Dr Zulu - The South African Sneaker Doc!
We're all about exposing sneaker culture on a global scale, so when we got a prescription from South Africa's DR. ZVLV, we knew we needed to be innoculated! After doing his rounds on tour with Peter Fahey's Sneaker Pimps, graff artist/designer Dr ZVLV opened the country's first ever sneaker spot, Shelflife. A concoction of streetwear, sneakers and graff product, the store has become a centre of education for the flourishing South African scene. And thanks to a recent jackpot won from a local warehouse, Shelflife is now the proud owner of an incredible inventory of vintage sneakers. We caught up with Dr Z. for a quick chat and to get the lowdown on his score of scores!
Wassup Doc! Tell us a little about yourself...
I'm a South African artist/designer/entrepreneur. I call myself DR. ZVLV - it used to be ‘zulu237' until Futura once called me ‘Doctor', so naturally it stuck! I've shortened it even further to ‘Dr.Z.' since then.
Where did it all begin?
I was always into sneakers from an early age. As a kid, when I got new kicks, I would sleep with them on my feet so in the morning I'd wake up, jump out of bed and...BOOM! I really got into the ‘game' through customizing my own art shoes. At the time when I started (around ‘98), I used to produce street art and was totally aware of an emerging international scene through the Internet. I followed Shepard Fairey, Stash, Futura and Kaws' rise to a new level of fame through artist edition collaborations and was incredibly inspired to get into it myself. I started blogging for SlamXHype and even designed the first slamxhype.com logo - some might remember the bubble ‘X' and my tag line ‘Droppin Science Daily'.
It wasn't until 2006 that I really started focusing on sneakers and collecting. Adidas South Africa had the foresight to sponsor a Sneaker Pimps show down here in Cape Town, and I naturally jumped at the opportunity to help out as a volunteer. One thing led to another and Peter asked me to come on a U.S. tour with the crew for six months. I helped set up the show, design flyers and tees at first, then later I designed the whole range of merchandise and three seasons of the Sneaker Pimps clothing brand. The highlights included a t-shirt collaboration with Futura, two JB Classics collabos, a K-Swiss sneaker and designing the New Eras season after season. It truly was a great break for an unknown designer from the tip of Africa. Straight after the US tour I started Shelflife Store with a friend (and partner in crime) who also happens to be a prolific graffiti artist. Since then we have both been equally involved in all aspects of the local sneaker game, helping with the growth of the culture through our store and also doing nationwide marketing and events for most of the major sportswear brands. We are also working on some of our own very interesting ‘international artist' collaborations and global projects...watch this space!
We will! One would think it would be difficult to try to collect sneakers in S.A. - has this been the case?
I haven't really ever been a collector until pretty recently, for economic reasons. I, along with most other people in SA, would rock a single pair until the soles fell off and blisters started to form! South Africa has gone through a few strange and dark periods throughout our history with economic sanctions, political issues etc, that all affected the type of sneakers being brought into the country (and also some that were being manufactured here). For many years (including my own teenage years) it was impossible to get anything worthwhile collecting so it was strictly practical or performance footwear available in that sense. It wasn't until recently, with a lot of the brands reintroducing their ‘lost classics' and with Shelflife opening, that collectable sneakers started coming in to demand. That said there were always a few rich kids and hardcore street cats that had a very respectable collection despite all the obstacles we faced in SA.
Tell us about Shelflife..
Well we originally started as a store to distribute Montana hardcore graffiti paint in South Africa (back then it was purely a graffiti store). Kicks were just a sideline at that point as sneaker culture was pretty insignificant in 2006, but since then sneakers (and also streetwear) have taken over completely! We are evolving with the culture and our customers, but will always continue to be a graffiti supply store and premium sneaker and streetwear boutique. It all goes hand in hand anyway. We also seem to be in a good position to start influencing the culture and making our own mark on the world!
In the last three years Shelflife has brought attention to the global popular sneaker ‘culture' as well as being central in forming a respectable local sub-culture that is actually increasingly being filtered into the local and international mainstream. Since the store's inception we have literally had to educate nearly everyone who walks through our doors on the importance, history and heritage behind each brand and sneaker style. South Africans never even grew up with something as basic as a Dunk, which makes it sometimes tough to sell but it's getting easier by the day.
What is the scene like today?
It is a rapidly growing scene and SA has been identified by most major footwear brands as an emerging marketplace with a lot of potential. The brands are currently all competing heavily for position and recognition so it's a very interesting time in the development of the scene. In South Africa some street cats literally won't have enough to feed themselves but you still find them packing the heat on their feet rocking anything from Jordans to AF1 Supremes - which take them months and months to save up for. SA is also very much geared for lay-by/lay-away and store card systems where you can put sneakers aside and pay them off over three to six months, week by week! A street cat once said to me, ‘you white people battle with your cars and houses, us black people straight battle with our kicks'. I thought that was hilarious but very true!
So what's got the kids goin' bananas at the moment - what trends are you seeing?
I have to mention that ‘hoops' is a massive business here but mainly Jordan. I suppose that's not really a trend though as its always been strong. Skate was huge but that trend seems to be on the tail end right now. Soccer might become a trend leading up to the 2010 World Cup, which is being held down here in SA. Generally speaking though, colourful graphics, artist edition and matching packs are fast becoming a mainstream fashion, streetwear and sportswear trend.
So not that much different to the rest of the world, hahaha!...
SA is behind the rest of the world as consumers but we have a unique and special scene. Our own local scene is still fresh and young - it's very inspiring and exciting to be a part of it. Many of our sneaker heads (and the average consumer alike) are only just starting to understand the global history and culture now. They are realising just how deep the rabbit hole goes and how we can also influence and shape the global scene. We have also introduced independent brands like JB classics and Alife to the local market, which helps add the important element of streetwear to list of trends.
Tell us about your insane vintage collection - where did you source them all from?
You know when you hear of people finding ‘these amazing warehouses and piles of dead stock sneakers that no one will ever find' and it's never true? Well, I had heard it too many times - so when we were approached by our friend (a second hand/ vintage clothing dealer) we brushed it off as one of ‘those' stories. He kept calling us from the warehouse to a point were we were like ‘just send us photos'. When they came through we couldn't believe it! Boxes were literally stacked up to the roof and three floors of them, ranging from Puma to Adidas and even our old favourite South African brand, North Star! We bought everything we could get our hands on, and we are still trying to bribe our connection to get the exact location of the warehouse so we can see it for ourselves. I'm sure there are serious gems in there! The interesting thing about North Star is that the brand was our staple, an extremely popular skate, basketball and general street sneaker in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s so it carries even more of a heritage and ‘wow' factor than anything else. When people see them in our store they can relate straight away and completely freak out! The brand hasn't been around for decades.
Yeah, they look fresh! Are they for sale?
They are indeed and any international queries must hit us up on [email protected] Not only can we get you these styles for a decent price, but we can get you them in so many size curves it's unbelievable!
How do you put a price on a shoe that hasn't been around for over 20 or so years?
It's extremely difficult! We can't even find anything like it on eBay and since this is the first vintage sneaker to hit our shelves we can't compare it to anything in the past.
Can they actually all be rocked?
Yeah for sure! I know it's completely wrong but I copped a few pairs and I'm rocking them! The old Pumas are fucking great and they are still strong as ever! One or two pairs wouldn't last a week but even their boxes are worth just having in your collection or for display! The Puma Domino still stays ‘WEST GERMANY' on the tongue label!
So good! So what's going down at Shelflife and with DR.Z that we can look forward to?
Too much to mention right now but I will say we are expanding very fast! Stay tuned!
Thanks Dr Z