What is Thesis? Thesis is a lifestyle brand that focuses on street culture, but our core business is in clothing retail. We sell bucket hats, sunglasses, T-shirts, shorts, jackets, and dungarees. The brand was registered in 2005, and the retail store opened in 2007. Thesis is about identifying global trends and localising them for the South African market. We were inspired by international brands such as New-York-based Supreme, brands that were rooted in their communities. We knew we had to do something similar for Soweto – to interpret street culture in our own way.
Didn’t you host a popular Jam Session in Soweto? In 2009 we founded what was called the Thesis Social Jam Session and the idea behind this was to give alternative, local, and unsigned artists and comedians a platform to showcase their talent. People like Okmalumkoolkat, Tall Ass Mo and The Goliath Brothers actually used to be regulars at the jam sessions before they found fame. When we started selling our clothes we didn’t have a platform to do so, and that’s why we decided to go independent and at the same time, give other creatives a platform to express themselves.
How hard was it to start something independently? I had to take on a lot of credit card debt and I put that money into starting and growing the business. I also had two cousins that believed in my idea and financially invested in it. No bank was willing to provide us with funding because street culture as an industry is unquantifiable – globally, so banks are not able to see the revenue and growth potential of a street culture business. But fortunately I had family members who believed in my idea. I’ve always believed that one needs to take their passion and impart a business structure into it. That way you never have to work a day in your life because it doesn’t feel like working, it just feels like you’re doing what you love.
What has been your biggest challenge? Funding and getting people to understand our idea was a very big issue in the beginning. Our biggest challenge had to do with people not catching up to the trends we were trying to localise, and that made them not understand our brand. Even when we started the Jam Session, many people didn’t understand the concept and laughed at the idea. But now, with the growth and accessibility to the Internet, young people have caught up and are responding.
But I believe that it’s the same with all businesses. The first five years are about survival, and the next five are about stabilising. I know a lot of brands that started at around the same time we did, peers that we grew up with who have all fallen away. We are still going.
The difference between us is that we never gave up, our belief in our idea, our brand, and our values has stayed the same since day one. For about seven years we never had salaries, and what kept us going at that time was our passion – our passion for expression.
Do you think street culture in South Africa has evolved? Street culture in South Africa has evolved a lot. I mean, back in the day you didn’t have many independent concept stores, and today you see them a lot. Back in the day, the only mainstream street culture brands were Loxion Kulca and Ama Kip Kip, but now there’s GALXBOY, Thesis, Simon and Mary, 2bob and so on. This is indicative of the street culture growth here.
In fact, back in our day, the South African youth didn’t have a distinctive identity. One couldn’t say: “Okay, this is how we identify the youth in South Africa” – but now they have a very unique identity with regards to street culture. I don’t know what the scene will look like 10 years from now, but it’s really growing, and it’s growing in a positive way. The fact that people are able to make a living from it now, when they couldn’t 10 years ago, definitely means South Africans are getting into it.
What are your plans for the Thesis brand? In the third week of March we’re opening our second store in Kagiso. The brand is also about changing the face of townships. Corner stores [in townships] have always been bottle stores or mortuaries, but we want to make corner stores a place where young people can come and push culture. The store in Kagiso is going to be in a shipment container on a dump site. That’s the great thing about street culture – there are no wrongs or rights in the way that you model your business.
Take a look inside the Thesis store in Soweto: