Maria McCloy on celebrating self: ‘I’m England and Lesotho mixed, stomping the streets of Jozi’

This month, 10and5 brings you a series of conversations featuring five womxn from across southern Africa, centred on topics such as preserving history, culture, self-expression and more. As Heritage Day approaches on 24 September, and evokes further dialogue around culture, this series aims to explore how heritage and tradition is expressed and thought about among a few contemporary womxn in South Africa’s creative community.

Maria McCloy is an “Africa-inspired Jozi-based accessory and shoe creator”, publicist, co-host of monthly party TONGHT, and a deejay in training. Born in the UK to a Mosotho mother and English father, she spent her childhood in Nigeria, Sudan, Mozambique and Lesotho before moving to South Africa in the late 1980s. In 1995, she co-founded legendary urban culture-centred media company Black Rage Productions, and is currently working on a new range for retailer Woolworths.co.za, among other ventures.

Maria invited us into her Yeoville apartment, where we spoke about preserving heritage, contemporary fashion icons and how her diverse background plays a major role in her eclectic and coveted style.

Hi Maria, could you tell us a bit about your cultural background?
I’m a Mosotho, English mix. My mum is from Lesotho, my dad is from England. My mother is trained as a lawyer and likes music and markets, and my father is an architect who likes art. Both are rather intellectual. And my father’s job taking us throughout the continent during my childhood was a massive influence on me. If you look at my clothes, you see both parts. My seshoeshoe brogues that I make epitomises the mix!

What was it like growing up?
Growing up, I had seshoeshoe skirts from my Mosotho grandmother, and my English grandmother would take us shopping on the high street in York over holidays. Also, my parents have both influenced me greatly in my aesthetics and way of seeing the word. They have open headspaces, hang out in all kinds of circles and with all kinds of people.

Basotho culture is in my work but I also see myself
as an African and a Joburger, part of a global scene.
You can see that in the shoes, accessories and bags.

How would you describe your style?
Super accessorised, Afrocentric and colourful. I’m all about wearing Africanness everyday, everywhere. From corporate spaces to the club, people should land in Africa and know where they are by how the people dress. My brand is all about getting away from the idea that wearing African attire is merely for special occasions and Heritage Day, that idea stems from shame and self-hate, which came from colonialism and apartheid; part of the programme of those systems was banning indigenous culture – and those wounds are deep.

What are you wearing in this shoot and what do these items mean to you?
Let’s start with the blue wire earrings because that’s where my accessory journey began in Maseru, Lesotho. I started selling earrings in 2007 after I was home on holiday and met David Makoae who was making amazing wire earrings, these earrings are common in Maseru, but his were special. I came back to Jozi and all my staff and the stylish women in the city wanted them.

I love this jacket. I bought it four years ago from a designer named David Hutt. It’s nice to see that people are seeing such jackets as trendy more and more now, at the last fashion week, I saw a lot of people in Basotho blanket designs. I thought the Seshoeshoe wrap goes lovelily with the earrings and jackets. I also love the new seshoeshoe colours like these but I like the classic colours, like this red and white seshoeshoe on my brogues. The brogues are by me, and represents me, England and Lesotho mixed stomping the streets of my home Jozi.

Beyond personal style, how does your space and work reflect your heritage?
I think my work, my home, my style, my DJ sets all reflect who I am. There’s a strong African bias but with a streetwear urban culture kind of edge. There’s a lot of vintage. In my home, there are two Basotho hats, a disco ball, Mozambican and Xhosa woodwork, a Zulu kist, Xhosa cloth, lots of Basotho blankets and western vintage furniture from different eras. I have a painting by Kudzanai Chiurai, but also Tupac off a pavement seller, Chris Ofilli and Keith Haring prints. Plus lots of little bits and pieces from trips to India, Nigeria and Los Angeles, as well as many books on African style. I also work with Zulu artisans on clutch bags and necklaces, my bag makers are Malawian and Nigerian, and a South African person makes my wax-print necklaces.

And what about your kitchen space?
That is inspired by both my grandmothers. So I have tea sets and a painting by Lesotho’s Meshu [Mokitimi] of a woman grinding corn on a stone, I have my UK grandmother’s tray and my Mosotho grandmother’s table.

Who are some of your style icons?
My mother, I inherited a love of cloth. She always comfortably mixes African and western fashion. I remember her at a school prize giving in a seshoeshoe dress and black leather jacket, but she liked like boutiques too and shopping in the market and bargains, Neneh Cherry: the hair, the turbans, the dresses with sneakers, the mix of African, New York and London style. Also Thandiswa Mazwai. The first time I saw her in 1997, she had a suit on, braids and maasai jewellery! She is a style revolutionary, and has always been boldly pan-African yet punk in style.

Marianne Fassler is another fashion kindred spirit of mine; her work is amazing as is her interpretation of all that is African. Yasmin Furmie epitomises the hashtag StayFlyForever, I want to look like her when I grow up. I adore Dianne Von Furstenburg too, and of course Esther Mahlangu and Frida Kahlo.

Photographs by Madelene Cronje.

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