Jozi Fashion Designer for a Day

by | Jul 12, 2023 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Markets/Shopping, Tours | 6 comments

Last Saturday, to celebrate 49 years on earth, I gave myself a gift: I booked an Airbnb experience with Caraci Clothing and pretended to be a fashion designer for the day.

Heather and Thorsten in their new jackets
Okay, “fashion designer for the day” is a slight exaggeration — other than choosing our styles and fabrics, Thorsten and I did not play a big role in creating these beautiful jackets — but it makes for a catchy title.

I’m fumbling for words trying to describe why I loved this experience so much. It’s a deceptively simple concept: Pick a design, take a walk through town, choose fabric, learn about sewing, have lunch, pick up your clothing, take pictures, go home.

But the experience as a whole was more magical than this simple list of steps. Plus it included all of my very favorite things: walking in Jozi, looking at African fabric, hanging out with fantastic people, eating delicious food, and taking home beautiful, well-made clothes.

Heather in her new fashion designer jacket
Prepare for many images of me wearing my new Caraci original. All the photos of me were taken by Thorsten Deckler or Nonhlanhla Ngwenya.

Our Fashion Designer Experience with Caraci

Our experience started at 10:30 a.m. at Caraci’s studio, in a beautiful Art Deco building near Gandhi Square called London House. I’ve been admiring this building for years and was super excited to go inside.

London House
I love the London House font — shame about that ugly “To Let” sign right below it.
Architectural drawings of London House
Architectural drawings of London House by @theThinking_Hand.
Lobby and stairwell of London House
I didn’t think to photograph the beautiful stairway in the lobby of London House. Luckily Thorsten drew it.
Caraci studio
Inside the Caraci studio.

Nonhlanhla gave Thorsten and me a brief introduction to Caraci — founded by designer Sebo Marobela, who we sadly didn’t get to meet as he’s traveling in America — and then helped us choose our designs. I decided to go for the signature bomber jacket. Thorsten, who is perpetually cold, chose a slightly longer, warmer jacket with a puffy lining and hood. Guests also have the option of designing a dress, shirt, trousers, kimono, or pretty much anything else they can think of.

Shaban, tailor for Caraci
Shaban Chafukira, our talented tailor, wearing a beautiful bomber jacket like the one he was about to make for me.

Nonhlanhla then took us on my favorite part of the experience: the mission to buy fabric. We walked across Gandhi Square and the Carlton Centre, straight through town to Noble African Fabrics on Troye Street, at the edge of Joburg’s Fashion District.

Lovelyn at Noble African Fabrics
Lovelyn Rossy, proprietor of Noble African Fabrics.

Some of you might remember fabric-shopping on Troye Street from my previous post about Thorsten’s “Real Disco Super Java” tuxedo. There are several African wax print fabric shops on this street and Noble African Fabrics is right across from Dianna’s, where we went the last time. Both shops are overwhelming in their crazy selection of fabrics.

Thorsten surrounded by a dizzying array of prints.
Thorsten surrounded by a dizzying array of prints.

Choosing the fabric for my jacket from the thousands of options at Noble African Fabrics might have been the most difficult clothing-related decision I have ever made. Nonhlanhla gave us a time limit of about 25 minutes, which was smart because Thorsten and I could have spent the whole day agonizing over our choices.

Inside Noble African fabric
Agonizing choice aside, I also could have spent the whole day taking photos inside Noble African Fabrics.
Heather and fabric
I seriously considered this one.
Thorsten and fabric
Thorsten considered this one, among many others. Ultimately we both moved in different directions.

Fabric purchased, we walked the 15 minutes back to London House for our sewing lesson.

Heather and Nonhlanhla in Gandhi Square
We stopped for a quick photoshoot in front of this fun Jozi sculpture (and a ridiculously large Julius Malema billboard) in Gandhi Square.

Back at the office, Nonhlanhla and Shaban took our measurements. Then Nonhlanhla showed us how to cut our fabric, draw a basic pattern, and sew a little bit on the sewing machine.

Shaban measures Thorsten
The measuring session.
Heather making a pattern
Cutting a pattern. Luckily this was not our actual garment because I really suck at both cutting and sewing. FYI: In case you’re wondering about the amazing necklace I’m wearing, it was my birthday gift from Thorsten and made from recycled materials by our talented friend Tamzyn Botha. (See more of Tamzyn’s work at @whore.duh.) The electric-blue velour shirt is a vintage purchase from @frayznix_rack.
Thorsten at the sewing machine
Thorsten, on the other hand, took to cutting and sewing like a champ.

We handed our fabric over to Shaban and his assistants, Sbo and Buhle, then Ubered to lunch in Maboneng with Nonhlanhla. It had been a while since I’d gone to Maboneng and browsed along Fox Street like a real Jozi tourist. It was wonderful.

Lunch at Shap Braai in Maboneng
The perfect South African birthday lunch — beef stew, pap and gravy, cole slaw, chakalaka, and Black Label beer — at Shap Braai, a Maboneng institution.
Black Privelege
I loved these hoodies by artist @Cerbastian_Davids and seriously considered buying one.

Before we even finished in Maboneng, Nonhlanhla got the call that the clothes were ready. I have no idea how Shaban and his team finished so quickly. We hopped into another Uber and headed back to London House for the big reveal.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Thorsten and I were overjoyed with our jackets. We put them on and went up to the 13th-floor rooftop for a mini photoshoot.

Heather and Thorsten in jackets
I think we both chose correctly.
Heather in Caraci jacket
I’m not sure of the vibe I was going for here.
Nonhlanhla taking photos of Thorsten's jacket
I love Nonhlanhla’s jacket, too.
Thorsten and Nonhlanhla
They matched.
Thorsten in his Caraci jacket
Thorsten has barely taken this jacket off in the four days since he got it. It’s been freezing in Joburg (literally, it even snowed the other day) and Thorsten says putting the jacket on feels like crawling into a sleeping bag. The timing could not have been better.
Heather in Caraci jacket
My jacket is more of a springtime number. I’ll be wearing the hell out of it come August and September.

We were finished at around 3:30 p.m.

This experience was perfect in every way — I wish Airbnb had a rating higher than 5 stars — and I think every Joburg tourist, local and foreign alike, should do it at least once. I seriously want to do it over and over. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the whole Caraci team for giving me the best Joburg birthday ever.

Heather at London House with Caraci team
The team: Shaban (left), Sbo Tsami (middle left), Nonhlanhla (middle right), and Buhle Macamo (right), and me.

Check out my reel for some outtakes and video footage from the day:

You can book the Caraci Experience on Airbnb: It costs $135 (R2500) per person including lunch, Ubers, and clothes. Follow @caraci_experience on Instagram to see more of their beautiful work.

6 Comments

  1. dizzylexa

    I’ve been eyeing up a Caraci experience for ages, your blog it definitely pushing me in that direction. Besides loving your jackets I’m also loving the outfits Sebo has been flaunting around New York, I might just go for a Kimono and trousers but there again I’ve been hankering after a dress in African print – oh decisions, decisions.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Ahhhhhh, you must! Best spoil ever.

      Reply
  2. Liz Delmont

    What a completely fab thing to do! Wonderful post.

    Reply
  3. AutumnAshbough

    That sounds like the best birthday ever! Except for the cutting and sewing part.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I also just wanted to hurry through that part and get to the part when they gave me the jacket 🙂

      Reply

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