If you aren’t familiar with @AmerikanaAfrica then head down to the heart of Braamfontein, Johannesburg to keep up. Amerikana is the fresh young crisp store that is most popular for selling premium American Street wear (brands never sold authentically in Africa), in other words, the ideal store to cop that foreign. It is a premium store where you will find rare American street brands that you are most likely to see on your television sets or most likey to view on well-known American street fashion blogs. “A premium American street wear boutique curated with a focus on bringing labels currently trending in America to Africa”. Andwith the SA street fashion scene improving day-by-day, HYPE headed down to the particular boutique and had an exclusive sit down interview with the owner/designer of the unique store, Tom Bacote and discussed why & how the store was built in the first place, what kind of challenges were encountered within the process of building up the store, what type of American brands are sold and his thoughts & opinions on whether local street brands can finally be compared to international street brands.
Why did you decide to open a store such as Amerikana & how did you make it happen?
Well I’ve lived & worked here in SA for 3 years. I saw that our brothers & sisters were kind of almost captured into 3 or 4 major brands. They pay the same, sometimes even more than what we pay for what we consider what’s hot in the States. And we not limited to 3 or 4 major brands totally, we’re into Odd Future, BLVCK SCVLE, SSUR and I noticed that there was space to bring what was hot from two cities, LA & NY into SA but make sure we stay committed to a price that is affordable for the market.
And how was the process like, how did you get it all together..?
Friends…they helped find this space, another friend of ours designed the logo, I designed the shop…a friend of mine helped design certain aspects of it, so it was sort of a family/friend affair, as well as inspiration from my 15 year old son, who I wanted to show that starting a business is not rocket science, it just takes money, energy & commitment and I’ve been able to prove to him that if you start something from an idea and within a year start, you can have a successful business.
Did you ever experience any challenges when creating the store?
I would say raising the start-up capital was the most challenging part. It took saving and sacrifice for a solid two years to get us where we are today. I didn’t worry about needing a ton of money in the bank before I started to build the store. I started with what I had in April 2014 (a good vision, some money and a committed team) and built what I needed to get us where we are today. And this process is still in its initial building phase… Since opening three months ago now I’m beginning to realise this entire first year is a learning phase. Learning from the market as to what sells quicker and what sells at a slower pace. Also I see what we at Amerikana have to do is to introduce the SA market to brands that have been hot in the US for some time now, but because one may not see them on Trace or MTV, they don’t know about brands like SSUR, Diamond Supply or Pink Dolphin.
We’ve noticed that quite a few local celebs have made their way to the store. Who are the store’s “typical” customers or what type of customers does Amerikana cater for?
We cater to the community, so we have students from Wits, UJ and all the colleges in Braamfontein. We do have pieces like Odd Future that are about R800 but we also do have pieces that are R150-250, hats are ranged between R150-R400. We have a good wide range and again it’s all about what’s hot in LA & NY, but we are committed to creating space for local brands such as Carpen Noctem & #GetPaid. We get local brands that are hot and that’s why the two “A’s” in AMERIKANA, our logo, come from what I consider a pan African perspective and with that too we often see that brothers & sisters here forget that we’re one blood.
How do you find new merchandise & brands for the store? And how do you decide that certain items would be a good fit for the store?
It’s all about premium street wear that’s hot in LA and in NY. Our trend manager is my 15 year old son, his name is Thomas Bocate, so he informs me about what’s hot, he is a part of the business, and we stay really connected to the fashion scene back home in LA & NY. We have a great buyer by the name of Daniel Antonio, he’s based in LA, so he is critical in keeping us on the cutting edge and we have a buyer in NY as well.
Many of the store’s brands have a definite “unique factor”. In your opinion, what makes a brand unique?
I believe one that isn’t an imitation of what “has been” and is a take on for something that is classic. I think a brand should make sure that it does capture its own, like the HOF (Hall Of Fame) cap that you see…all the HOF stuff that we have are takes of a classic snapback.
What would you say makes the Amerikana store unique?
When you come in, intentionally, when you look at our hat wall, I wanted the wider selection of snapbacks and hats that Joburg has never seen, so when you come into the store you see a wall of snapbacks, beanies & bucket hats. When you come in, it is Hip Hop (whether SA, Nigeria or Hip Hop from the States). When you come in, you step in any shop that you would find in Melrose or in the fashion district in NY.
How would you describe the overall street wear rail scene in SA at the moment? Do we have enough outlets that stock street fashion brands or is there still a lack brewing?
Well I’ve noticed when it comes to street wear brands that SA stores tend to carry major brands, you have some that are getting out there but to me they’re mostly European street wear. European street wear brands are cool. I see cool stuff coming out of Australia and Germany that are hot but we intentionally have brands that are popular/trendy in LA & NY and at the same time create space for local brands.
Do you think local street wear brands can finally be compared to international brands in terms of quality & development?
Definitely quality, Carpen Noctem, #GetPaid…the feel of the cotton and the wear of the piece itself is top notch, it quite honestly rivals anything you would get in the States, you can look at the Odd Future stuff, we get Odd Future direct and that stuff is made in Mexico/Korea. What’s being made here is crafted here in SA, these brothers are making their stuff right here in the country, we gonna be coming out with a line of T-shirts & hats soon.