Q&A with the Makhulu Polane judges



Only 5 days left to enter Big Blue’s Makhulu Polane annual T-shirt design competition! We’ve got the low down on what the judges are looking for:


Between 10and5: The themes for Makhulu Polane are always interesting and have all been so different from each other. Who comes up with the theme each year and where does the inspiration come from?

Big Blue: Each year we look at the graphic design trends that are circulating the industry in various countries and see where we could tie those trends up with where our brand Big Blue is and of course the trends in SA fashion. Often these trends aren’t exactly where we want our competition to go so we use relevant issues in SA society, concepts related to current events, or something completely different that would cover an area in our T-shirt design department that we are lacking. This year we ran a poll on Big Blue’s Facebook page and put it out to our fans to give us ideas of what they would like to see in our stores. We had numerous ideas and concepts coming through. This year one idea took our fancy from one of our fans and we decided to develop that as the theme for 2011 Makhulu Polane.


10and5: Why a T-shirt design competition as opposed to any other medium?

Big Blue: It is very difficult for young emerging designers to enter this industry. They usually don’t have capital to buy T-shirts and then pay for the printing processes. By holding this annual competition we’re offering the opportunity to these aspiring designers to get their foot in the door, get their names on the market and fund their ideas through our brand. By mentoring and advising these aspiring designers and graphicists we are able to help them start to generate a cash flow which would in turn grow their own brands.

This basis for the competition has its benefits for our brand too as Big Blue is well known for its quirky, controversial, funny and boldly descriptive T-shirts. Being a large part of our reputation it makes sense to allow the public and our shoppers to get involved in the designing part of our business.

Over the years we have discovered that the T-shirt is a platform for self representation. Men and Women of all ages buy and wear T-shirts with graphics that extend from their personalities, their pasts, memories and social issues that South Africans deal with on a daily basis. Self expression through T-shirt designs is a medium that allows people to have the choice of their own freedom of expression and is almost like owning your own personal billboard.


10and5:  When it comes to T-shirt design, which is more important to you – a clever concept or a beautiful design?

Big Blue: The most important for Big Blue is having T-shirts that are able to be sold. We want our customers to be satisfied with their shopping experience in our stores which would amount to the items being sold. A clever concept is not necessarily a good T-shirt graphic as there are certain images and sizes that don’t work well on a T-shirt as its platform but could be perfect for a greeting card or a poster. Same goes for a beautiful design. The t-shirt and the design concept need to be in harmony with each other to create a saleable product. Big Blue has learnt this through trial and error over the 18 years of being in retail and specialising in T-shirts.


10and5: It seems ‘Proudly South African’ has featured in a lot of the chosen designs. Is this something you actively seek out when choosing a winner?

Big Blue: Big Blue prides itself on being a South African based company that produces in South Africa and supports our local talent. It is one of our strongest brand concepts and we honour this as much as possible. We believe that there is enough talent and business opportunities in this country for us to be able to maintain a successful business without extending the business to countries like China and India. Our customers and fans are very well aware of this and know they can shop in our stores for local designs and local concepts that feature on our T-shirts (without being a tourist shop that sells more ethnic items).

When we choose a winner we focus on following the design theme for the competition. From there we look at what designs would make a saleable T-shirt and would appeal to our market. Feedback from all competition entrants as well as the online voting is important too.

We do not know any information about the publisher of the designs we choose, we only have access to the actual images. The information is given to the judges once the final announcement has been made!


10and5: What are you looking for in 2011’s winning design?

Big Blue: 2011’s winner will be decided by narrowing the entrants down to our favourite designs and those that followed the theme.  It is never easy making a decision as often the designs appeal to some and not to others. We have to be far more objective when choosing a winner and that is why we have a voter’s poll on line. A saleable T-shirt with an exciting design that will appeal to our mass market is the ideal winner.


10and5: Favourite statement tee of all time?

Big Blue: It’s almost impossible to answer this question as it changes as we have T-shirts coming in and out as well as the market trends at the time. One T-shirt that has done consistently well for us and has been a favorite and often uttered in the work environment would be ‘Ek is Jamer om van jou kak te hoor’. It doesn’t matter what language you speak there is only one way to say this!! The good ol afrikaner way!


Thanks for your time!


Thinking of entering? Do so HERE.


Between 10 and 5