Butan has been commercially available since 2006, but its roots stretch back to 2001 when founder Julian Kubel printed 20 tees for his schoolmates.
Since its inception, the brand has achieved numerous milestones, including collaborations with and outfitting various hip-hop musicians. In November of last year, Butan hosted a "15 years in the game" celebration to honor their journey in urban street fashion.
B-U-T-A-N is simply a re-arrangement of letters in the word B-A-N-T-U.” How do you think this has inspired your brands ethos?
The re-arrangement of the letters can be seen as an attempt to reclaim history. The word Bantu has cultural significance yet also a dark history of distortion and abuse during the apartheid regime, through the use of expressions such as Bantu-Education and Bantustan.
Essentially, one of our brand's core narratives is the re-interpretation of cultural heritage into contemporary South Africa, so to answer your question, the name is definitely a huge inspiration to our brand's ethos.
It has been 15 years since the launch of Butan, and It is understood that Julian (the founder of the brand) self taught himself everything in the business of street wear, with this in mind please give us a some insight into what you’ve learned over this period?
I have definitely learned a great deal over the past 15 years. I had to learn how to build and grow a business, with all the necessarily tools ranging from finance, product development, marketing, brand building, to acquiring managerial skills, and learning how to create a successful and coherent creative narrative.
The main insights I have gained are that we can always learn more. In this very fast paced, and rapidly changing world it is key to stay on your toes, never to become complacent or too comfortable, and to stay curious and to be willing to learn and be flexible and adaptable enough to welcome constant change.
What have been some of your highlights in the past 15 years?
There have been many highlights in the past 15 years and we were vividly reminded of those highlights when we curated our exhibit for our anniversary event.
If I had to narrow them down to just a few, I would say the main highlights have been: getting stocked by some of SA's best indie stores, winning numerous SA hip hop awards, having been able to work with some of SA's most talented artists, illustrators and photographers. However, the biggest highlight of all is one that we witness every day, which is the incredible reception of our brand by our fans and followers. They certainly keep us going and make us realize that we are doing something right.
In the “about” section of your website you state that Butan "strives to spread relevant messages and open avenues for alternative perception of our world
through innovative design,” What have the biggest challenges been in remaining relevant in an ever growing street fashion scene?
Staying relevant certainly poses somewhat of a challenge for any brand but I believe that we have come to a point where we are becoming less and less dependent on trends. We have found a strong identity that very much dictates our narrative and I believe that this narrative is sustainable as long as we stay flexible, willing to grow and keep expanding our horizon
Being one of the “OG’s” in South African street wear, what do you think sets you apart from the rest?
I believe that our very strong African identity and the distinctive execution of that identity and style into our creations has set us apart from other brands in the game. We have found a path that we are extremely passionate about and this path has forged our brand's unique character.
Lastly, since you have reached the 15 year milestone, tell us a little about what you hope the next 15 years holds?
We certainly are planning to expand further into the African continent and other parts of the globe, with the immediate focus being on North America.
We are also working on expanding our range quite significantly with a denim line in the works. Retail stores are also on the cards but don't form part of our immediate expansion plans. Overall we are very excited for the next years to come as the brand keeps going from strength to strength and we are certain that not only our brand but the entire local streetwear industry has a bright future.
Photography & Art Direction: Anthony Bila
Production: Phendu Kuta
Interview: Jami Ella Gavin