There’s no doubt about it, South African fashion and music is on the rise. From an ever-growing number of exports making it big in the international scene, the work of local creatives is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Khanyi Dube, blends his love for music, South African iconography and fashion through his clothing label and sound academy Trendscend. I spoke to him about the victories and challenges behind the creative business.
Talk to me about the story of TRNSD. Where did the idea come from and how did you get started?
Trendscend (TRNSD) started off as a streetwear Tumblr blog back when I was in Matric, 2012. The name is derived from the words ‘Transcend’ and ‘Trend-setter’, basically “Transcending current and past trends.”
Fast forward to 2014, I managed to raise about R3000, bought plain Gildan tees and screen printed “TRNSD 90” on the back, with a receipt printed on the sleeve. If you scanned the barcode on the receipt with your phone, it would redirect you to our blog. I was ahead of my time (laughs).
With the attention and feedback I received on that release, I decided to go full throttle.
TRNSD is a fusion of fashion and music interests, how do you blend the two?
I started DJing because music was also a passion of mine and I believed that I could bring a different element of music into the commercial scene, compared to the typical songs one would hear on a night out in JHB. Once the DJing business grew, I decided to bring the two together and create TRNSD Sound, a platform for eclectic DJs to showcase their talents and bring attention to unusual sounds – transcending it.
There’s a lot of local SA brands making things shake right now. What has contributed to your success?
Definitely. Brands are actually putting in the work and starting to experiment with ‘cut and sew’ garments. The overall creativity when it comes to the concepts is refreshing and most importantly, the quality of the products have improved immensely.
I believe storytelling is vital when it comes to fashion, and I got that right. Concept, visuals, focusing on the finer details on the product and most importantly, consumer interaction.
What are some of the challenges related to being a creative entrepreneur in SA?
Accessibility. Consumers find it really difficult to access our clothing other than online, and this is because retailers are taking an average of 50% commission on sales. This is ridiculous and has affected a lot of brands, this is one of the reasons why you barely find any local brands in stores.
Another challenge I’ve experienced is finding an affordable space to operate from. Rent and utility costs are very expensive, and for a startup or a growing business, you are not always able to pay for this.
You use a lot of South African iconography in your work – for example, the Brenda Fassie and Dark and Lovely T-shirts I got from you. What’s the thinking behind this?
I chose to take a focused direction with my brand, by telling the stories of South Africa’s rich history as well as our everyday experiences. Who’s more iconic that Brenda Fassie? She was a rebellious musician who lived her life to the fullest. Growing up, Dark and Lovely hair products were in almost every black person’s home.
For me, it’s paying homage by recontextualizing an existing idea. I never claimed the design to be a ‘Brenda Fassie’ or ‘Dark and Lovely’ merchandise. I hired an independent artist to design the parody in order to avoid trademark disputes.
As part of the music arm of the business, you’ve recently kicked off the TRNSD Sound Academy? What’s that process been like?
The TRNSD Sound Academy came about from people asking me to teach them how to DJ. I saw this a business opportunity and I got a fellow DJ to help me teach people the art of DJing.
I approached this new venture more with a business mentality, putting to use all that I’ve learnt over the years, making sure the backend is taken care of before anything. The basics of registering the business, tax clearance certification, strategising, securing a place of business and so forth. As a creative entrepreneur, it’s great to put your passion to use and make a business out of it – which in return, gets you paid.
What do you think the South African creative and business space needs to better support people like yourself?
We need more studio spaces and facilities that are made available to us creatives, preferably subsidised by the government.
I’m coming for it all.
Where appropriate, responses have been edited for length and clarity.