One on one with Mahlatse James
It’s a sunny Saturday morning and I’m in Johannesburg, heading to the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein, to meet fashion journalist, blogger, visual merchandise coordinator and creative consultant Mahlatse James.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa is on and there is a palatable excitement in the air – most people at the market are still buzzing from last night’s shows and after parties.
'I only got home at five this morning,' says James as we walk around Braamfontein – he’s taking me on a tour of all his favourite places (well, he’s practically bouncing around and I’m trying to keep up.) Full of energy and bantering away, we get to chatting about his career, South Africa and, of course, fashion.
The half-South African, half-Jamaican journo tells me he loves Johannesburg when I quiz him about his favourite places in South Africa. 'I love the concrete jungle. Jo'burg can seem so hard and architectural with all its buildings, but we’re all just softies living here.'
He tells me that he’s just moved into a new place in Marshalltown and is loving it. 'Old buildings have the most space,' he points out.
Jo’burg can seem so hard and architectural with all its buildings, but we’re all just softies living here.
We head back to the market, which is now packed with visitors, but James claims it is practically empty. 'You can hardly move around here on a good weekend,' he says, adding, 'We usually head down to Kitchener’s [an old pub in Braamfontein] when the market closes and have a great time.'
I must admit Neighbourgoods does have a great, laid-back vibe: food cooked in front of you, and folk and blues music playing in the background.
James and I share some industry horror stories and lots of giggles in between his gin and tonic and my bottle of water.
I ask the fashion blogger how he feels about designers retailing their clothes in a market, and he says, 'Who wouldn’t want to eat, drink and shop all in the same place?' I have to agree.
We talk more about South African fashion and how there seems to be a revival of African prints at the shows. 'I love that prints are back,' he says. 'They are what make us African. It’s what the world expects of us. I think Africa just needs a new way of marketing its brand and getting it on that level where we are competing with global brands.
'We need to move away from recreating iziShweshwe from head to toe. Basically, we need to move away from traditional African.'
I have to say I didn’t expect James to be such a fun companion. For someone whose job is about the next big trend, this fashion blogger is real, he’s deep, thought provoking and genuinely in love with what he does.