03 March 2012 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Smarteez pants

They don’t follow trends, they create them: Colour, fashion and attitude – post-apartheid style.

Photo courtesy Chris Saunders

I’m not the most fashion-savvy person around, but I do love fashion and am fascinated (probably as a result of a 1st-year art history course) by the semiotics of fashion – it speaks to every aspect of identity and is encoded with personal and cultural meaning.

And this is more or less what I’m blogging about today – what fashion means in terms of how we view ourselves – after coming across these great photos of the Smarteez Collective on the Guardian’s website and on Chris Saunders’s site. I’m sure that there is already something fresher and cooler that I haven’t discovered yet – but Smarteez is still big news, as the growing success of the design collective of the same name shows.

Smarteez first came to public attention in about 2009. Simply put, Smarteez, along with Ama Kip Kip and Cream Cartel, is a ‘generation Y’ youth subculture in South Africa that 'uses fashion to distinguish individuals from other spaces and groups in society'.

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Today, it is much more mainstream than it was initially, mainly thanks to the work of the Smarteez Collective, spear-headed by Kepi, Sibu, Floyd and Thabo. You can see a video interview with them below, where they talk about their inspiration, their attitude towards fashion and their success.

There have been conference papers about the fashion phenomenon ('Against the Machine: The "Smarteez" fashion a new post-apartheid identity') and even, I believe, an exhibition of Smarteez-inspired photography at the Goodman Gallery.

Photo courtesy Chris Saunders

It is a style born of a post-apartheid generation of black teenagers who have attended multiracial schools as well as township schools. They don’t follow trends, they create them and, “as fast as you pin them down, they will move on to something else”. The style has also made international waves as something uniquely South African, albeit with some interesting parallels with the Japanese Harajuku street-style trend.

As their colourful names imply (Ama Kip Kip is a multicoloured popcorn snack and Smarteez refers to the colourful, sugar-coated chocolates), these fashions are a powerful statement of individuality. They let those who appropriate them express something about who they are and who they aspire to be.

The looks are edgy, fun, unconventional, full of attitude and unashamedly confident. They play with colour and gender stereotypes and confidently assert a fresh sense of identity among young people in Soweto and further afield in South Africa. If this is what street fashion in South Africa has to say, I like it and I want to hear more!

Photo courtesy Chris Saunders

Category: Arts & Entertainment


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