It has been over a year since Morula Avenue – a little fashion start-up from the scorching oasis of Kgalagadi, Kuruman – was founded; and it is still around. Personally I am surprised, content and equally nervous if we will still be around next year to celebrate the second anniversary in business. But for now, as I said, Morula Avenue is still very much alive, passionate and energetic as ever as child on a sugar rush.
Conceived a few years ago as an abstract idea – ‘a unique crossroad where Africans, particularly young Africans, meet to collaborate in ideas with an intention to transform their immediate community for the better’ – it was only last year that Morula Avenue morphed into a much more concrete and practical idea. For the first time in February last year, the idea began to take shape and two months later, at the beginning of April during the hard national lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak, it was clear in my mind that I had to launch it otherwise the idea would always gnaw at me.
Shocked, dispirited and despondent and very much down after the sudden shutdown of the economy, I sat at my desk and began to scribble on paper with a pencil. Suddenly that idea I had for a fashion brand less than two months back came rushing to my mind. Perhaps this was the time to visit it, and thus Morula Avenue – An Intersection Of Creativity and Innovation – was born.
Having decided that I would surge ahead with launching the concept as a fashion brand, I continued to scribble, now searching for a concept for the logo of this brand that I was mad enough to launch during a hard lockdown. Now let’s say I get the design for the logo, and I actually get to produce a t-shirt or sweater for this fashion brand during the most uncertain of times when consumers were saving the little they had for essentials, who would dare buy it? I didn’t care. I was just excited to launch. In hindsight, given the psychological impact of the lockdown and the shutdown of the economy, I guess, just like everyone else, I needed a distraction, an escape. Building Morula Avenue certainly allowed me that space to cope. I also told myself that if no one liked any of Morula Avenue’s apparel, I would wear the garments myself, after all it is my brand.
I commissioned the design for the logo from a talented Graphic Designer based in the Eastern Cape, and while I waited for him to finish the logo design, I trawled the Internet for open source Graphic Design software, installed them on my laptop and learnt how to design. All those ideas that I had always carried with me, for years dreaming of putting them on t-shirts, sweaters and hoodies, came crashing like wild ocean waves. For days and nights I sat at my computer desk designing or surfing the Internet. I slept late and woke up early. Finally, after a few weeks, and confident enough to share my designs with the world, I posted five of the designs on Facebook and the response was positive enough for me to surge ahead and launch Morula Avenue.
I scrapped for cash, called friends and family for a small investment – more like hounded them – and they came through for me so I could procure material. Unfortunately, due to the limits of technology and lack of machinery, Morula Avenue couldn’t launch with the original artwork designs that I had shared with my Facebook clique. My designs were described by local printers as too complex. They suggested that I try something simple. Once again I was disappointed and growing ever more hopeless due to the havoc the Covid-19 had wreaked on my other business. I went back home.
In my head the original designs of Morula Avenue were not as complex as described. What we lacked is the latest machinery or equipment to print the designs, and here at home we simply didn’t have those printers. Kuruman, a small town in the Northern Cape, was both far from more advanced metropolitan cities like the bustling hub and beating heart of Africa, Johannesburg, as well as the majestic Mother City, Cape Town, and lagging behind in development. My designs were fine. ‘It is not my fault. Kuruman is to blame for not being technologically advanced and sophisticated as other ‘kids’ around South Africa’, I reasoned to myself. I blamed Kuruman for lacking the latest technology of printing machines. I thought of sending my designs to Johannesburg but the logistics and costs involved did not permit, largely thanks to the Covid-19 outbreak. My obsession with local economic development also discouraged me from going outside Kuruman. Morula Avenue is a Kuruman brand, a Northern Cape brand, and therefore the brand had to always be about and for the citizens of this region, this province, before anyone else. Thus, as much as the fabric and other printing materials come from outside, the final product would have to be produced locally. I went back to the drawing board.
During that depressing, hard lockdown, given that it also happened during winter, one spent a lot of time at home. This means that one was either working, eating, watching a lot of television, surfing the Internet, playing computer games, reading or sleeping, amongst other things. Perhaps because of the logo of Supreme – the US based streetwear brand – and partly due to a lot of reading, and The Last Dance documentary in tribute to Michael Jordan, I was inspired to come up with two concepts for the launch of Morula Avenue. Catchy, appealing, elegant and simple as the printers had counselled me. The first of those two designs I christened And So On And So Forth, after a quote from President Thabo Mbeki. Those who are familiar with the statesman will know that he tends to colour his conversations with the ‘and so on and so forth and stuff like that’ phrase. That quotation, located within a red box, is the design that launched Morula Avenue, the little start-up from Kuruman.
The second design, named Scottie’s Mailman, is a quotation from the inimitable Chicago Bulls small forward and NBA great, Maurice Scottie Pippen. Legend has it that during Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz on 1 June 1997, the indefatigable Dennis Rodman committed a foul against the then Jazz superstar Karl ‘The Mailman’ Malone.
While attending Louisiana Tech and playing for the university’s basketball team, Malone had become so dependable and reliable, not to mention a prolific scorer, he was nicknamed The Mailman. On the fateful night of 1 June 1997, subsequent to Malone being fouled by Rodman, the great Scottie Pippen apparently walked to Malone just prior to him shooting two free throws (soccer fans, that is penalties for you, and yes, in basketball you often get two chances at the line) that would have snatched the game away from the mighty Chicago Bulls, and proceeded to whisper in his ear: ‘The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays.’ Karl Malone – The Mailman – subsequently missed both free throws and the Chicago Bulls won the game, the series and the NBA championship – a fifth of the six championships that Maurice Scottie Pippen would win in his illustrious career alongside the ultimate standard, if not the epitome of greatness – Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Apart from the witty and pithy quote, I happen to be a fan of Scottie Pippen. The man was a prolific scorer, a tireless defender and an all-round player, never mind a perfect teammate, and I had come to realise that over the years that whenever the greatness of Michael Jordan is discussed, or the greatness of the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen’s name was hardly, if never, mentioned. The past is littered with important names that contributed immensely to humanity, and those names are lost to history. I couldn’t let the glorious name of Scottie Pippen to be lost to the dustbins of history, especially in my country of South Africa where basketball is not popular.
Through the design – Scottie’s Mailman – I wanted to pay tribute to Scottie Pippen. I wanted to pay homage to the NBA great who many basketball savants will agree that had he never been a part of that esteemed and historic Chicago Bulls teams, the name Michael Jordan wouldn’t be a barometer for excellence today.
The ‘And So On And So Forth’ design by Morula Avenue was released as a limited edition in sweaters, and it has since been retired. Depending how things go, it might be released in a limited edition in t-shirts and hoodies in the near future. There have been calls to bring back the design in sweaters but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Sorry folks.
So what does the future hold for Morula Avenue? There are a few plans in the pipeline, including ensuring this start-up from Kgalagadi becomes a brand of choice in streetwear for the people of John Taolo Gaetsewe (JTG) district and the rest of the province of Northern Cape in the next twelve months. A high mountain to climb but not impossible. In the coming weeks Morula Avenue will introduce two new designs, namely: The Origins and Carthage. They should be unveiled alongside Scottie’s Mailman, and I hope they will perform as well as Legae is doing presently. Legae was released earlier this year, and I must I admit, it has given Morula Avenue the necessary lifeline. It is the most popular Morula Avenue design to date.
One of the other plans that Morula Avenue wishes to invest in is the development of an Online Store, giving our esteemed customers the convenience of doing shopping from the comfort of their electronic devices. Incorporating the convenience and simplicity that comes with technology to connect better with our customers, the aim is to position Morula Avenue more as a fashion-tech company than a traditional fashion brand. Lofty dreams but if we didn’t dream reality will not be possible.
While tomorrow is not promised, especially for those of us who are constantly navigating the dark forest of building start-ups – the fear of failing and building a company from scratch with a negative bank balance – especially in this depressing, tumbling economy, I am excited about the future. Pula!