Duo is sewing seeds to unite a nation down to a T

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Duo is sewing seeds to unite a nation down to a T

Two local creatives have designed an inspiring collection of T-shirts to help create a functional SA

Andrea Nagel
Tshepo Mohlala wants more people to know about the constitution's vision for SA.
sparking change Tshepo Mohlala wants more people to know about the constitution's vision for SA.
Image: Tebogo Phalane - @Scatterbrain

Two inspiring SA creatives, Tshepo Mohlala, the Jean Maker, and Papama Mtwisha, founder of Africa Your Time Is Now, have created an inspiring limited-edition collection of  T-shirts that aims to spark positive change and greater optimism. These limited tees tap into the current fashion trend of using bold fonts in design to create impactful statements. From designers such as Virgil Abloh and brand Adidas, we’re seeing an increasingly creative use of slogans with deeper meanings.

The slogan T-shirt has had some major cultural and historical sway, across politics, art and fashion. London’s Fashion and Textile Museum hosted an exhibition entitled “T-shirt: Cult — Culture — Subversion” in 2018, dedicated to the power of the item. It looked at some of the biggest cultural shifts helped by the simple garment, including its role as a protest symbol. 

Papama Mtwisha says the T-shirts have come at the perfect time.
INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGES Papama Mtwisha says the T-shirts have come at the perfect time.
Image: Supplied

We spoke to Tshepo and Papama about it:

How did you become involved in this project?

Tshepo Mohlala: We started this campaign and the project in 2019, when the country was in a shambles. There’d been GBV (gender-based violence) protests and xenophobic attacks, and the #imstaying movement had been launched, as a lot of people were leaving South Africa. It felt like we were starting to give up.

My partner, Jonti Brozin, and I went to an event at Constitution Hill, where Robbi Brozin, Lwando Xaso and Albie Sachs spoke about the preamble to our constitution.

They talked about how it’s one of the best preambles in the world in it’s vision for SA, reminding us that we need each other to rebuild the nation and go forward. I was intrigued and inspired, and I wanted more people to know about the vision that has governed our country for a long time.

Papama Mtwisha: Woolworths and I have had a long-standing relationship. After they witnessed the success of the Africa Your Time Is Now movement, and when they conceptualised the Catch The Feels campaign last year, I was one of the designers they asked to come up with an interpretation of it. We started engaging towards the end of last year and I’m happy that we’ve put the T-shirts out there, because I think the timing is perfect.

What’s the message behind your T-shirts?

TM: The message is that we all need each other to go forward. We need each other to build this country. We need each other to build brands, to build businesses. We need each other to build anything. We’re the ones who are real history-makers. It is up to us to rewrite South Africa’s story and rewrite what the future of the country is. It’s a reminder that the government works for us, we don’t work for the government and we are the ones in power. This is the message I want to amplify for the people. 

Tshepo Mohlala at work in his studio.
making it happen Tshepo Mohlala at work in his studio.
Image: Tebogo Phalane - @Scatterbrain

PM: The message is a gentle reminder of an important fact most of us forget — that everything we need is inside of us. 

We’ve forgotten that the only way we can co-create with the ultimate creator is when we go inward, get in flow, so that we can go beyond the limitations of fear. Only when we go within can we find our true (great) selves. FACT. So this T-shirt is to keep this message top of mind. The message is relevant, whether you are religious, spiritual or both.

Do you believe that some simple words on a garment can help bring about social and cultural change?

TM: The more you say something, the more you ignite it and the more you ignite it, the more you have conversations about it. Simple words and phrases work and act as conversation starters. It’s a message that makes people say “hey”, stop and think, and act responsibly. T-shirts have always been about starting conversations and leading social movements. Like Africa Your Time Is Now, The Future Is Female, Black Lives Matter — all social justice T-shirts that are bold and clear, and have made people think. These T-shirts make us take a pause and act differently. They are important to me. T-shirts are also simple items; they go with everything and can be worn all the time. It’s a universal item. 

PM: There’s no doubt that in the past few years we’ve (slowly but surely) been going through a seismic shift. It came to a head recently with the Covid-19 pandemic. The global lockdown gave us no choice but to stay put, be still and do a lot of introspection.

Statement tees are like wearing your heart on your sleeve. They are a wonderful way of expressing one’s political views, vibe and attitude, without opening your mouth. 

Some statements spark healthy, necessary debates, some are divisive and some connect perfect strangers, says Papama Mtwisha.
sparking debate Some statements spark healthy, necessary debates, some are divisive and some connect perfect strangers, says Papama Mtwisha.
Image: Supplied

Do you think we have a certain responsibility in the way we dress?

TM: Dressing up is a personal thing. You need to be proud of who you are. How you dress plays a role in how others perceive you. Clothes go beyond an expression of self — how we act, how we take action and communicate, these are all messages about ourselves

PM: It’s all a personal choice. Some people dress to adorn themselves and some to communicate some sort of message to society. There’s no right or wrong, it’s all dependent on the individual.

Are there any celebrities or important people walking around in your “We The People” T-shirt?

TM: I have seen a couple of celebrities wearing the T-shirt, like Nomzamo Mbatha, Maps Maponyane, Beast, Rich Mnisi. It’s exciting to see people of all ages wearing them, people like Robbie Brozin, Albi Sachs, Thami Dish. 

Is there a political dimension to wearing a slogan T-shirt?

TM: For me there is no “political dimension” to the T-shirt. Its aim is to inspire and ignite conversation. It’s meant to remind people of where they’ve come from, where we are and where we are going, but politics plays a role. The preamble was written by activists and people from different spaces and worlds, of all different races, genders and identities, and so it has a political connection, but is not a political thing. 

PM: Depending on the statement, some statements can spark healthy and necessary debates, some can divide and some can connect perfect strangers.

Why should people buy it?

TM: To show your love for your country and its people. To show patriotism and pride in our country and our heritage.

PM: Words are like seeds in our inner being. When seeds are left alone, they wait for the right season and they blossom into manifestations. So it’s always conducive to seed our consciousness with positive words that come from the universal domain.

“Go Within Or Stay Without” is a reminder that we no longer have a choice but to search inward, because the other way we have been doing this life thing has clearly not been working. This hard world can do with more softness. 

Tell me a bit about the campaign.

TM: This campaign resonates deeply with me on a personal and professional level. We’ve come together to create something powerful with a strong message that people can relate to. The discussion has been sparked and, especially during this time, we want the campaign to act as a reminder that we are the people of SA, we are all in this together and it’s up to us to take our future into our own hands. For the campaign we created a powerful video shoot at Constitution Hill with Tebogo Phalane from Scatterbrain. It made me appreciate our history and where we come from, how far we’ve come as a country. I want people who watch the video and wear the T-shirt to feel the same. 

Tshepo Mohlala says the campaign is a reminder to South Africans that we are in this together.
STRONG together Tshepo Mohlala says the campaign is a reminder to South Africans that we are in this together.
Image: Tebogo Phalane @Scatterbrain

PM: Transforming the world starts with me. We can only transform the world when we transform ourselves. We are the very source of peace and unconditional love we hope to see. We can only access that greatness by going within — there’s no other (sustainable) way!

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