Here at Denim Dudes, we have had our eye on South African based collective The Sartists for a few years now, tracking their amazing style and creativity. 

Xzavier Zulu is one of the four faces of this collective and a busy man. Working his day job in marketing  and PR for Adidas Originals, he also puts the hours in outside of the office. We love a passion project here at DD, especially when it comes to denim.  Through The Sartists, his experience as an Art Director and his relationship with Levi’s® South Africa, Xzavier recently introduced his latest collection ‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’. The project includes one-off pieces created from vintage and new denim garments. An ode to his late father, Xzavier’s collection is inspired and unique. Many of the vintage pieces used for the garments were the result of 8 years thrifting across Berlin, Cape Town, Johannesburg and London. Exhibited at Sole DXB late last year, the collection features directional pieces with an upcycled frankenstein patchwork appearance. It represents Xzavier’s approach of recreation and starting all over again, yet using cultural touchstones and iconic materials to create something bespoke. We recently took some time to talk with Xzavier and hear more about the project, his love for denim and where he finds inspiration.

Xzavier Zulu

Denim Dudes (DD): Xzavier, thanks for taking the time to talk! First off, talk us through the collection?

Xzavier Zulu (XZ): Thank you for creating the space for this conversation! Simply said, ‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ is a collection of upcycled one-off pieces created in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa. The collection expresses my love of denim and utilitarian wear by reconstructing pieces from the Levi’s® in-line catalog as well as thrifted pieces throughout my years. True to my co-operative design ethos, the collection features reimagined crew neck t-shirts, crew neck sweaters, kimonos, tactical vests, culottes shorts, double-breasted suits, durags, berets, face masks and tote bags. The title of the collection is as honest as the pieces themselves and speaks to my wanting to disarm one’s expectation of a finished product but rather appreciating the idea and process of each garment.

DD: You worked on the collection with Levi’s South Africa; how did this relationship come to fruition?

XZ: The relationship with Levi’s® is one that has grown for some time now, over 5 years at least. We (The Sartists) had really shed light on thrifting culture in South Africa, particularly thrifting Levi’s® denim, before thrifting became a trend of sorts. It’s funny because the global team had seen our work as we’d shared some of our rare finds on Instagram, Twitter, etc. and  it was surprising that some of those items were found in the tip of Africa. That allowed the local team to understand more of what we were doing and the importance of what we were looking to share. Individually, I’d approached the Levi’s® team on the idea of an up-cycled collection a year or two ago. Truthfully, in this country it’s unheard of, so for the brand to have backed me  and our idea is something I appreciate dearly.

‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ collection, in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa.

DD: What was your design process and inspiration behind the collection?

XZ: The title of the collection is as honest as the pieces themselves and speaks to my wanting to disarm one’s expectation of a finished product, but rather appreciating the idea and process of each garment. As an ode to my late father – a military man – the collection expresses my love of utilitarian wear. It plays on shape (through masculine cuts with feminine silhouettes), speaks to conscious consumption through up-cycling, as well as offering a variation of treated indigo denim and production techniques that make for a considered collection speaking on a clear narrative.

DD: We’ve seen plenty of up-cycled denim pieces in recent years, but Everything Is a Sample has such a distinct and unique aesthetic. How did you differentiate the garments from anything that was out there already?

XZ: Truthfully, it’s about making as many mistakes as possible, learning and developing new denim treatment techniques and researching the journey of my inspirations, as a means of crafting my ‘voice’. One thing I’ve learned throughout this process is that no one can make mistakes like you. Meaning every time I’d cut a pattern and there was a mistake or every time I’ve unpicked a pair of jeans only to ruin them, that was my identity forming; that becomes the difference between anything I’ve made and what exists in the world today. Sure, brands have mass produced up-cycled garments and retailed them with the message of individuality,  but there’s a dark irony in that. Everything I produce is a ‘one of none’ – I couldn’t remake a garment as I’d done before, even if I’d wanted to. No mistake is the same. NIGO®, Margiela, Heron Preston, Sacai, Stussy, Levi’s®, Adidas, Rick Owens, Michèle Lamy, UNDERCOVER and YEEZY are amongst the brands or designers that form the basis of design in any respect for me. I’ve learned from their ‘mistakes’ and I’m thankful for that.

 

‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ collection, in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa.
‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ collection, in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa.

DD: You recently exhibited at Sole DXB – How was the collection received and will any pieces be available for purchase?

XZ: First and foremost, love to the SOLE DXB team. They came to South Africa over a year ago to really learn from everyone, immerse themselves in our culture, eat our food, have eye-level conversation with everyone. For that, I’ll always have love for them. I had only exhibited once before at the Tropenmuseum (Amsterdam) but the SOLE DXB team liked my approach to up-cycling and gave me the opportunity to showcase at the newly created retail component of the festival for emerging brand and creators; ‘d3 Marketplace’. It was a 100 times more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced. It really proved necessary for my own understanding of what EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE is, can become, and even more so the conversation of ‘Culture vs. Commerce.’

 

Xzavier at Sole DBX

Having produced a capsule collection of tote bags, tactical vests, face masks, flat caps and t-shirts at only 3 units per style, 60% of the collection had sold out in the first day. Something I couldn’t even imagine at the time. Even with that initial success, for now, I’d like to not rush into commercialising EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE but move into making ‘one of none’ pieces for friends, family and denimheads etc., similar to Dapper Dan. I really respect his journey and how I understand his business model to be. I feel like my narrative could continue to be important if managed within a similar approach.

‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ beret and jacket, in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa.

DD: If you had to pick a favorite piece from the collection?

XZ: A favorite? Damn…It has to be between my SilverTab Kimono or SilverTab Tactical Vest. Although I’m working on this 501 baseball jersey and that’s really growing on me. Hell, I’ll live and die by my SilverTab tactical vest. I’m a sucker for a good tactical vest.

DD: We get the impression that you like vintage denim as much as we do! What is it that appeals to you?

XZ: Narrative, craftsmanship, purpose, intent, functionality and pure are all words I’ve attached to vintage denim. As I continue to expand my understanding of vintage denim, it continues to inform how I interpret it in my own designs. There are jackets and jeans that have unique application, buckles, silhouettes and stitching.They have been worn throughout the years, hell decades. Seeing NIGO® share his denim collection, items he’s collected throughout the years, and the stories he’s attached to items is unmatched and therein lies my own love of vintage denim.

DD: How important was it to use vintage garments for EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE?

XZ: Truthfully, a lot of the collection was formed by items I’d thrifted, so I was at the ‘mercy’ of the thrifting piles when it came to what could be up-cycled.

But when it comes to vintage denim, I’d prefer not to up-cycle too many jeans or jackets, as I’d like to grow a collection of items that I’m able to continually refer to as you would an archive, a dictionary, etc. That being said, I am wearing an up-cycled vintage Engineered jacket that I made into a kimono. I actually added some print-on graphics to it with Futura during a one-of-one session with him at Sole DXB in 2018. No regrets there!

‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ collection pieces

DD: Tell us about your personal history with denim – What does the fabric mean to you?

XZ: At its core, I believe denim democratizes fashion. It provided me with access to not only the fashion industry but even the art industry – both knowingly being elitist in many ways. Denim was the fabric of choice to begin this journey because that’s what was within my reach; I thrifted it. I could afford it. It was durable and allowed for interpretation. I don’t see how else I’d be who I am today, without it.

DD: We understand you work for adidas Originals as your day job, have you always been in the industry? What was your career path?

XZ: I began interning at Adidas South Africa in late 2014, after being involved with the Pharrell Supershell campaign alongside The Sartists. I’d worked at an advertising agency – Draft FCB – prior. Obviously internships come with their own set of challenges but the difference at a brand like Adidas is that I’d come into work everyday and feel like I was working towards the shared goals of some of my idols like Kanye West, NIGO and Pharrell. I’d come in wanting to childishly “just meet Pharrell one day” and funnily enough I did that last year.

I’m an Art Director by education but by experience I’ve grown those skills and developed; I’m constantly looking to incorporate them into whatever role I take on in the future. I’m not sure if I’d like to take all these one-off denim pieces and create a fashion label for myself, or maybe design for other brands. But for now I continue to work at Adidas as the EIM (Entertainment and Influencer Marketing) & PR Manager for Originals, the work I do with the brand positively impacts many young people in South Africa. We will see where life takes me in the years to come.

DD: The Sartists was established in 2014, how did this come about and what have been some of the highlights so far?

XZ: The Sartists was formed in 2014 out of a need to start archiving our history. One of the things that the apartheid system did was erase black family photo albums and works of our ancestors. They came into our homes to burn not only us but the things in our homes that represented who we were. As a result, there is little to no documentation or works that show certain time periods of the black community in South Africa. This was how the Sartists was formed – as a reaction. It was a starting point that aimed to create an archive of work, not only in imagery but a written journal with essays and various art forms. The content would outlive us and be a reference point for people in the future, people who unlike our generation who only had the reference point of trauma and the scars of brutality found in the photos and works on this era of eradication.

There have been many highlights for us, many of them not just the work but the friendships we have built and the bonds we have formed with people. We have to start with the friendship that came with Art Comes First, the Brooklyn Circus and Street Etiquette. They are our friends, our mentors and our peers. They informed how we still do things today. Shooting the Stussy ‘Our Tribe’ editorial, shooting Heron Preston’s capsule, exhibiting at MoMA and Tropenmuseum, being a part of the ‘Black Dandy’ documentary where we were interviewed alongside Oliver Rousteig of Balmain, Dapper Dan of Gucci and the HBA team. We also have to mention our friendship and brotherhood with Daily Paper and Bone Soda. These are some of the highlights that have impacted our lives the most and have inspired us to keep going. Then our personal journey and projects; The Sartists Sports Series, Adidas and Levi’s collaborations, shooting the cover and showcasing at Sole DXB.

But the biggest highlight is our mission to inspire a generation behind us, a generation which we hope will take as we have taken and give back to the world work that is more meaningful than all the personal gains you can imagine.

‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ collection, in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa.

 

DD: Now the collection is out in the open, what are you focusing your attention on moving forward? Any other exciting projects on the horizon?

XZ: Following SOLE DXB, I’d taken time out to answer this question for myself and truthfully I’ve only really come to an understanding of what I hope to accomplish in the year to come.

I’ve been developing this concept titled ‘The NEGRO League’, which will highlight select sports and some of the disenfranchised athletes behind them, eg. Jackie Robinson in Major League Baseball. Although it’s all in ideation for now, I’ve already produced my first sample of a one-off piece that will live in this concept. I’m forever looking to collaborate with shared thinkers and I’m hoping to one day reach out to the Denim Tears or Heron Preston’s of the world to work on a capsule collection or one-off piece.

Crucially, it is to continue the partnership with Levi’s – through #HAUSAFRICA, as well as with my brothers, The Sartists, as we continue to respectively work towards a shared goal. And lastly, I’m forever reading of brands that inspire all my mistakes (Margiela being one of those brands). So I intend to continue producing more one-off pieces throughout the year but one key item I’m looking to really flesh out is the tactical vest. I’m hoping to have an exhibition at the end of the year with a series of tactical vests which created in this year itself.

DD: What else should our readers know? Anything we should check out?

XZ: Ummm, I’m not sure if this is the ‘shout out’ part of the interview but I’ll say this: Africa (South) continues to nurture some of the world’s greatest talents and with that being said I’d like to shine a light on some of those talents: Thebe Magugu, Celeste Arendse (of SELFI), Rich Mnisi, Wanda Lephoto, Athi-Patra Ruga, FAKA, Gabrielle Kannemeyer, Jamal Nxedlana, Thuthuka Sibisi and Mary Sibande, to name a few.

‘EVERYTHING IS A SAMPLE’ collection, in partnership with Levi’s® South Africa.