JOHANNESBURG – This sprawling city is the economic hub of South Africa, attracting people from across the country, the continent and beyond.
Equally varied is the way its nearly six million residents dress up, with some choosing to mirror their dreams while others strive to keep pieces of home or celebrate elements of this rapidly changing metropolis.
Maria McCloy, for example, came from Lesotho to the city. From a public relations agent turned fashion designer, she enjoys wandering the streets of the city, where she has met craftsmen and Tsonga, Zulu and Ndebele pearls from all over Africa who have made the city their home.
Their designs are usually reserved for weddings, thanksgiving or coming of age ceremonies, but Ms. McCloy, 45, has started wearing them to red carpet events or parties. And – a collector from her traveling childhood who included London; Lagos, Nigeria; and Khartoum, Sudan – she added them to her accessories collection, which is heavy with pearls and brass, fabric and leather.
Realizing that wearing an Ndebele initiation apron as a necklace could be seen as an appropriation, Ms McCloy said she works with artisans who know the culture and rely on their advice.
After all, in a globalized economy where China dominates the African fabric trade, where brass and metal parts are increasingly imported from India, and where local manufacturers are struggling to survive, what is there- how authentic is it in a city like Johannesburg?
Ms. McCloy said she hated the word “genuine”. There is no single definition of being African, she said, just as there is no unique way for residents to dress.
âIt is an elegant, evolving and deeply rooted Pan-African city,â said Ms. McCloy. “Despite what happened to people, apartheid and colonialism did not kill people’s self-esteem, creativity, sense of opportunity and style.” Here are four more examples.
Chartered accountant and radio host
In rural KwaZulu-Natal, where Khaya Sithole grew up, the traditional headband he wears – an umqhele – is commonplace.
In Johannesburg, the band of goatskin around his forehead arouses curiosity, joy or prejudice. “It already allows people to crystallize what your most likely identity will be,” said Sithole, 35.
He first wore an umqhele in a TV interview to hide the fact that he needed a haircut. To his surprise, audiences seemed more interested in his accessory than his economic analysis, so he said he now wears it to boardrooms and meetings to show he can embrace his Zulu culture in a space. business.
His most interesting responses and insults came from other black people, Mr Sithole said, such as the politician who fired him for carrying a “dead goat” on his head. As black South Africans embrace traditional clothing and accessories on special occasions, in businesses or professionals, they seem to shy away from cultural symbols, Sithole said.
“Far too many young people who look like me have just been conditioned” to be uncomfortable in these kinds of situations, he said.
Stylist and manager of Wizards Vintage, a vintage clothing store
In a city that seems to be defined by its future, Karin Orzol clings to the past. “I am a very big collector, some call me an ec-reader,” said Ms. Orzol, 46. “Everything makes sense, I’m incredibly sentimental.”
It’s a trait she inherited from her mother, who keeps what she described as “a closet full of keepsakes” – like family keepsakes and childhood drawings – and now distributes them as gifts.
The antique mesh handbag that Ms. Orzol cherishes carries over a century of memories. His great-grandmother transported the bag from England to South Africa in the second half of the 19th century. As the years passed and the family moved across the country, the scholarship was passed down from girl to girl.
Her mother gave her the purse when Ms. Orzol was in her twenties and about to embark on her own adventures. Today, she varies her look by attaching it to larger bags or changing the shoulder strap.
Much like her vision of Johannesburg – a city of surprising depth if you know where to look, she said – Ms. Orzol’s handbag does not conform: âThere are no rules; I wear during the day or at night. It’s not just for special occasions, so it shows up at random, random times. “
Stylist and fashion retailer
It was the smileys on New York rapper ASAP Rocky’s neck in an Instagram photo that caught Lethabo Pilane’s attention.
A thrifty, as a fashion dealer in Johannesburg is called, he tapped into an online community and found a dealer in Britain offering one of the same necklaces. The Evae + coin costs 120 euros ($ 136), but shipping to South Africa costs an additional â¬ 70. He still decided to go.
When the necklace arrived – with its diced butterflies and charms, topped with yellow smileys – it matched Mr. Pilane’s aesthetic and personality perfectly. âI’m such a happy guy,â he said.
Mr. Pilane, 25, prefers to stack the necklace with other colorful and unexpected pieces, like pearls or shimmering pearls, for a style that straddles the street and the high end, and which fits in perfectly with Maboneng. , the trendy downtown district that he has called home since 2017.
He came to Johannesburg the year before, leaving the mining town of Rustenburg to study fashion before giving up to focus on the city’s growing thrift market. Now he spends his days downtown, sifting through mountains of second-hand clothes that have been shipped from the United States, Britain, China, and Japan and selling them to everyone, from students to professionals.
âYou actually save the worldâ by buying secondhand, he said, âbecause when you come to check out all the damage fast fashion is doing to the world, it’s just crazy. “
Nesanet Abera Tumssa
Owner of the restaurant Netsi Ethiopia and importer
When Nesanet Abera Tumssa left Addis Ababa in 2005, her mother made sure she carried sand from the Monastery of the Patriarchate of St. Mary, the church in the center of the Ethiopian capital where Ms. Tumssa was baptized.
The sand is inside a pendant topped with a silver dome that has an image of the Virgin Mary glued to the underside. Her mother “blessed me to protect me,” said Ms Tumssa, 43, and she now wears the pendant as a necklace.
South Africa was supposed to be a stopover in Ireland, where Ms Tumssa planned to study engineering. But she fell in love with the Johannesburg frenzy and became part of the city’s large immigrant community.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, who runs a restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ms Tumssa has opened a restaurant that serves tourists and the Ethiopian diaspora from Johannesburg in search of a bottle of St. George’s beer. She also recognized that there is a market for Ethiopian coffee and cuisine and now imports ingredients for the growing number of Ethiopian restaurants around the city.
Despite attacks on African immigrants that erupt in the city every few years, Ms. Tumssa is determined to share Ethiopian culture with its people. Johannesburg can be “aggressive”, she said, but it is also “freedom”.