"Ey Papi, we here” Andile, dressed in a red cap, blue shirt and green printed pants, hustles down the phone to his good mate Warren.
Standing outside the heavily gated back entrance of Poolside Cafe in East Johannesburg which happens to share an industrial driveway with the Museum of Design Africa, cafe bar owner Warren invites us in. "Gin and tonic?” he asks with a half smile, pointing to both myself and Andile at 12:30 on a Tuesday. Andile smiles. There's an in-joke here.
“We do a collab with Poolside and they let me out if the cage on the weekend" Andile coyly directs at me before back peddaling; “you need that once in a while.” Dope Store owner Andile took his first holiday in seven years last year. He grew up in Durban with teacher parents and accountant siblings before later moving to London to work in retail. He did it with the foresight of reconfiguring South Africa’s street retail scene and after three years and a plethora of positions in the industry, returned to open a sneaker store in Johannesburg.
That was seven years ago. With Nike and Vans the first brands to involved, the brand commenced its infancy at a two storey location on Fox St before moving to the parallel CBD Commissioner St. The move came after a series of crime and robbery but with two of the world’s biggest names involved, there was value in persisting. Andile instantly got likeminded creatives involved; people he believed to be influencers and so the Dope brand quickly grew. Moreover, he called upon his friends and fellow people in the art industry to walk in his shows. “It’s a lot more fun, everyone has a better time” he insists showing me a cell phone video of his last runway.
But it wasn’t until three years ago that Andile started designing. “If I didn’t have the store I wouldn’t be designing” he says before continuing that he prefers he did it that way, and that he also likes to dabble in art. Colourful, street style illustrations are suspended above an array of accessories he stocks in his store. With polished floor boards and a dark toned, rendered fit out, its evident modern art and design are key components throughout this brand; but there’s also a relaxed notion that the guy knows he’s built a small platform to contribute art to the world he wants.
Talking about his approach to fashion design gets him as excited as embedded passion for the art of the street fashion industry. “Have you seen the Kanye documentary? something about a point to prove and there’s a chic but I can’t remember- I’ll find it for you;” and so suddenly our conversation is introduced to creative genius of pop culture. "As long as it ignites a discussion and that discussion brings people to my brand. Once it's done it's out of your hands” he continues before making reference to the similarities of basketball. “You get comfortable with lay ups and jumpshots in training to game mode, but it still doesn't matter; once the balls left your hands whether it goes in is no longer up to you. Design and business is a little bit the same."
It’s this comment that assures symbols of sport are not limited to his print designs, but furthermore that Andile is a highly, intellectual human. His ability to translate creative process to an buying audience is a sensationally unique quality, and something that I’m not sure but not willing to bet that his self-attainment of this, is something he is wholeheartedly aware of.
Planning his second and upcoming South African Fashion Week, Andile requested to hold his show and after party offsite. “If everyone’s there to do the same thing, how are you supposed to stand out.” This creative confidence and a business manner to match, guarantees the SAFW panel abide to the request. The Dope show and official after party will be held underground at MODA, right next door to Warren’s Poolside Cafe. The brand has permission to build a conceptual pop up tennis court as a makeshift runway, which will be constructed by Warren’s business partner. It’s getting the creative community involved that Andile thrives on although it’s not a one way street.
The Dope brand regularly collaborates with complementing creatives like Warren, who also hails from Durban. One Sunday a month they do a Poolside X Dope afternoon, and the cafe is referenced in some of his print products. It’s these integral friendships that are ensuring the art and design elements of Johannesburg continue to prosper but Andile gets more passionate when talking about working for free. He won’t sign contracts and he refuses exclusive partnerships because he did it once and it almost backfired. Although there’s absolutely no sense of arrogance as he further talks about certain struggles in starting and maintaining an independent brand being a necessary part of the journey.
This sense of integrity is also evident in his personal character. “I don’t think I'm ready to go international” he answers humbly when questioned why he doesn’t have an online store, although he absolutely could. The industry components of personal interaction and a drive to maintain the experience of traditional retail are something he values. With ambitions to open a second store before moving onto a globally accessible platform, Andile explains he needs to ensure his distribution quality and quantity is on point, but in theory if he can achieve his second store he believes his other plans should fall into place.
“I have much bigger ideas, but I’m just not ready" before generating a hype about the necessity to build a culture and lifestyle before you can do conceptually crazy things. Things that are absolutely on his mind and in his future, but in the interim, he’s content providing for the Johannesburg art scene, with of cause a necessary gin and tonic in between.