Fresh off the airport runway, Ntokozo “K.O” Mdluli took my call ahead of a busy day. The skhanda genre’s general was in Durban to shop his newest single, Pretty Young Thing, which will be released on Friday, to the eThekwini radio. But that is not the only thing that is keeping the One Time muso busy.
In January, K.O launched his very own fashion label, DustnKOmpany. Following the incredible success of the merchandise that was named after his label and supergroup, Cashtime Life, it comes as no surprise that this former Teargas member has decided to go it alone when it comes to fashion. Here’s what he had to say about this new solo path.
You started your clothing journey with the Cashtime Life merch. What made it one of the most bootlegged labels on the continent?
Obviously, everything was built on the strength of the music. The music was doing very well on the streets so it was only right that the merch followed suit. Unfortunately, we don’t come from the apparel space originally so we didn’t know how things worked around there. We focused solely on the t-shirts for the entire 2014. The demand was crazy and we couldn’t fulfil it across the country and even outside South Africa. We only had one store that stocked the t-shirts so that delayed people from far regions getting their hands on it. That’s where the bootleggers found a gap. They were actually so far ahead that the bootleggers created items that we weren’t even making (laughs). They were selling Cashtime Life sweaters and people actually bought those because people resonated with the brand so much. That took away a serious chunk of income from those of us who slaved over that brand. But it’s fine, we’re now smarter and have learned more about this business.
Did the support for the fake merch put pressure on you to change the way you moved if you ever decided to come back to the clothing space?
Of course. Mainly, we were figuring out how to access everyone. Over the past few days, we have established an online store, we have a whatsapp hotline bling vibe where people can order DustnKOmpany directly and have the items delivered in a day or two. We’re also in a physical store at Fashion Kraal in Johannesburg. We started off with a moderate number of units and those are quickly selling out so we want to make sure there is enough stock to go around with the next batch.
The skhanda sound is affectionately described as “dust” and your label’s name has your initials in it. Why did you name it DustnKOmpany?
Initially Thabiso [Khati, business partner] came up with the name. Dust is a lifestyle that we live and the type of music that we make. The KOmpany encompassed what we are at the end of the day. Putting KO in the KOmpany ties in nicely with my brand. We want to take this all the way. Since Loxion Kulca back in the day, there isn’t another brand that had stepped into that space and filled that void. We’ve seen other labels that have cropped up and then disappeared right after. We want to make this a longterm thing where we can become a household name in this fashion space. We want to throw our own fashion shows and become a part of the Fashion Weeks.
You’ve made the distinction that this is a fashion line and not merch. Why?
Every artist and their momma and their sister now has merch. We’re trying to separate ourselves from that. Merch means it’s based around whatever activity an artist is doing. So like, if they’re at a club or an event. We want our stuff to be timeless. Where people can pull it out throughout the seasons. We’ve seen proof of what a clothing line with a hip hop aesthetic and feel can do so we’re motivated by our own experience. With the state of the music industry right now, it’s clear that you can’t live off just the music. You need to spread your wings and create new revenue streams.
DustnKOmpany is selling long-sleeved t-shirts with a character – that we first encountered on the Don Dada artwork – in your likeness on the front at the moment. What inspired this?
If you look at the outfit that the character, it’s wearing the same outfit that I wore in the Caracara music video. That’s the face of the brand. It’s the mascot of the brand. I’m just building on that. That look on its own is very South African so it will resonate with South Africans or someone who is familiar with urban culture in this country. We have orange and white tees in stock and shortly, we’ll add another colourway: the yellow. Then we’ll start focusing on our winter range.
K.O’s new single, Pretty Young Thing, is out now. Order DustnKOmpany via dustnkompany.com or 063 739 3442 nationally, or Fashion Kraal in Johannesburg for R359 a tee.