The Power of Community Building In Streetwear Culture

By: Misa Makwakwa Masokameng

Markers of any culture include language, customs, and attire. We identify members of streetwear culture by their style, manipulation of language, and choice of entertainment; their customs.

The longest recorded line for a streetwear apparel store in Africa was recorded on February 24, 2018 outside of RHTC x PLAYGROUND. Shoppers shopping is nothing new  but the richness of the day had do with a first for “the culture;” even if the phrase has been stretched past its elasticity.

Fashion is one of the building blocks of culture, as it makes participants of said culture  identifiable. While there may not be an official name for someone who is subscribed to it, street culture – and thus the fashion born of it –  is as noteworthy as the cultures and customs  assigned to us at birth.

Identifying culture by cloth

In general, attire is a clear way of identifying someone’s beliefs or cultural background. We know the Irish and Scottish for kilts, the Ndebele people for neck pieces, the Ashanti tribe for Kente cloth, the Japanese for kimonos, Indians for sarees, Muslims for abayas; the list is endless. Simply put, culture is visual. Nevertheless, over the years, many have come to question the comfort factor of these garments.

Streetwear apparel is rooted in comfort and a derivative from various broad cultures; like hip-hop and skateboarding. While this is more prevalent in Western societies, in the South African context pantsula culture could be considered the most recognizable streetwear culture. Members of the pantsula culture fall well outside the customary garbs of the many “traditional” cultures in the country, and lends comfort to the wearer.

Cred: Pantsula Photo Series by Tyrone Bradley (2012)

Codifying custom and ethos

“Umuntu ngumtu ngabantu,” you are who you are because of others; you are not an island state, according to the Xhosa proverb. Ideals such as this make up the ethos of a culture. Similarly, streetwear culture maintains various beliefs in the hopes of forming a bond amongst its participants.

“The difference between a lot of people who have certain privileges and those who don’t is opportunity,” according to Mpumelelo “Frypan” Mfula. As the father of RHTC, an acronym for Returning Home To Create, skill sharing and developing fashion entrepreneurs into what they can become is the leading ethos of his streetwear retail brand.

RHTC has managed to create an active and engaged streetwear community, both online and in real life. Patrons of the store believe in themselves and each other. They have faith in their ability to become everything they could dream. In essence, unity, self expression, and mutual support are the foundation of streetwear culture in South Africa; and RHTC is at the helm of that movement.

Watch our interview with RHTC Founder, Frypan Mfula, here: