Sal Masekela, the founder of premium African surf brand Mami Wata has an inspiring story to share – and it’s one of passion, entrepreneurship and success. Having followed in the footsteps of his legendary father Hugh Masekela, finding adventure and inspiration in Africa, he’s now set to make waves internationally as global luxury brand Moncler takes the Cape Town-based brand to Paris Fashion Week. We caught up with Sal to chat about all things Mami Wata X Moncler and the power of African surf.
You have some incredible news to share, please spill the beans on your collaboration with global luxury brand Moncler?
We’ll we got an email out of the blue asking us if we’d like to do a collab. They’d seen the brand and designs and like what we’re doing. African surf culture is a fresh idea globally, we think they liked that and our approach to design. It’s very exciting. They’re working with some of the best fashion and streetwear designers in the world. And now us!!
Mami Wata is a premium African surf brand. You design and manufacture all of your own range of apparel products in South Africa. How did this global collaboration with Moncler come about and how do you think it will impact your brand?
Whilst Moncler is undoubtedly a leading luxury brand, its new luxury. Its high end and its also streetwear. They’ve also got a great sense of humour and wit in their brand and design. We also like to have some fun, so despite being at the different end of the spectrum in terms of size and history, there are some design ethos similarities. I think the main thing is that this puts us on the global map, in terms of design and brand story. Moncler curates the best in the world, so somehow we must be doing something right.
Tell us a bit about how and when you founded Mami Wata?
I joined the team as it started to look outside of South Africa and hatch plans for global growth. So I’m involved in business strategy, marketing, product development, content, social initiatives. It’s very exciting to be a part of and shape a young business and brand.
Where does the name Mami Wata come from?
“Mami Wata” is West African pidgin English literally meaning ‘Mama Water’…or ‘Mother Ocean’. From Madagascar to Morocco, Liberia to Mozambique, Mami Wata is the African water spirit who appears in the shape of a mermaid. It is said that those who she takes for her lovers, return with a new spirit and become more successful and good looking. She is a symbol of fertility, a protector of women and children, a guardian of sea creatures and natural environments.”
You worked with Mami Wata and surf therapy organisation Waves for Change to build a clubhouse for young surfers in Harper, Liberia, a coastal town between the Atlantic Ocean and the Hoffman River. Please tell us the story?
One of the things that excite us most at Mami Wata is the role that surf is playing in Africa’s growth and development. Waves for Change is a leading Surf Therapy organisation based out of Cape Town, but working across Africa. Its a really effective organization, 1,600 children a year go through their program. When they said they were opening up in Harper, Liberia we leapt at the chance to support them and looked to see how we could raise funds to build the clubhouse. We created a bespoke range of ‘Harper Sliders’ clothing that you could only buy through Kickstarter. We sold enough to fund the clubhouse! It’s now been built and it having a major impact on the community.
How were you influenced by your father, legendary musician Hugh Masekela ‘Bra Hugh’ and how does his legacy reflect in your ventures?
Growing up in America during my fathers time in exile was very powerful. While he had many opportunities to claim citizenship here and elsewhere, my father never did because of his staunch belief that apartheid would end and his deep love of South Africa and the continent as a whole.
While I grew up in America it was instilled in me that I was an African first. My father championed the power and magic of the African continent until his last day. His wish was for the rest of the world to celebrate African culture.
Surfing is my first love and its explosion across the continent is a true thing. It is my goal to help inspire people’s curiosity about Africa through this unique lens in the power of African surf.
When were you bitten by the surf bug?
Surfing came to me at 16, in the town of Carlsbad California. My family had just moved there from New York City. It was a culture shock as most of the people there did not look like me. I first tried surfing because that’s what the kids in my school did. I wanted to fit in. But when I first stood up on a wave, I suddenly experienced a feeling that was foreign to me beyond comprehension. An incomparable freedom and total oneness with the ocean. The ability to express myself by dancing on waves. Surfing became my music.
We’d love to hear about your experience of African surf culture in different countries on this continent? How have these experiences influenced you in terms of creating your brand?
The entirety of my African surf experience so far has been rooted in South Africa. My first experiences coming in Durban and East London. Since I’ve gotten to surf a bunch in both Capetown and Jeffreys Bay. I’ve been meeting African surfers across the continent and watching the way as various African communities are taking to surfing, their indigenous culture is shining through. Surfing has been marketed and the story told globally mostly through a Southern Californian lens. African Surf culture now enters the global conversation.