Nomqhele Sisa Nkomo
I arrived at Juluka Sneaker Co armed with my cache of questions, as usual. These soon proved to be useless, as instead, I was the one greeted by a barrage of questions by the Juluka crew, fronted by the one and only Bangane. A strange but entertaining experience. I came for an interview, but I ended up enjoying an illuminating and insightful conversation into the story of Juluka. So here it is.
Juluka started off as an inside joke amongst a group of friends, but it has grown from strength to strength to become one of Bulawayo’s most influential brands. The journey from inside joke to fully fledged brand has been a long and arduous one, a journey which Bangane says most aren’t willing to take.
“Nowadays, starting a brand is considered as a trivial thing. Is taking a plain tee and printing something on it really the true definition of a brand? No, it isn’t. To build a brand, hard work and dedication is required,” he explains. It has taken Juluka six years, filled with that required hard work and dedication, for them to enjoy the success they are currently enjoying.
Juluka was co-founded by Bangane, Cray the IG (a Victoria Falls based rapper) and Don Cozy (the voice behind the Don Cozy podcast). Bangane describes Juluka as more of a community of creatives, than just a mere sneaker cleaning service. The concept of community is even represented in their brand name. I know you were thinking the ‘Co’ is short for company, but Bangane actually tells me it’s short for community.
To understand Juluka Sneaker Co, you first need to know where the name originated from. If you’re a student of popular culture, you know that what was called ‘cool’ in the 90’s, ‘swag’ in the 2000’s and even ‘sauce’ for that one summer in 2016, is now termed ‘drip’. Bangane and friends simply decided to localise the context of drip, and named their brand after the loose translation for drip in Ndebele; Juluka (but not in the sweaty sense, bangane).
Bangane, true to his nickname, is fond of making new friends. This has been the secret to Juluka’s success. Juluka focuses on creating a relationship with each customer, that goes beyond the service they offer. Yes, you will leave Juluka with your sneakers refreshed and squeaky clean, but a nice conversation with a cool, bubbly person is a much appreciated extra.
Juluka have taken things up the notch and invaded the events scene with a board that bears their striking logo, and a comfy chair which you sit on (of course) for on-site sneaker cleaning. Seeing the board and chair at Arts-Scapes is how I discovered Juluka, and I was just so mindblown. This is more than just an advertisement tactic, this is a much needed service at events. Seeing your favorite artists perform, enjoying the vibes, AND getting your sneakers cleaned? Bulawayo we’ve been blessed.
In as much as Juluka Sneaker Co are the best at what they do, Bangane admits that sneaker cleaning is a means to an ultimate end. Bangane and his friends thought it best to start off with a project that ‘aligns with the culture’, as they put it. They established the sneaker cleaning service as a way to raise funds for their ultimate target. It is also a way of building a foundation and community for the Juluka brand. “The ultimate goal is to be the best clothing brand across the board,” Bangane proclaims.
Bangane and friends had already made an impact on Bulawayo streetwear culture when they launched Juluka Sneaker Co. In terms of being an “OG of the culture”, Bangane is spoken about in the same breath as the likes of Tino Mufudzi (Stars29 founder). He tells me “Our impact in fashion is very huge and goes far back to even before the sneaker care brand.”
Juluka has released a few sample pieces, but these were quickly sold out, a testament to the brand’s popularity. “At the moment we are still sampling clothing items, recently we had released a few tees but they ran out rather quickly and there are people we are now avoiding because we weren’t able to supply them those tees (laughs). Funny enough, we as the Juluka people, we don’t have any of the merchandise left for us,” Bangane details.
Currently, and in the near future, there will be no releases of Juluka merch. This return to the drawing board is necessitated by Juluka’s pursuit of quality and history. “Juluka has not been releasing anything because they want to create something that will last for generations. Something that will be unique in your wardrobe,” explains Bangane.
And even that is not enough for the ambitious entrepreneurs. They aim to make an impact not just in fashion, but in the community as a whole. They want to achieve ubiquity in their city, and the country at large. “Juluka can be anything, in the sense that we wish to spread beyond the fashion industry as a brand”, says Bangane. So prepare yourself for Juluka mines, butcheries, salons, schools, clinics and farms. Everything and anything, really.
Bangane believes their homegrown approach to their growth has been an impediment to their impact on a wider scale. To Bangane, this is a preferred and natural evolution of a brand that wants to start at home, before spreading it’s wings. Juluka would rather be known in the streets, before making a name for itself on social media, or internationally.
He says, “The impact we are making, it is very huge, but because of the current social media craze we live in, it is easier to make an impact internationally than it is locally. For people locally to accept you, you need to have made an appearance to other places first. Which I believe is why we are where we are now, rather than being further ahead.”
As for the divide between Bulawayo and Harare fashion, whether real or imagined, Bangane believes ideological differences are the main cause for a lack of collaboration between Bulawayo creatives and Harare creatives. “Harare fashion and Bulawayo fashion is not the same, and so expecting designers to work together is difficult,” explains Bangane.
He, however, believes the only way forward for Zimbabwean fashion is collaboration, as the industry can benefit from the synergies across the two cities. He believes events like the Fabrikans Convention slated for October in Harare are a good platform for bringing together the creatives from both cities. He closes off with, “Collaboration, to mix Bulawayo and Harare’s different fashion senses, is achievable. The October Fabrik party is, I believe, the way to start that.”
Honestly, I could have spent the whole day at Juluka, just soaking in Bangane’s good energy and bountless wisdom. But all good things must end, to make way for even better things. Next time I’m outside, I’ll definitely be looking out for that board and chair so I can get my sneakers cleaned on the spot.
If you want your sneakers cleaned, plus a great conversation, be sure to visit Juluka Sneaker Co. You can find them between 8th and 9th Avenue, right next to Booties Pharmacy. You can also find them on revelant social media as : Juluka Co.