All words and images by Odwa Zamane, all clothes by Afrogrunge
Front row with Anita Hlazo of Afrogrunge
Just over a month ago, on the afternoon of Saturday, 29 February 2020, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a certain fashion creative whose work has warranted my interest over the past year. Her name is Anita Hlazo, founder and creative director of her own Cape Town-based fashion brand, Afrogrunge.
This independent businesswoman has an inspiring story, one which I am honoured to share as the opening article of an upcoming series of stories, all belonging to local and emerging fashion creatives who are contributing positively towards South African fashion culture. In this article, you will get an understanding of how Anita got to where she is today, the true identity behind Afrogrunge, and her unique story as a black female fashion designer and entrepreneur.
Front row with Anita Hlazo of Afrogrunge
Seemingly shy, introverted and slightly withdrawn at the beginning of our interview, the local designer from Delft wasted no time in jumping into the story of her brand and its origins. For those who don’t know, Anita is born and bred Delft, an area which is located on the outskirts of Khayelitsha, in Cape Town.
As we sunk deeper into the conversation, I could tell that there was an early sense of maturity and self-understanding within this young entrepreneur, and I easily picked up that these characteristics played a vital role in shaping her youth and adolescence. Anita has always been an oddball: existing within a space which is constantly left-of-centre, and which gave birth to a wealth of interests. These interests would later serve as the soil from which Afrogrunge would obtain its nutrients to grow.
One integral interest for Anita was her obsession with grunge, which can be loosely described as a darker, alternative variation of youth culture, inspired by rock music. The earlier developments of grunge, which can be seen as a derivative of goth culture, can be traced back to Western society, and even to this day, there is an existing inherent stigma which separates this sub-culture and people of colour, specifically Africans.
So you can simply imagine how different it must have been, growing up as a young black woman in Delft who is inspired by such a loud variation of Western culture. This clear juxtaposition has managed to develop itself into what we know as Afrogrunge today, and you can follow the interview between myself and Anita below to find out how.
Image taken by Odwa Zamane, all clothes by Afrogrunge
Please introduce yourself to the readers
Hi, I am Anita. I am 22 years old, and I am originally from Delft. I am a fashion designer and my brand is called Afrogrunge. I don’t have any siblings (only child) and I am a business owner.
How was your business and its identity formulated?
I struggle with formalising the definition of Afrogrunge in an “appropriate way”, especially in today’s day and age where most people, such as investors, require you to have your brand’s identity defined on paper. When I started Afrogrunge, it was lesser of a business idea and more of an aesthetic: one which subconsciously started off with me as a kid. Funny enough, I am currently consulting with a writer/copywriter who is hopefully going to be able to assist me with that.
Why Afrogrunge though? What does the name mean?
When I was staying with my grandparents back in high school, I used to constantly search different things on the internet. Eventually, I discovered a link between all of the things which I was searching for, and the internet defined this link as a term called “grunge”. But shortly after, when I searched for “grunge girl with pink hair” on Tumblr, all of the results would be your typical skinny white Tumblr girls, with Nirvana t-shirts, high-waisted skirts and black lipstick, accompanied by metal-studded chokers. I couldn’t find a term which could match my obsession with grunge, and also represent me as a black person – and that’s where the “Afro” part comes in.
What initially prompted you to move into fashion, and then subsequently study that as your chosen degree?
I understand that people don’t wake up and have it all figured out, but I woke up one day and just knew that I wanted to be involved in fashion. I started off on Tumblr back in 2014, towards the beginning of my first year at CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology). I literally just went to the school computer labs and created my blog, and it was actually funny because later on at SA Men’s Fashion week, someone identified me as “that girl from Tumblr”.
But to take you back to the time of inception, initially my school (which was Cape Town High School) made us do a job shadowing project towards the end of grade 11. I was unsure of which direction to delve into, but I was currently studying a lot of business-focused subjects in high school. I first approached CPUT to ask for any potential job shadowing opportunities: they politely told me there were none, and proceeded to hand me application forms to enrol in the university. Long story short, I eventually got to job shadow for a certain fashion designer who has her own boutique store in Kloof Street, here in Cape Town. I guess that’s where it all began.
As soon as Anita answered this question, I immediately felt as if I was formulating a deeper understanding of her as creative. Her story was very similar to mine, in the sense that even though we were both once in totally different spaces of our lives, there was always a strong gravitational pull to pursue an education in fashion.
I have a Bachelors in Commerce Degree in Economics, and work for an investment company here in Cape Town, but I have always known where my true calling lies. Fashion is embedded within me – its a part of my DNA, and that realisation alone led to me to successfully enrolling in an Honours Degree in Fashion at a local fashion institution, called FEDISA (by the way, still to this day, I have no idea how).
So seeing how this young entrepreneur was able to successfully navigate the direction of her future into the same direction as her passion felt very familiar, and comforting.
I went on to ask Anita some more questions surrounding Afrogrunge.
How comfortable are you being the face of your own brand?
*Takes a deep sigh* I don’t know actually. A large part of me doesn’t feel comfortable with putting myself up as the face of my brand, as I view the brand as being bigger than me? So, you might find that I feel more comfortable with someone else modelling and being the face of Afrogrunge. Before, a lot of people would actually offer to model for me, so that they could build up their modelling portfolios in return. But it’s all about ensuring that I get someone whose image matches Afrogrunge’s identity, to model the clothing.
Do you believe in having a business plan?
Yes I do, but Afrogrunge was not created using one. To give some background context, I previously had a bad experience with a former teacher of mine, who was terrible at teaching me the fundamentals of a business plan. And not even just that, I had always been around educators who taught me how best to go and work for somebody else, and not actually cultivate a business of your own.
I believe in the true value of a business plan, and I still want to develop my own, but I just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. I’ve always craved for educating myself with tangible skills.
Do you feel as if the education which you received to become a fashion designer equipped you to become a business owner?
Yes and no. I didn’t have much prior knowledge about fashion as a whole before enrolling at CPUT, and I guess the education did not demand much of it as well, as most of the skills learnt were very practical. These skills ensured that I was able to learn how to become a fashion designer, but in terms of equipping me with knowledge on how to create and run a business, the information was very generic.
So, when I got to my fourth year and received a project in which I needed to create a business which was not related to fashion at all, I really did struggle. I was working on my fourth year collection and also expected to create a business, which was not supposed to be related to what I was actually doing, all at the same time.
But after I graduated and left school, a friend of mine from CPUT put me into contact with a local fashion designer, whom I eventually interned for. This was one of the first people in the fashion industry who managed to explain to me what the true essence of entrepreneurship is, and how owning your own business is a whole different ball game. And ever since I jumped into entrepreneurship full-time with Afrogrunge, I have been learning that ever since.
In closing, what would you say is the biggest W that Afrogrunge has taken?
I would say.. either showcasing my brand’s collection at SA Fashion Week in Joburg or getting Moonchild Sanelly to wear one of my outfits. Starting with SA Fashion Week, it had a lot of financial challenges, as I had to accommodate myself for the duration of fashion week, plus independently source the full outfits for all of the models. Joburg is also expensive, but all in all, the experience was totally worth it.
With Moonchild Sanelly, I had finally managed to muster up the confidence to approach her through social media, shortly after one of my denim strap-on pieces was featured on a Vogue Italia article spread, which was shot by Trevor Stuurman. She was very receptive to my approach, and we organised to meet up to discuss everything further. She eventually picked the same denim strap-on piece to wear, so for someone who embodies so much of Afrogrunge to end up wearing my clothes, was such an important moment for me.
That’s an amazing story. Thank you so much for joining me and sharing.
So in conclusion, thank you to you all for taking the time out to read up on my interview with Anita as part of the FRONT ROW series. Please share your thoughts on the content and reach out if you’re a fashion creative who would like to collaborate in getting your story out as well. My email is email@example.com.
Before you leave, please scroll down below and have a look at some more images I shot post-interview with Anita. I will share the full set of images on my Instagram. 🙂
All images taken by Odwa Zamane, all clothes by Afrogrunge