#DIYwithDYD is a series that follows creative individuals. We learn how they made their amazing projects happen. SHEMO was started by Prasanthan Nagan and Connor Webber with additional help from a friend of theirs Dwe (creator of ZULU Snapbacks). They currently study at Vega. Prasanthan is a brand strategist, Connor is a copywriter and Dwe is a designer. SHEMO is a clothing brand with an interesting way of tackling the industry in Johannesburg.
DYD: How long have you been in the clothing industry and what made you decide that you were going to take it on?
Prasanthan: About 4 months now – we have always been into fashion, music, collecting and clothing culture, but we got the inspiration to start our own business when we were looking for a turntable to play a bunch of old disco vinyls we had. In the small pawn shop we were scouting, we found the Mtume single Juicy Fruit on vinyl that was used as a sample for Biggie Small’s track Juicy. It sort of clicked then for both of us as to how many amazing things there are that so many people would love but aren’t willing to hunt for or don’t know where to find them. Right at that moment, we decided to plan to create ‘something’ that offered cultural gems from golden eras that people like us would love to have. However, what we planned to create changed quickly. We don’t really see ourselves as strictly “clothing industry”. To us, our clothing is used as a platform for us to engage, inspire and collaborate with our fellow youth counterparts. We want to create the things our fellow counterparts would like to see, in the best way possible. We see SHEMO as the foundation for us to work with; designers, artists, photographers, cinematographers, people that shoot music videos and style artists. We want to build a community for creative individuals to work and play in.
DYD: How are you using social media to further SHEMO?
Prasanthan: We owe a large amount to social media in terms of how it’s helped us grow and how it lets us connect with our audience. Social Media has become our shop, our blog, our gallery and our voice. To the youth like us who are trying to start a business or a movement with a limited budget, social media gives you the means to do it. If you can be creative and think of different ways to use social media while doing the basics well you can make great use of it. We are currently working on building our website, but social media will always be a great way to keep a conversation going where both us and our customers and collaborators can communicate in real time. We are a society that thrives on conversation, thus, social media has been an awesome way for us to promote and keep the conversation we are trying to stimulate going.
DYD: On that note, Facebook has made it difficult for small businesses to use the platform without buying into advertising. How do you work around that?
Prasanthan: We try to use what we have to our disposal as wisely as we can, by this I mean planning out what we use each social media account for and how we can use them in synergy to maximize the impact and consistency of our reach and engagement. Facebook advertising is definitely something to consider when you’re a medium to large business, but small businesses like ours that are a lot more personable benefit better from utilizing the options that are readily available and mostly free by just injecting a little creative thinking to the mix. For example; we try to be a brand that people can experience, and not just by buying the clothing. Although we sell our stock online, we have been pushing to do pop up stores and markets like the Unlabelled Magazine Night Market and The Social Market. If people can say they have spoken to us, seen us and had a good time socialising with us, we find that it really helps keep them interested in our online presence. Also collaborating with a lot of our customers, one-on-one does this. Some of our regular customers have done photo shoots with our clothing without us asking because they simply like the ‘SHEMO vibe’ and the fact that we treat our customers like friends and not piggy banks.
DYD: Your pieces reference the 90s. Why did you pick that as a defining definition for your clothes?
Prasanthan: The 90s were pretty fucking awesome – I think the internet will back us up on this one.
Honestly, I think we all try to chase that decade because most of us were born or grew up during then and our items tend to have that familiar look and feel which satisfies our nostalgia just a little bit. From an old-school Disneyland jacket to a Mighty Ducks hockey jersey and even a baggy sweater with Snoopy on it – pieces like these are great because we live in a time where reliving your childhood is widely enjoyed and accepted. Another cool thing is that a lot of the clothing we get is from all around the world, which means people can now experience an intercontinental take on popular fashion from the past, for example; bright neon windbreakers from Asia or bowling shirts from America.
DYD: What is it like working in a team? Have you managed to organise a system which gets everything done efficiently or is this still a work in progress?
Prasanthan: I’d say we’re currently in a work-in-progress phase regarding our teamwork system. We’re still figuring out where everybody’s skills can be best utilized and how to recruit new members to our roster so we can start tackling bigger workloads more efficiently.
DYD: You have been targeting a lot of upcoming markets. What has been the thought pattern behind this strategy?
Prasanthan: Markets are insanely popular right now, there’s at least a handful in place every weekend and for good reason too. Taking part in these markets is our way for making up for the fact that we don’t have a physical location at the moment. They’re also a really affordable way for small businesses to get their name out there and test the waters with how people react to their products. We also recently started taking more time to improve the quality of our online collections so now our customers can come to the markets in between seasons and not have to wait too long to get clothing from us.
DYD: What does an average day look like for you?
Prasanthan: To answer that simply I would say ‘pretty weird’. When you venture through all avenues of the city you get to see some pretty interesting things; from people fighting for a jersey on the street, to finding spots we want to shoot because of their similarities to the set for Final Destination movies. One of the weirder times for me was being a bystander to a ten man group chasing a rat back into the sewer while we were shopping for button ups. We’re both full-time students at Vega, so we mainly use weekends and whatever conceivably free time we have for SHEMO tasks. These tasks include; location scouting, various meetings with collaborators etc. but most importantly – thrifting. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 3 hours depending on the day. An average day of thrifting would then end with a round of beers while we curate and plan what we need to do next. We have a lot of support from friends, so even though we get the good ol’ work done it’s always with a group of creative misfits. I would just quickly say thanks to all our friends for all countless hours they’ve spent helping us when we couldn’t have done it with four hands alone.
DYD: What have been some of the difficulties you’ve had to face along your journey?
Prasanthan: We’ve had our fair share of them such as; funding, deliveries going wrong and most recently – misplacing a bag of really dope jackets during a thrifting frenzy in town. Things like these are usually bound to happen and we try not to dwell on these difficulties too much – it is adapt or die after all.
DYD: What have been some of the highlights that you’ve experienced?
Prasanthan: Our highlights have been quite incremental and may not seem to be super impressive but they are what keep us going. We’ve experienced moments such as; shooting our second season with Cedric Nzaka of everydaypeoplestories,to having DJ Doowap wear one of our jackets during a half-time performance. Mostly, it’s as simple as meeting loads of new people and hearing how enthusiastic they are about what we’re doing and the amount of support we’ve managed to garner in such a short space of time.
DYD: This feature falls in our “Do It Yourself” series. We’re trying to get young people to see different ways of handling their futures. What advice would you give to young people about starting their own projects and/or businesses?
Prasanthan: Jump in headfirst, so many good ideas are wasted because of a lack of inititiation. You may have a great idea but if you’re not willing to do anything about it then it’s just as valuable as a really bad idea. SHEMO would just be a really cool sounding two syllable word if we hadn’t constantly pushed ourselves to nurture and grow this concept into something worth caring about. Also, another piece of advice that helped us out is to actually dream a little bit smaller. The initial idea for SHEMO was so ambitious that we’d still be working on production for it now if we hadn’t taken a step back and looked at how we could scale it down and make it possible for us to do, at the time and with the resources we had. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your initial dream, but sometimes approaching it from a different angle can give you a much better perspective.