With so many street brands hitting the streets of SA, one can’t doubt the massive impact street brands tend to make in society; it’s no longer about the threads anymore but the lifestyles that are created by the threads themselves (#LEVELS). The game has changed, the standards have increased and the competition is undoubtedly fierce. Although the progression of our street culture has reached new heights and introduced new players into the game, one can’t ignore the pioneer & veteran street brands that have major credits in the development of our local street culture and one veteran brand that is slowly becoming one of South Africa’s most recognizable brand is non-other than Butan Wear. HYPE got in touch with Designer & Owner of local street wear brand (Butan Wear) Julian Kubel, who grew his business from the ground up, for an interview which included discussions on how Butan has become such a big brand, to why people tend to accuse certain brands of being copycats.
Butan has been around for a pretty long time and is a well-known brand within the streets & mainstream industry, how has the transition been like from starting out small to being such a big brand?
To be honest with you it is quite similar to growing up as a person. You obviously gain in experience and knowledge but you still always perceive yourself the same way, there really is not much of a difference in the way you saw yourself as a child and the way you see yourself as an adult. We are so entrenched in this company and brand that it really is just a growing up process and our core outlook and perception of what we have created is still the same as it was when Butan was still in its infancy stages. When I try to see the brand from a distance I do realize though how far we have come and how much we achieved and it really makes me proud.
With your winter range already on the shelves, fashion conscious people have huge expectations from Butan, it’s as if the brand is under a “critical microscope”, could you shed some light on what the people can expect from this winter range…
[Laughs] yes, a critical microscope indeed. We are happy that so many people have taken interest in our brand and now certainly expect our ranges to live up the high expectations that we have set. Our current winter range comprises of crew necks, hoodies, sweatpants, beanies & a hooded jacket. The range is inspired by various elements of South African cultural heritage such as the famous Durban Rickshaw pullers and African basket art, as well as some more contemporary references from the golden era of Hip Hop. We kept the range quite tight with various signature pieces that will hopefully appeal to many different fashion tastes.
A lot of local street brands tend to be involved in some cliché controversies, such as certain brands copying other brand designs and logos. Butan has been involved in similar critics before, what are your thoughts on the allegations that people tend to make with regards to similarities in clothing designs?
The way I can explain this is that street wear is a fairly young phenomenon in this country with still only a few brands making major moves. Brands feel threatened by their competition which is in my opinion only holding us back as an industry. The pie is big enough for all of us to eat but if we all fight each other and become obsessed with our competitors as opposed to focusing on our own brands, we will never be able to bake a pie big enough to compete with international brands. We have personally been attacked numerous times with false allegations of biting (copying) other brand’s designs and logos. One that pops up quite often is the comparison of our “Undefeated” logo to the Galxboy logo. Our logo is a deconstructed Zulu shield and has nothing to do with the Galxboy logo. Our logo features a crossed spear and knob-Kerrie with the typical leather strips found on African shields above and below the crossed weapons. Any superficial similarities between the two logos are merely coincidental. There have also been some individuals who clearly don’t know much about street wear who thought that appropriating logos of world famous brands and sports teams is a form of biting. We have appropriated many famous brands such as Walt Disney, Coca Cola (in the form of our Real Re-Cognize Real top), Miller (Triller Than Most tee), The LA Kings (Street Kings) as a form of tongue in cheek social commentary. The reality is that people will always try to tear you down if you are doing something that is noticed by others. Overall this isn’t really that upsetting but what personally bothers me is that we, as South Africans, are always quick to criticize our own as opposed to criticizing foreign and in particular western brands and culture. This is utterly counterproductive.
The street culture within our country has seen a major change in quality & recognition amongst the people. Butan has earned a vast amount of street cred throughout its career, what are your thoughts on the progress of our street culture today?
South African street culture has indeed grown tremendously since the late 90’s when the first players started putting the culture on the map. What is most amazing to see is that the perception of South Africans has also changed towards the local street culture scene giving it a fertile ground to grow. This has given Butan for instance the ability to establish itself as a recognized competitive clothing label having started with just very little financial means and resources. Especially today the scene is growing at a faster pace than ever and I personally love the developments I see in fashion, music and art, I can’t wait to see how the scene will develop in years to come and how it will empower a new generation of free thinkers.
Street fashion has proven to being the next big thing within the fashion industry, high-end fashion brands have started being dependent on taking inspirations from street brands to come up with amazing clothing designs, how far do you think street fashion can go when compared to high-end fashion? Is street fashion recognized as a competitor in the fashion industry?
Street wear and high end fashion are completely different things. As much as high end fashion labels might be looking at street wear brands for inspiration and even have their models walk down the high fashion cat walks in sneakers of late, I believe that street wear is no more than a trend to them. I also feel that people shouldn’t get the two mixed up as the commercialization of street culture through a highly superficial and bougie arena like that of high end fashion, would distort the image of street wear, which certainly is more of a counter culture driven by people who usually detest the established and rather incestuous fashion industry.
What were some of the difficulties Butan faced in its earlier years as a brand?
The biggest difficulties that we faced in the early years and still face today are the lack of resources and funding. Obviously it was also quite a challenge to get the brand out there, to source our products and to get our quality right. Then again these are necessary obstacles and difficulties that helped us learn from our mistakes and consistently improve our brand from one range to the next.
Did u ever expect the brand to be as big & influential as it is today? Considering it started out with just 20 printed tees made for high school friends…
Honestly not, I definitely thought it would become a significant brand within the Cape Town underground Hip Hop scene but that the brand would become popular in the whole of SA and even neighboring countries was something I never even dreamed of. It’s amazing to see how the brand has grown and I can’t wait to see it grow beyond African boarders in the next few years.
If you could change one thing within our street culture what would it be?
Less hating, more creating.
Any advice you could dish out to upcoming street brands?
Believe in yourself, be resilient and always pay attention to detail and quality.
What more can we expect from Butan for the rest of 2014?
We are very excited about our upcoming Spring/Summer range and a really edgy collaboration range that will be launched by the end of October.
One word that best describes Butan?
Written By: Rudzani “@Roo_AT” Netshiheni