Are you wys? 2bop on community, culture and streetwear now

As a kid, Anthony Smith would walk around his neighbourhood – a few twenty cent pieces (or 2bop’s) in hand – looking for bootleg arcade games in local corner stores. In 2004, he took inspiration from these late 80s/early 90s experiences when launching his own clothing label. It was his first time venturing into the world of design and retail, but with the help of friends in the industry he found his feet. By keeping things authentic (and putting in a lot of hard work) 2bop has become a staple in Cape Town street culture. We spoke with founder Anthony and 2Bop designer Ulfah Davids about their community-centred approach and what they think about South African streetwear now.

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Growing up, how did classic video games act like a lens into the outside for you? Can you tell us any game-related stories from your childhood?

Anthony Smith: They were very reassuring as a kid. I was very imaginative and playful and video games reminded me that there were other people like me, people who would create these worlds that I would get lost in. I guess you could compare it to augmented reality or virtual reality nowadays, especially as a kid you would create your own stories around these worlds and characters and as the graphics weren’t HD they left a lot up to you to fill in. The designs also appealed to a child’s imagination, be it aliens or outer space, being in a big city or in the ancient past. As for stories, I would tell my grandparents that I was going to the store below their flat to play games when I was really young and then I would walk for blocks and blocks looking for new games at various corner stores. I’d be happy just to watch the other kids play as I was young and was too scared to play some of the games that were very difficult and designed to just take your money as soon as possible. That might be pretty boring but memorable moments were training at street Fighter 2 and beating my former local heroes and later seeing a whole new generation of kids taking it to a whole other level.

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Tell us more about 2bop’s early days. What were things like when you’d just started out?

Anthony: When I first started I had help from friends who were graphic designers or who worked in the clothing industry. I think it was useful utilising the resources I had around me. A lot of people don’t take stock of just how much assistance is available if they just think about it. It was exciting and frustrating, I had a bullish confidence in the concept and knew it would work and I think people could see that. It was difficult trying to grow it organically without any serious funding and having to learn everything about the industry not having studied clothing or design. It started in my bedroom as a side project for a few years and was scary but important getting our first little studio.

How has the brand grown and evolved since? Has the journey been surprising, in any way?

Anthony: It started very much as a video game inspired graphic t-shirt brand and when I partnered up with Brad Abrahams he began to push the diversity of the brand, not looking so closely only at video games but to corner store culture and Cape Town slang, language and culture. It’s grown now in that I’m working with a design and production team, including Ulfah Davids whose style fits in perfectly with the brand, Taariq Latiff who’s a graphic and industrial designer, and Andre Bird who manages our production. We have quite an open production process.

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What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Anthony: Coming to the realisation that we had to open our own store in order to grow (and simply to survive) was a big step. If you’re doing niche product in a small country where not everybody has a disposable income and you don’t want to dilute your brand, making a living from it can be tricky. So we’ve hit our head a few times trying out different business models and different suppliers and then opting out for retailing the product ourselves and stocking with a few like-minded retailers. We’ve been lucky to build a good team over time. It was really challenging being a one person and then two person show, handling all the design, production, marketing, finances, accounting, photography, online store, social media and everything else, but I think it was a journey worth taking, albeit a difficult one.

2Bop is a local streetwear original that’s made a huge contribution to the culture, particularly in Cape Town. What, in your words, does 2bop speak to or represent?

Anthony: I’ve said it many times, so feel free to yawn, but I always see 2bop as being an imaginary friend. Something that you wish into existence and that the world would be a worse place without. I think it’s also validating that young black people can make their mark in the creative industry and do so without compromising by doing what’s expected of them – be it from a personal or industry point of view. I think it’s an example of doing something you believe in ethically, and sharing that with people around you.

Ulfah Davids: To me 2bop represents a collective of locals who support each other in different design aspects through collaboration. 2bop also helps bring together a huge group of creative minds, allowing them to feel like they belong to something ‘home made’. The brand helps the community by manufacturing locally rather than having their garments produced internationally or by cheap labour.

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And what are your thoughts on the local streetwear scene, in general? What would you like to see more and/or less of?

Anthony: I really like what I see with people starting their own brands and doing a diverse range of products. It’s also inspiring to see brands like Simon De Porres and Not Seen focusing so heavily on construction, fabrics and quality and not just style. I hope to see more of that in future. Also proud of how far Sol-Sol and Young & Lazy have come in a short space of time as well as their global appeal. I’m excited to see what Shukrie Joel, one of the main inspirations behind starting 2bop back in the day, does with his new project I & I.

Ulfah: The streetwear scene has grown tremendously over the last 5 years and people are becoming  more confident in what they choose to wear on a regular basis and not necessarily looking at commercial trends which appear in popular fashion houses. I would definitely like to see more streetwear labels directed at females. Sneaker brands also need to realise that men aren’t the only sneaker heads on the block, and that they should stop giving us the short end of the stick when it comes to high end sneakers.

What motivated you, Matthew and Anees to open up Corner Store? How has the space impacted the community who frequents it, be it to shop local threads, meet up with other creatives, or work?

Anthony: Well after Smith and Abrahams closed, I didn’t want to lose the amazing relationship we had between our studios at the back of the building and the street, so I pitched the idea to them and the timing was right for all of us. It’s formed a bit of a meeting spot for like-minded folk to come exchange ideas with our team. There’s also quite a community of creatives who work from the space, with graphic design and industrial design agency Chocolate Sauce working above the store, and the coffee shop next door being a hub.

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Let’s talk a bit about aesthetic. Besides video games, what inspires 2bop’s look?

Ulfah: 2bop’s aesthetic is based on comfort. The brand is big on prints and weird, yet interesting colours, and the silhouettes are easy to wear. There is almost always a theme/story involved with each capsule that is dropped. Classic sportswear silhouettes and that bra that is always effortlessly uitgeyak.

You’ve brought out some incredible collaborations over the past few years. What’s in store next?

Anthony: We’re collaborating with a photographer next on some crazy all over prints, but can’t say anything more than that.

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Darkphase 3.1 lookbook styled by Gabrielle Kannemeyer and photographed by Kyle Weeks.

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