Unlike its western counterparts, the all too familiar surf brands whose campaigns are typically fronted by blonde blue eyed models, Bantu’s models are a mix, reflecting urban Africa, a range of skin tones and hairstyles: dreadlocks, afros, shaved heads, it’s all there.
INTERVIEW: MALIBONGWE TYILO
PHOTOGRAPHY: BANTU WAX
There’s no denying that beach culture is a regular part of life in many African countries. How could it not be? Considering that the continent has 26 000 kilometres of coastline, much of which is home to beautiful beaches. In addition to general beach culture, there is also a surfing culture in different coastal parts of the continent. From Taghazout in Morocco, to Senegal’s world-class surf, all the way down to South Africa’s West Coast and around to Jeffrey’s Bay, there is a multitude of beloved surf. However, that being said, surf and beachwear brands that speak to and are targeted at Africans have been a rarity. One brand trying to fix all of that is Bantu Wax, a beachwear and surfwear brand founded by 30 year old Yodit Eklund in 2010.
Unlike its western counterparts, the all too familiar surf brands whose campaigns are typically fronted by blonde blue eyed models, Bantu’s models are a mix, reflecting urban Africa, a range of skin tones and hairstyles: dreadlocks, afros, shaved heads, it’s all there. As for the actual trunks, board shorts, bikinis and sweaters, they take their inspiration from the Dutch wax prints that have become synonymous with west Africa, and they are designed and produced right here on the continent. When we ask Yodit how she deals with some of the oft-mentioned challenges of mass production on the continent, she seems to take it all in her stride as she tells us, “One day at a time.”
“When I started Bantu we were mostly doing wholesale around the world with very little presence in Africa,” explains Yodit. Indeed, initially Bantu Wax was primarily available in stores like Barney’s, JCrew, and Opening Ceremony. However, in 2014, unhappy with the fact that she had built an African brand that was popular overseas but not available in Africa, she decided she would restructure her company. She eventually said goodbye to her global stockists, and opened a flagship store in Senegal, the country where she took the inspiration for the label’s name, which she informs us means ‘gateway’ in Senegal.
The store, which is a retail concept based on a shipping container, on a beach in Dakar, was built with the help of local architects, Issa Diabaté and Mardochée Diané. It was followed up with another store in Cape Town’s Woodstock. “In order to be close to what’s happening on the ground we shifted our direction a bit. We opened the store in Dakar, and we selected that location because of its cosmopolitan nature combined with the number of killer surf spots. We now also have our Cape Town store and we’re looking forward to opening another store in Morocco in early 2016.” She adds.
Born to an Ethiopian mother and an American father, Yodit herself grew up travelling different parts of the continent – Ghana, Sudan, Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Egypt – before moving on to study Environmental Science and Economics at the University of California in the States. The surf culture she celebrates through her brand is one she has experienced herself. As someone who grew up in diverse parts of the continent, and got to look back at it from outside, she has a keen understanding of the opportunities that lie here, “Africa is the youngest continent in terms of age demographics in the world. It is only natural that people will look to Africa when exploring creative areas, like art, music, fashion,” she adds.
AFRO BEACH HITS
South Africa Garage Beats
African Sixties Garage
NIGERIA DISCO FUNK SPECIAL