Anyone who knows Mcunu will surely agree that he epitomises sartorial elegance and grace. Wherever he goes – not only fashion shows or swanky corporate events – he’s unfailingly turned out in impeccable style, most often in well-cut suits. Mcunu is the consummate African dandy.
Fittingly, he’s the founder of a groundbreaking enterprise called Afrocentric Gentleman, which custom-makes items such as suits and shirts, as well as offering lifestyle services. At just 22 – an age when most young men are battling to consolidate fashion sense – his sartorial style is not only fully developed, but dazzling, evoking a bygone era when men took dressing up seriously.
However, he admits that he’s often encountered people who can’t comprehend his insistence on dressing well at all times. “I had to show them that this isn’t a gimmick or publicity for a shoot – it’s just who I am. But I stuck to my guns and slowly, people began to see my point,” he says. “Even today, when I’m in a suit, I feel as if I’m wearing armour. It’s as if nothing can stop me,” he smiles.
Living the brand enables Mcunu to incorporate many other lifestyle elements into his business and partner with exclusive corporate brands. “By being well dressed, I’m demonstrating how an Afro-centric gentleman looks, lives and behaves. This is a well-groomed man of the world who still embraces his African identity,” he says. “We’re now in an age of personal branding; an age of influence. That’s what’s resonates with people out there.”
These days Mcunu lends his image to brands such as Unilever and Bisquit Cognac, while also working as a style consultant. Last year was particularly good for him: he won GQ’s Best Dressed Man of the Year and the Jameson Man of Character titles. “Those two accolades were totally unexpected. They gave me the exposure I needed. They took me mainstream and I’m grateful,” he says.
Not bad for a man who practically stumbled on his vocation while still a teenage schoolboy. Mcunu’s interest in fine clothing had already been inspired by his uncle, a style guru.
He conceived his business after visiting India with his father in 2012 and witnessing the essential role custom-made clothing plays in the country’s culture. He returned to SA super-excited. “I identified an opportunity to bring this experience to SA,” he says.
By the time Mcunu was in his final school year, he’d begun making suits and offering sartorial advice to classmates for their matric dance. Afrocentric Gentleman formally launched soon afterwards. From the outset, he was hands-on, learning from a tailor how to take measurements and calculating the right amount of material needed for each order. Today, he operates from Johannesburg and Cape Town and has a team of advisors who assist with brand strategising, facilitating brand collaborations and helping Mcunu manage his schedule.
He’s learnt a lot about running a business. “Entrepreneurship has taught me to value the journey and that every single hour you put in counts, even if you don’t see it immediately,” he says, adding that he strives for nothing less than excellence.
To ensure that Afrocentric Gentleman remains profitable, Mcunu’s seeks brand partners who share his vision. “I also value sustainability and longevity over short-term profits,” he says.
– Phakama Mbonambi