful political compromise.    

Basotho blanket commemorating the ostrich feathers

Basotho blanket commemorating the ostrich feathers

According to folklore, at one point King Moshoeshoe learned of King Shaka’s plan to wage war against Moshoeshoe and claim his lands.  Moshoeshoe paid homage to the Zulu king by sending gifts, with plumes of ostrich feathers chief among them.  Pleased with the gesture, Shaka relented and Moshoeshoe demonstrated that even the mightiest and most unyielding hands could be restrained by little more than the weight of a feather.    

In another anecdote, Moshoeshoe’s grandfather was slaughtered on his land and dragged away by a raiding party of cannibals.  Instead of avenging his grandfather’s death with violence, Moshoeshoe redirected these energies toward a higher purpose for the sake of his people. Moshoeshoe gave the cannibals cattle and land, and to prevent any of his people taking revenge on his behalf he performed customary burial rites on the bellies of the cannibals declaring them the living embodiment of his grandfather’s burial ground. When death could have been dealt, Moshoeshoe turned fierce raiders into loyal patrons and increased his kingdom in both number and strength.  In doing this, Moshoeshoe once again invoked “Balimo ba hao u ba hopole” and put his people’s interests far above his own.

Next:  Spreading a Blanket over Lesotho 

The Once and Future King

In southern Africa, shweshwe is a well-known fabric with a very complex and interesting history; just one of the reasons why this fabric can be found in so many of our pieces. Lesser known is the fact that the name itself comes from the much revered Sotho warrior, Moshoeshoe I, so named due to the swiftness with which he would engage his enemies.  Like shweshwe, the Basotho blankets traditionally worn in Lesotho identify a people tied to this great legacy.   These fabrics are woven into a large part of daily life and are also embraced as a symbol of status because of him. Now, before we get into the story of the Basotho blankets themselves, it’s necessary to look at the origin story of Moshoeshoe I, which is as important now, as ever.  

While Moshoeshoe was still a young boy he was known by his friends and family as Lepoqo or Latlama.  One story tells us that, as Lepoqo began to grow into a young man, his grandfather, Peete, took special note of his fiery personality and propensity for danger.  Hoping that an equally strong personality could help to mentor Lepoqo as he transitioned from a young boy into a man, Peete took him to see one of the most well-respected philosophical leaders of the time, Chief Mohlomi.  Mohlomi was known throughout the land for his steady hand, message of unification amongst various factions and tribes and a belief that such unification could be realized only through peace and diplomacy.  We are told that Mohlomi immediately recognized Lepoqo's innate leadership qualities.  He embraced the boy as would a father, and gave Lepoqo an earring, a shield and a spear as symbols of the great power he would one day come to wield.  It was during this time that Lepoqo asked him a question, the answer to which formed the foundation of Lepoqo's future leadership style:  Lepoqo asked, “setlhare sa ho haha motse ke se fe?", which translates to "what is the medicine to building a powerful empire?”  Chief Mohlomi responded with his characteristic wisdom, “the only true medicine is the heart.”  And with that, he provided Lepoqo with a list of commandments that the boy, who would one day rule, would go on to practice throughout his life:

  • “O ba rate” – Love them: Love breeds compassion and generosity. “Further, love promotes peace. Even the act of fighting, when governed by love, is not just a mere fight; it is a means of seeking understanding. ”
  • “O ba tsebe” – Know them: In knowing the people, this wise man was alluding to the importance of appreciating that every individual is different and needs to be treated as such. As far as Mohlomi was concerned, this appreciation was fundamental in establishing true justice. (For example, fining a rich man six cows might seem like a slap on the wrist, while to a poor man, this would be a devastating blow!)
  • “O ba nyalle” – Marry for them: Keeping in mind that Chief Mohlomi’s advice to Lepoqo was the promotion of peace and love, this advice underscored that even the most intimate and private actions -- here, marriage -- should be undertaken with the kingdom’s wellbeing in mind.
  • “Balimo ba hao u ba hopole kamehla” – Remember your ancestors, always: The idea embodied in this statement is that one has to believe in a power greater than ourselves as human beings. Acknowledging those who lived and died before us also enables us to constantly be grateful for our own existence.

With these, Lepoqo became Moshoeshoe I, the legendary leader we have come to know today.  

Next:  On Peace, Rain and Plenty -- King Moshoeshoe and the Founding of a Nation