APiF: What is the Fashion Deli and how did you come-up with the concept?
Thulare Monareng: I started the concept of the African Fashion Deli in Cape Town initially in 2011. It is an innovative, conceptional, new platform for Africa-inspired lifestyle and fashion.
However, only 20% of our customers were local so we didn’t do well during the low tourist season.
We thought that local people would be excited about buying local designs, but that wasn’t the case. Locals just didn’t get the Fashion Deli concept and would run in and ask if we sell biscuits. American and Asian tourists came in and were smitten and we got a lot of great media from Air France, NY Times etc. , so I knew we had something with our concept.
Eventually, I decided to move back to NYC and research if there would be a market here for the Fashion Deli. I talked to people in the industry and did focus groups and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
APiF: So where in NYC will the store be and what will it offer?
Thulare: The idea is to position the space in Soho or the Meatpacking District to showcase high-end African Fashion and Design. Many people have a very one-dimensional idea of what African Fashion is about. So with the Fashion Deli we want to tell our own narrative and break barriers regarding current stereotypes.
There are so many amazing things out there. There is a gap in the retail market regarding high-end African designs. I want to create an elevated conceptional retail platform that is Africa-inspired, primarily fashion-driven but also with décor, furniture, lifestyle, art and organic beauty products.
We will offer items from designers like MaXhosa by Laduma, Sindisio Khumalo and others.
APiF: This sounds all so exciting! When will the store open?
Thulare: We will start with a pop-up store in September this year for a proof of concept.
The whole store will be an experience. Rich Medina is curating a soundtrack for us of contemporary African music and a specific scent will be developed for our store. From Harlem-based Serengeti Teas & Spices we will serve coffee and tea in the store. On Fridays/Saturdays we plan to have live DJ sessions in the store. Michael Williams – our celebrity ambassador – will be hosting some of our events.
APiF: How did you get into fashion – what is your background?
Thulare: I was born in Swaziland, went to South Africa for High School and completed in Indiana High School as an exchange student. I got a degree in political science from the University of Louisiana and did my MA in public administration and management in Antwerp, Belgium. There was a group of famous designers in Antwerp called the Antwerp Six: Walter von Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee.
My apartment was across the studio from Walter van Beirendonck and one day I just asked him if I could hang out in his studio and watch him at work. So after I completed my MA I went to FIT in NYC and took a BA in Fashion buying and merchandising. I returned to Johannesburg with the intention to work in the fashion industry, but it was difficult. I ended up working in the corporate sector as marketing manager and started designing my own label under my name Thulare. I got into the South African Fashion Week and got some traction. Then I went back to a corporate job but eventually quit and started the Fashion Deli.
APiF: What is your objective with the Fashion Deli?
Thulare: We want to disrupt the market! There is so much talent out there, a wealth of creativity that exists on the continent, but with no representation, no retail platform. There is no high-end African Fashion & Lifestyle retail space in NYC. The Fashion Deli gives me the opportunity to tell our stories the way we want them to be told without any stereotypical images. We shouldn’t wait for other people to do this for us, we have to do this for ourselves.
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