South African brand Mami Wata brings a more diverse take on surf culture to Abbot Kinney

For decades, the image of a surfing lifestyle has been one of Southern California’s top exports, but for too long it’s been tied to an all-white, geographically restricted ideal.

South African surf lifestyle brand Mami Wata wants to change that.

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“Everyone thought the surf industry was surf culture, and the best thing brands did was convince us that was the definition,” said LA Brand Co-Founder Selema Masekela. sports commentator and television host, referencing the big names in Orange County and Down Under, Billabong. and Ripcurl among them. “I see a huge opportunity for this to be broken.”

This week, Mami Wata opened its first U.S. store in Venice on SoCal’s upscale Abbot Kinney beach retail line, where brands like James Perse and Aviator Nation have outposts nearby.

On Wednesday night’s opening night, Lupita Nyong’o, Rita Ora, band members LANY and pro surfer Julian Williams were among those who stopped by to show support, shop and sip southern wine. African.

“The surf culture in Venice is not homogeneous, all types of people get in the water here, so it made sense,” Masekela said during an interview about the pop-up location. “And Venice has become a destination for people in SoCal and around the world. I lived here for 17 years and watched Abbot Kinney go from being a place for locals to a place where brands need to be relevant.

“This pop-up represents a key marketing piece for us, and I hope it gets shared virally. We are a small business with global goals,” he said.

With a giant banana above the door and a dice-patterned facade, the 1,800-square-foot store is eye-catching, and the cheery clothes inside even more so.

The logo of the mermaid Mami Wata (which means “Mother Ocean” in West African pidgin) is splashed on baseball caps and hoodies, while t-shirts are adorned with slogans such as “The Ocean Is My church”.

The $50-$140 “Animism: Luck Is Alive” Spring 2022 collection includes swimsuits, lycras, shorts and bowling shirts with whimsical robot, motorcycle or cartoon dice prints . Everything is made in Africa using cotton spun from Zimbabwe and Malawi, among other materials, and visual references from across the continent.

At the party, guests snapped photos of the brand’s colorful surfboards, crafted by Hugh Thompson in Jeffrey’s Bay, and Masekela was invited to sign Mami Wata’s famous cocktail book, “Afrosurf.”

Mami Wata, Venice, CA – Photo: Courtesy Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

The co-founders produced it themselves during lockdown, turning to Kickstarter for funding, then sparking a bidding war between publishers that was ultimately won by Penguin Random House.

Over 15,000 copies of the book featuring profiles of African surfers, essays, photos and illustrations on surf culture have sold, helping to spread Mami Wata’s message and keep her momentum going during COVID-19. All profits from the book are donated to Waves for Change and other African surf therapy organizations, with philanthropy being a cornerstone of the brand.

“Afrosurf” book and Mami Wata logo hat. – Credit: Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

“Afrosurf” book and Mami Wata logo hat. – Credit: Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

Launched in 2015 in South Africa, the brand opened its first store in Cape Town. Masekela joined in 2018, bringing his own African-American perspective informed by years on the road with his father, famed South African trumpeter and political activist and exile Hugh Masekela, growing up in Southern California and being on the surf commentary circuit.

It was when his father was playing on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” tour of Australia that Masekela first saw her surfing at Bondi Beach. “For me, it was like watching a B Boy, breakdancing on the water. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I had to try.

When the family moved to Carlsbad, California in the 1980s, he got a chance.

“I was lucky to have moved to a place where surfing was the way the community functioned and it was all about the ocean, so it wasn’t something people were doing for the novelty. or sport, it was a lifestyle,” he said.

Not that it’s easy. “I went to a school where no one looked like me…and when I said [a classmate] I wanted to learn to surf, he said to me: ‘You can’t even swim, what do you mean?’

It started a fire under Masekela, and he spent 153 days straight on the beach so he could catch up with the other kids. Becoming a board member for the first time is an experience he speaks of in spiritual terms. “It was the first time I felt close to God,” he said, explaining how surfing led to his passion and life’s work, founding a few brands before Mami Wata and commenting on the sports on ESPN and NBC worldwide.

Selema Masekela signs a copy of “Afrosurf”.

Selema Masekela signs a copy of “Afrosurf”.

“I’ve never seen the brands reflect anything that looked like me, and to be a surfer you had to get as close to the idea of ​​the SoCal or South Australian perspective as possible. I was that kid trying to lighten my hair to look like those people and be accepted.

After apartheid began to be dismantled and he returned with his father to his native South Africa in 1991, Masekela again faced racism, when he was nearly arrested for surfing what was once a whites only beach.

“This trip made me curious about how to broaden the landscape, because every time I encountered a black surfer, and sometimes it was so intermittent that years went by, there was always a moment of recognition that we had the same contact points and battles.

He was introduced by a friend to the three co-founders of Mami Wata, Nick Dutton, Andy Davis and Peet Pienaar.

“I went to their store in Capetown and was blown away to see people like me working in a surf shop and this idea of ​​Afrosurf. I said, ‘What if we could take this global and redefine what surf culture looks like?’ he said he joined the team as a US-based co-founder

The brand has grown steadily ever since, starting with dtc and then moving into wholesale with Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Selfridges and others.

The brand had an initial collaboration with Moncler, which sadly ended at the start of lockdown in 2020. But Masekela has his eye on other opportunities, possibly including in the hotel space.

“Hello 1 Hotels!” he’s laughing. “For so long, SoCal and Australia have been the driving force, and that explorer mentality of going somewhere, conquering a wave, and then maybe building a surf camp,” he said. he explained about the mindset shift. “I hope what we are doing happens in other parts of the world as well and that the idea of ​​surf culture can have more momentum.”

Inside the Mama Wata store. – Credit: Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

Inside the Mama Wata store. – Credit: Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

Courtesy of Greyson Tarantino/Mami Wata

There are encouraging signs, he said, citing Vans’ recent collaboration with black surfer collective Textured Waves, for example.

“And look at Brazilian surfing, from the late 2000s to today, when it dominated the World Championship Tour,” he said. “Until recently it was common to downplay and dismiss Brazilian surf culture as not part of surf culture. Their attitude, language barrier, they are not cool. Now you have Ítalo Ferreira as the face of Billabong and Gabriel Medina as the face of Ripcurl The world tour audience is 80% Brazilian.

Mami Wata is in talks with professional African surfers about sponsorship, but is not a brand that aspires to be plastered on the world tour, Masekela explained.

“I’ve commented on it for two decades, but it’s such a small microcosm of what surfing is. For so long, brands have poured all their money into 30 people. It’s a life of surfing, but not like most people live a surf lifestyle.

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