One of the most colourful and fascinating tours in Johannesburg: Browse the inner city’s fabulous array of colour and designs on a 5-hour walking tour of exclusive boutiques, fabric stores and cutting-edge studios in the historic garment district.

Walking with our fashionista guide through the vibrant heart of Johannesburg, we got an insider’s take on latest fabrics and designs.

Perfect for art, cultural and fashion buffs, this tour has no large, crowded groups or big busses. Just small, intimate groups with a passion for Africa and its communities. Introductions took place at the Thunderwalker. Thereafter, we walked over to Gandhi square where the statue of Mahatma Gandhi is one of only two statues in the world that depicts Gandhi as a young lawyer.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi is one of only two statues in the world that depicts Gandhi as a young lawyer.

Artists and entrepreneurs

Urban Zulu (Urban Heaven) fashion which officially opened in 2002 and Urban backpackers was our next stop. Founder and director, Papy Kaluw has a fascinating story of how his empire grew. It started out with the clothes his mother would sew for him back home in the Congo. He launched his business with no formal qualification and taught himself to design clothes from scratch.

With hard work and determination, he is a mouthpiece for South African urban culture now. The brand produces quality yet affordable fashion items.

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Sunset roof bar at Urban Zulu Backpackers
Sunset roof bar at Urban Zulu Backpackers

 

Walking around inside the Urban backpackers, which is within walking distance of the Gandhi square precinct, one comes across designers hard at work. The sun terrace offers the best vibes and views of the city where one can enjoy the city’s buzz, this is the gathering place for people from all corners of the globe.

While walking through the fashion precinct one discovers independent, beautifully made, unique fashion – all ethically made and / or designed in South Africa.

Urban Zulu Backpackers
Urban Zulu Backpackers

Look out for the Shweshwe fabrics!

Originally dyed indigo, the fabric is manufactured in a variety of colours and printing designs characterised by intricate geometric patterns.

Da Gama textiles is the only producer of Shweshwe worldwide, the fabric designs are part of their Three Cats range. Their hallmark is its niche market branded merchandise that has become synonymous with quality.

Original Shweshwe fabric by Da Gama
Original Shweshwe fabric by Da Gama

 

Walking through @109, a one-stop sewing shop on the tour, one will see the beautiful collection of Shweshwe fabrics which are very reasonably priced.

@109 shop
@109 shop

 

This concentrated area of shops and services relating to the fashion industry is the largest on the continent. My favourite stop was at Dianna Fashion. The sea of colour from all around the continent is out of this world. She has been in business for 15 years selling fabrics. It’s a true Aladdin’s cave when you walk into her shop.

Inside Dianna’s fabric shop
Inside Dianna’s fabric shop
Inside Dianna’s fabric shop
Inside Dianna’s fabric shop

We visited the Fashion Kapitol with 30 shops, offices and studios

The arcade that links Pritchard and Market streets through this closed space was set to be Africa’s Fashion capital when plans started coming together in 2008. Rees Mann – one of the people who has been a driving force behind the revamping of Johannesburg’s fashion district – is the third generation from his family of garment entrepreneurs in this area.

His family started out here in 1948. Speaking to him at his shop, his passion for the industry and inner city is evident as he shares with the tour group stories of the city that is so close to his heart. His vision is the city’s rebirth as a pan-African, cosmopolitan hive of energy.

The three heritage buildings at The Kapitol are two houses dating back to 1892 and 1895 and the cabinet-makers workshop and furniture store built in 1928 (the year Johannesburg gained city status). Look out for the blue plaque on the wall while admiring the colourful wall of images depicting scenes from the city.

Joburg art at The Fashion Kapitol
Joburg art at The Fashion Kapitol
The Fashion Kapitol
The Fashion Kapitol

Coffee creations

Moving onto the Ethiopian quarter in the Medical Arts Centre we enjoyed the smell and flavour of Ethiopian coffee. This lengthy process starts with the roasting of coffee beans in a flat pan over a tiny charcoal stove, the pungent smell mingling with the heavy scent of incense that is always burning during the ceremony. Did you know that only women make the coffee in Ethiopia? the coffee production in Ethiopia is a longstanding tradition which dates back dozens of centuries. Ethiopia is where coffee arabica – the coffee plant – originates.

The Fashion Kapitol
The Fashion Kapitol

 

This building was a labyrinth, with multiple floors of everything Ethiopian from clothes, to music, jewellery and the delicious little restaurants and bakeries tucked away in corners I felt like I had arrived in Addis Ababa.

All good things come to an end. The tour finishes off back at the Thunderwalker were everyone is taken downstairs to Zwipi Underground to view the famous bank vault.

This tour gets the 3 “Fs” from me

  • Fun
  • Fabulous
  • Fascinating

For more info on this tour and other Inner City tours contact www.joburgplaces.com

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