20th Mar2017

Do You Catch My Thrift…?

by admin

Disclaimer: I write this as a lay person. I am a stray observer of the amorphic microcosm that is Braamfontein, wherein it is possible to see someone wearing a dashiki or Eileen Fisher kaftan, and someone else wearing a suit, all on the same street. I do not pretend to be privy to the mandate of those who adhere to particular aesthetics as part of a movement or trend (seeing as how my own dress sense resembles that of a particularly unstylish 12-year old). I do not pretend to understand the dynamics of these exclusive and kyriarchal communities, but give only evaluations and opinions.

What was once shopping out of necessity, largely due to the cost of purchasing clothing items at mainstream retail stores has morphed over the years into a noteworthy cultural phenomenon. Historically, religious and charity organisations such as the Salvation Army and Hospice Wits created thrift shops for individuals and families who could not afford to shop at up-market retail establishments. The proceeds of these sales were directed towards raising funds to help the needy, and the needy would generally be the people purchasing these clothes. In this way, thrift shops served as a unique means of recycling, and facilitating a relationship between the needy in their respective communities, allowing people to help one another without even needing to know each other. It seems to me that this cultural dynamic saw longevity through having what we can call a market for these second-hand goods; because, as long as people found themselves in dire and precarious socioeconomic positions, there would be a need to shop at thrift stores. Furthermore, with people being inherently consumeristic and holding ownership over clothing items and the like, there would be a need to dispose of them. Thrift shops allowed people to get rid of their possessions, knowing that they would no longer be hoarding, that these items would be sold at reasonable prices, and that the proceeds would go towards helping people in difficult situations.

The nature of thrifting, however, has evolved immensely. People now show a preference towards thrifting for the aesthetic value of the garments they might purchase. Thrifting has now been reclaimed as a means of counterculture and being alternative, and finds many parallels (and contradictions) with other aesthetic and taste-making movements such as Hipsterism.

Economics

Historically, thrifting found itself developing out of a need for people to find decent clothing at reasonable prices. This clothing happened to take the form of second-hand items donated to religious and charity groups for the sole purpose of helping those in need. I think it is safe to contend that this is no longer the biggest influence (if any) for individuals to opt for thrift shopping. The economics play on a marginal part of this, in that many students are looking for affordable clothing that is not only in good condition, but is aesthetically pleasing and vastly different from anything owned by anyone else. While thrifting, for the most part, harbours these economic considerations; one is also highly likely to find students with considerable buying power opting for thrifting. Their reason for thrifting differs in that they thrift because they can. Equally, thrift shops seem to have also done away with a business model that requires them to donate their profits to the needy. There is no longer an inclination towards this social justice and responsibility. This can further be attributed to the fact that organisations such as the Salvation Army and Hospice Wits no longer claim monopoly or ownership over this means of retail. This speaks to the current atypical culture attributed to thrifting. Further, is the irony behind complaints that I’ve heard that thrift stores are not necessarily as reasonable as they ought to be. This is largely because they have become fully-fledged businesses, boutiques that use the idea of thrifting as a selling point because it speaks to economics and buying power, culture and the aesthetic value of clothing, as well as the status one derives from simply looking different. It needs to be noted that for all intents and purposes, these establishments are businesses with expenses and overheads (however low), and a profit motive.

Counterculture

Traditionally, people would not want to be caught dead in someone’s hand-me-downs, either because they belonged to someone else before, or because they didn’t look new. Thrifting as counterculture has gone as far as reversing this, with a certain status and value being imbued to the aesthetic quality of certain clothing. This largely derives from the seemingly repetitive nature of media and fashion. This could be Bruno Mars channelling 90s R&B, to clothing that would have been worn by our parents as youths. This return to vintage fashion is not a new thing, and thrifting seems to be a by-product of that. Counterculture is essentially about opposing what mainstream producers of media deem to be the acceptable standards of anything. The irony rears its ugly head when we have to note just how mainstream even vintage fashion has become. Retailers that shouldn’t have this fashion in this utopian idea of counterculture in society are also selling and profiting from these trends and clothes. The counterculture and opposition to aesthetic hegemony also hits a brick wall when there are levels of kyriarchy displayed within counterculture. Kyriarchy generally concerns the othering and rejection of certain people within an alternative community that also finds itself being othered and kept in liminality. There is a degree of shaming even within these communities because for them to exist and thrive, there must be a mainstream or hegemony to oppose, even within their own ranks.

Thrift shops have been showing up more and more, but it could be argued that their existence also finds difficulty, particularly when a retail giant can mimic the aesthetic quality of their clothing, and making more of it because of their inherently greater capabilities, whereas thrift shops must rely on alternatives means of acquiring this clothing.

It seems then that innovation is essentially if one seeks to stay and thrive in this sort of business. I recently came across a particularly interesting case across Wits University’s East Campus. A small thrift shop run and managed by for youths named Amos, Teboho, Gila and Sello, called the Thrift Vintage Shop (T V Shop). I consider it prime real estate due to its adjacency to two educational institutions with students who possess an interest in thrifting.

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Their business finds its survival in selling not only clothes but a variety of snacks as well. Amos argues that this is to afford peace of mind to the individuals who choose to frequent the shop. They also have a loyal and attentive market of regular customers who patronise the establishment often and have a relationship with the managers of the store. The owners of the store also play an array of music, with a preference towards classical music. Their case is noteworthy because it works. In the short space of time between my visits, their stock seems to have expanded, both the clothing and the food. At one point they even lowered the prices of some of their snack to appease their customers. Amos states that starting the business required raising an amount of capital, and a degree of courage, opting to start their own enterprise, as opposed to working for someone else. Their business also finds survival through the fact that they are passionate about thrifting as a culture and only see it growing more, and that their clothing-snack variety sets them apart from everyone else in the same business.

Thrifting is not what it once was, and it shows no signs of turning back. It has abandoned its roots as being solely for charity, and has served as a means for people to group themselves aesthetically, and now allows youths to generate an income for themselves.

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09th May2016

The Positioning of Women in the Rap Industry or Hip Hop Culture

by admin

Hip hop has a very deep rooted and highly defined culture which defines its identity. If you try to stand apart from the rest you are automatically rejected because of your not appealing to the larger market.  Brands oftentimes struggle with the idea of working with someone who is not going to bring in the big bucks.

We’ve had a couple of conscious artists in this life time to grace us with their lyricism and conscious message but their careers are usually short lived. This is because the demand for their music is apparently not that high enough and the people in decision making positions are driven by the business making side of creativity. This makes it difficult for artists with something positive or something that has a powerful message to gain wider recognition in the mainstream music industry. We regard talent and hard work as being essential to a successful career. Those two elements may get your foot through the door but considering the business-side of the music industry, as well as being able to reinvent yourself, are also essential for having longevity. Creating great music is of course crucial to the winning formula.

I grew up listening to almost all genres of music and I have a pretty sound knowledge of the dynamics involved in each genre. The hip hop industry can be described as a male dominated industry where women simply have no place except for when they are half-naked whilst gyrating and shaking their hips. Strong female hip hop artists are an anomaly, much like peace in the Middle Eastern region.  As a born free, the music I grew up listening to was from the early 2000’s and I often wonder how it would have been to have attended either Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu’s concerts. I also think of how it was to have lived in that era where women had claimed a sit at the oppressor’s table and yet had also had the opportunity to have expressed themselves without relying on their sexualities.

I look at all the female rappers from then and how their rap careers penned out and the successes gained during their run. Female rappers have had to rely on their sexuality in order to garner attention or build some buzz around them . Although most have had to look a certain way and conduct themselves in that manner, there have been a few female rappers who have forged their own paths and we do commend them.

We are living in an era where men still have so much power in influencing how women think and behave. This phenomenon seems to be worse when considering the music industry. It seems to me that as a female artist you do not get taken seriously if you have something valid to say unless you present yourself a certain way. I have been amongst people who simply wanted me to look pretty and be seen and not heard.  This experience is a reality for most women as they navigate schools, the workplace, government and almost all other spheres.  I am a very opinionated person and I say what I want. The fact that I am very tomboyish and I have spent a lot of my time within those masculine circles has resulted in people telling me to be less forward and to know my place as a woman.

If you are a female rapper you have a choice to be feminine or to play the game like your male counterparts.  This is not to say that female rappers should not be proud of their sexuality. I believe that that one should own their sexuality. Your sexuality is something you were born with and you can use it to your advantage.  Rap is a genre of music like any other. It is a form of expression that has become hyper-masculinised and a female presence always makes things interesting. As a woman, I feel really empowered when I see women holding their own and representing the masses whilst expressing themselves- and doing it even way better than their male counterparts.

The South African hip hop industry has been under the radar for a long time. Many critics claimed that the genre would never gain mainstream attention. These critics are probably singing a different tune as the past two years have been a period of immense growth, success, and increased international recognition. We have had quite a few female rappers who make you sit up and listen to what they have to say. These new female rappers are not merely imitating Nicki Minaj which is something I truly really appreciate as someone who has been following the growth of the genre. We live in an era which is celebrity-obsessed.  If we only have images of women in distasteful positions does it not say that it is okay to treat women like sex objects with no brains? Considering that women give birth to nations and help build the world and continue to love unconditionally despite their struggles, I find this to be highly problematic.

As a woman, I feel that we will continue to be treated in this manner unless we decide to stop allowing men to treat us the way they do. It is always up to the oppressed to fight for what they believe in. Change is always resisted but it often brings good. The more females are seen in a positive and encouraging light, the more the older generation will support the female movement. We need to have a united voice as we aspire to be positive role models for young girls. Young girls need to know that there is more to life than being seen on a man’s arm.

I see movements like feminism trying to correct the injustices women have experienced as result of patriarchy.  Different movements aim to empower the disempowered by getting the marginalised to reclaim their power through rethinking the status quo. My message is this: women have their own resilient power and the ability and capability to be almost anything they choose to be. Young women should not allow any men tell them that they are incapable or that they are not better suited for something because of their gender. As women we need to start believing that we are more than that.

Thabisile Miya

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