Slogan tees inspire South Africans to believe in ourselves - and our country

Designers Tshepo Mohla and Papama Mtwisha are creating statement T-shirts that spark national pride and encourage inner strength

13 September 2020 - 00:03 By
Fashion designer Tshepo Mohla models his "We, The People" T-shirt.
Fashion designer Tshepo Mohla models his "We, The People" T-shirt.
Image: Supplied

The T-shirt is fashion's great leveller. Ironically, though, it can also sometimes be a great elevator. It's the most popular and affordable item in the clothing industry as well as being unisex, classless and worn across all cultures and nationalities. But spread a message across its expansive front and it's immediately transformed into the most powerful, most political item in your wardrobe.

There are plenty of references for wordy fashion and everyone from the style avant garde to the uninitiated are, at some time or other, prone to make a witty statement with their chest.

Paris Hilton showed she didn't have much style when she wore a T-shirt a few years back that said: ''Stop Being Poor.”

Years before, queen of the slogan tee Katherine Hamnett made a more appropriate statement when she arrived at Downing Street to meet Margaret Thatcher wearing a shirt that read ''58% Don't Want Pershing” (an anti-nuclear protest).

In the '80s, gay rights activists inverted the pink triangle used to identify homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps, and displayed it on T-shirts, leading to a watershed moment for queer visibility in the US.

In the past few years, the T-shirt has been used across the globe as a feminist statement with the slogan, “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” becoming ubiquitous in the early part of the last decade.

Now the slogan T-shirt is being used to spark pride in the South African constitution. Local fashion hero Tshepo Mohla, The Jean Maker, has emblazoned a collection of gender-neutral tees with the words: “We, The People”.

“We, The People” was inspired by Tshepo's attendance at an event at constitution Hill that featured a reading of the preamble of the constitution, adopted in 1996. It stirred in him a sense of national pride and purpose.

“We, the people of SA,” begins the preamble, “Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that SA belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

“To survive the current moment, and to continue the creative transformation of our country, we're reminded by the constitution that it is we, the people who are the real history makers,” says Cheryl Carolus, chair of the constitution Hill Trust. “We hope this slogan will spark a movement within our youth to continue to use the constitution as a road map to change.”

Tshepo shot to fame with the success of his home-grown denim brand, Tshepo Jeans, which is based at his atelier in Victoria Yards. He says his aim is to create desirable and functional items that people can enjoy for a lifetime. Each product tells a story, and this slogan T-shirt is one of the most important stories he's told yet.

Now notable South Africans, like Nomzamo Mbatha, Maps Maponyane, Beast, Rich Mnisi, Robbie Brozin, Albi Sachs, Thami Dish and even President Cyril Ramaphosa are wearing his slogan tees too.

Papama Mtwisha is the founder and creative director of the “Africa Your Time Is Now” movement, with its popular T-shirt bearing the movement's slogan.

She says: “Statement tees are like wearing your heart on your sleeve. They are a wonderful way of expressing your political views, vibe and attitude without opening your mouth.”

Papama Mtwisha models her "Go Within or Stay Without" T-shirt.
Papama Mtwisha models her "Go Within or Stay Without" T-shirt.
Image: Supplied

Her new tees have the words “Go Within or Stay Without” on them, inspired by Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations With God, the most transformative book she's read.

“Our generation feels deeply. We're determined to change the world we live in for the better. There's an urgency that we're feeling now as we navigate this 'new normal', and we're forced to go within and reflect if we hope to grow and thrive beyond this as a collective,” says Papama.

“The message behind my T-shirt is a reminder of an important fact that most of us forget — everything we need is inside of us. Only when we go within can we find our true selves. Fact! So this T-shirt aims to keep this message top of mind. It's relevant whether you're religious, spiritual or both.”

Tshepo says he created his tee to “show your love for your country and its people. To show patriotism and pride in our country and our heritage.”

Each T-shirt is produced locally, using quality African cotton.

In support of local fashion, 2,020 units of the limited-edition 'Go Within or Stay Without' tee and 2,020 units of the 'We, The People' tee are available at selected Woolworths stores and on woolworths.co.za