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Front Row with Onthatile Pooe of Soulchoked

Front Row with Onthatile Pooe of Soulchoked

My next interviewee for FRM is a fitting representation of what we started this blog for–to provide a platform to local changemakers who are weaving their threads of innovation through fashion, and more. Onthatile Pooe is a Cape Town-based Pretoria-born intersectional activist since the ripe age of only 16... expressing their primary roots within activism through various manifestations of art.

So whether it be their fashion design work with Soulchoked (her adorned fledgling brand), their music moniker Soulchoke (her eclectic Gqom DJ persona), or their intersectional activism work (directly inspired by the likes of Winnie Mandela), it is clear that activism continues to be at the core of their work and connects as the golden thread throughout all of Onthatile's pursuits. I admire the clarity of Onthatile's vision–and how she manages to express her stance on such important social matters through such an artistic approach.

I enjoy how her output with Soulchoked continues to broadcast pressing issues which we struggle with as a country; and which especially impact the women of our nation. South Africa is still considered the least safe country for women to live in the world–so I honestly respect the braveness which it takes for a young woman to create an independent brand which can directly confront this issue and use clothing as a mouthpiece for addressing Gender Based Violence (GBV), and more.

So enjoy this ensuing interview which Onthatile as we take a detour into their universe; delving into their roots in activism, the influence of Gyaru and grunge subcultures within Soulchoked, being creatively inspired by new-age Gen z brands such as Mowalola & shopheav3n, plans for 2024, and more!

Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?

OP: My name is Onthatile Pooe, I’m a third year student at UCT doing an undergrad in a Bachelor of Social Science, originally from Pretoria. I’m also a Gqom DJ and go by Soulchokeand I’ve been an intersectional activist since I was 16. It all started with me being enraged by the injustices at my high school, so I started an online social awareness platform, 'Other People', which ultimately informed my decision to start a socially conscious brandand birthed Soulchoked.

What are you most inspired by when it comes to your creation process?

OP: Most of my inspiration comes from my experience and the knowledge I gained when I first embarked on my activism journey. African feminists have been pivotal is shaping my creative processseeing that it’s heavily rooted in encouraging social awareness and social justice. I’d have to say Winnie Mandela is definitely one of those womenI’ve found her rage and acceptance of the labelling as a “crazy angry black woman" incredibly inspiring. Other than that I’d have to say the women around me absolutely are part of that thought process; not only as activists but I grew up seeing my older sister express herself through Punk/Grunge fashion and it still has an impact on how I dress and what I create.

Could you tell me a bit more about Soulchoked? What's the inspiration and meaning behind the brand?

OP: Soulchoked is a disruption to the current status quo. I would like to believe that it will grow to transcend the clothing. But it’s my way of fucking the system backI want Soulchoke to revolutionise fashion, activism and business practice. I’m a firm believer in social entrepreneurship so this is my attempt at it; unfortunately we do live in a capitalist patriarchal society and whether we like it or notwe all participate in consumerism but this is my solution to reducing the negative impact. This is why working with NGOs, giving back where we can, is part of our fundamentals, as well as sourcing materials and labour locally. Collaboration with our community is extremely important to usso stimulating our local economies by using local tailors and sourcing fabrics and occasionally blanks from small businesses is part of our business practice.

How did your most recent event go? I understand that it was your Launch Party hosted at Gorgeous George in Cape Town? Who were some of the participants?

OP: The launch went extremely wellit was great to see that we had that much love and support. The Gorgeous George family has always been supportive of my growth; I used to work there, we had our first market there through Buzzcut Market, so it was the perfect match for us especially because they give space to so many young artists and entrepreneurs. I know I can’t say this objectively but I do believe it was a phenomenal nightwe had the most talented DJs, Not A She and Tactix. Yutes.jpg was also showcasing some of her photography, the energy of the people there was just insanely positive and safe. We’re gonna have more events and experiences soon though, so definitely keep a lookout!

Soulchoked Launch Party at Gorgeous George

What mainly informs your decisions with regards to materials & silhouettes?

OP: I noticed there was a gap in local brands catering for femme bodies so that’s who I decided I wanted to cater for mainly, however, with our first item, the rage T-shirt, I was thinking of masc AFAB non-binary/trans folk. I used to experiment with masc clothing a lot but having boobs does get in the way of clothing optionsespecially when it comes to graphic tees they can distort how the shirt/graphic appears. So I was serving a part of me that felt self-conscious and uncomfortable. With choosing materials, it’s been a lot of advice from people I know who are in the fashion industry and like I said, collaboration is a big part of Soulchoked so I’ve had to build relationships with people at the fabric stores and them informing me what fabrics works for different pieces. When it comes to silhouettes we’re a basics brand, so the only thing I’ve had to think about was the 'Voetsek Mini skirt'. I wanted it to be a micro-mini to serve the statementmen are always looking no matter what you wear so might as well make it provocative. But for overall fashion inspirations in terms of the look of the pieces we create, we look at Mowalola, shopheav3n and influences of the Gyaru and grunge subcultures.

According to you–what does it mean to be an 'ethical designer' within today's fashion ecosystem?

OP: Being an ethical designer in fashion today means being honest about how we contribute to overconsumptionbut trying to minimise our negative impact. For Soulchoked this means making sure we source and create locally to try our best to not promote unfair labour practices. It also means participating in slow fashion, so unless we have an event we’re only making items when we get orders; it makes our turnaround time slower but we’re making sure that we’re being as environmentally sustainable as we can with our knowledge. Other than the making of the clothes, we believe the messages on the clothes are just as important, so we want to start conversations with our choice of graphics because these conversations are imperative to social transformation. We also backup our words with action. The organisation we’ve worked with combats the GBV crisis and I think making your brand (as a designer) stand for something and contribute to meaningful change should be part of identifying as an ethical brand.

What are some of the things you are looking forward to in 2024?

OP: I’m looking forward to a lot more experimental experiences for Soulchoked in 2024. I want Soulchoked to be more than just a clothing brandI want it to be an immersive social experience and for it to incite revolutionary change. I’m also excited for people to learn through us and reach so many new people. There’s also a new collection that I’m developing, so super stoked for that and to experiment with new textiles while simultaneously improving the quality of our current one. I’m just really looking forward to the rise of Soulchoked.


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