Stoned Cherrie – Filling the Gap with an Afro-urban Brand



Stoned Cherrie is probably South Africa's best-known fashion label. Along with showing footage of the country's breathtaking nature, the latest South African worldwide tourist campaigns present models dressed by Stoned Cherrie in order to extol cool city vibes.

Today there is a multitude of fashion labels throughout the land, yet in 2000, the founding year of Stoned Cherrie, matters were very different. In those days, just six years after the racist Apartheid regime had officially ended, there were only a handful of designers to be had, and these continued to cater to a small white minority. "There weren't any South African afro-urban brands," says Nkosi, "no local aesthetic." After becoming aware of this gap, she decided to do something about it. Today, Stoned Cherrie stands for women's fashion. A fashion that emphasizes the female figure and combines local materials with universal, timeless, geometrical patterns.

Stoned Cherrie's new showroom is located in one of more exclusive suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa's economic hub. Inside it's funky and friendly at the same time, decorated with Stoned Cherrie materials and cushions. Three dressmaker's mannequins draped in evening dresses of silk chiffon and Shweshwe material stand unobtrusively by the door to the sewing workshop. The instant Nkhensani Nkosi enters the showroom, a full five minutes before we'd arranged to meet, we recognize her vibrant personality. Despite wearing high wedge heels, the founder of Stoned Cherrie remains petite, but her aura easily fills the enormous space with its high ceilings. Today, her hair is braided into two chunky plaits and her fingernails are painted a sunny yellow. Her face reveals no trace of makeup, and she doesn't look like she could possibly be 39.

Initially, we’re a bit surprised when Nkhensani names Danish industrial designer Marcus Vagnby as one of her favorite brands. Yet the reason soon becomes clear when she explains that Stoned Cherrie is at present in a transitory process, moving from being a pure fashion label to a more broadly positioned brand. Next to the materials, carpets and cushions they already produce, little by little Nkosi wants the brand to stand for everything a beautiful home requires. The first fashion designer who springs to her mind is Manish Arora whose "aesthetic is very colorful and vibrant and expressive and creative," Nkosi says with approval. "He has taken Indian culture and heritage, but given it a kind of modern twist and a revolutionary angle," she explains. "Obviously, I found a lot of kinship in that because that is what our brand is about"

Her own past and cultural background was strongly influenced by growing up in the Soweto Township during the reign of Apartheid. "I was part of a generation that was very conscious of what was happening in our country." She describes her childhood fears of nighttime visits by the police and tells of the mass protests and the violence. Her parents, both with an academic background, nurtured her political awareness and mindfulness for their society. And they nurtured her belief that everything is possible. A belief that was fed by the end of Apartheid and the spirit of optimism generated by Nelson Mandela's election to the presidency. She relates almost romantic impressions of Soweto, which lies to the southwest of Johannesburg. On weekends, she and her husband regularly drive down to the township with their three children, although they have been living in one of the more upscale residential districts of Johannesburg for some time now. "I always feel that the sun shines different in Soweto," she says and starts laughing. "My memories of it are very orange and sepia; with strong colors and houses with turquoise roofs."

I always feel that the sun shines different in Soweto.

If she didn't live in Johannesburg she would choose to live in Amsterdam. "I just love it." "With the little canals, and how people can ride their bikes, even take their kids, and there is an utter respect between people."
She says her children, aged between five and eleven, her marriage and the close ties with the entire extended family are her greatest successes. "Family is everything," she says; family is also her strongest source of inspiration. She gleans further motivation from the heroes of the South African fight for liberation, including the iconic anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko who was murdered while held in police custody. "I think it takes an incredible amount of courage, especially if you've got a family and children. I can't imagine the inner turmoil they must have gone through on account of their choices."

But life in the 20th century was not just dismal and grey. Black South Africans also have a rich culture to cherish. An example of this is former freehold town, Sophiatown, a suburb in Johannesburg where the black population celebrated life with jazz, dance and elegant gowns in the 1940s and 1950s – before the town was crushed by Apartheid. Just after establishing Stoned Cherrie, Nkosi had the brilliant idea to revive this era to public awareness with a special campaign. She procured the exclusive rights to old cover photos from a legendary South African publication and printed these on T-shirts. The magazine, called DRUM, a sort of VANITY FAIR for the black population, offered a mix of glamour and good journalism. Drawing lots of media attention, the T-shirts established the brand Stoned Cherrie far beyond the South African borders, and that practically overnight.

Nkhensani Nkosi often receives invitations from companies, organizations, television and radio stations to give talks and encourage others with her story. She is happy to tell her audiences about her long and winding path: about her first love, acting, and how after studying psychology she ended up in the theater. From the theater, she moved on to television and hosted her own talk show. And now for the past 12 years: Stoned Cherrie. Whatever she talks about, however, it is always of importance: "It's really about the moral fiber, the things that unify us as human beings."

We place too much value on the things that make us different

If she didn't have Stoned Cherrie, Nkosi thinks, she would probably spend all her time giving speeches. "What I love to do is inspire young people. Our education system was designed to keep people in a box, everything was designed like that, even our houses." And there's a long way to go before it can truly be said that the black population has equal rights. "I would like to blow the roof off of all of that," Nkhensani Nkosi says with a thoughtful look.

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