Anthony Smith loves a good corner. The streetwear designer’s Woodstock house is on a corner, a flight of stairs leading to the front door bisects the roads at 45 degrees. 2Bop is well known as one of the holy trinity of Cape Town streetwear brands that thrived in the now-closed cult-followed Corner Store. We meet for chai lattes at the coffee place on the corner of Salisbury and Fairview – his suggestion.
The house, like Anthony, is unique and unassuming. Nothing screams fashion designer: the most obvious clue that this is his home would be the Polaroids framed by the stairwell. The arcade games depicted in the Polaroids lived in corner stores under apartheid South Africa, portals through sanctions into the digital fantasies of 80s game masters oceans away. Access was priced at twenty cents, colloquially a 2Bop. “You need to have a concept that that’s gonna keep you inspired, that really resonates with you,” says Anthony of the arcade game aesthetic defining 2Bop’s DNA.
Pressed to name an all-time favourite game, Anthony chooses Street Fighter 2. “I’ve referenced it like a million times in my work. There’s a nostalgic element to it but it’s also just pure design genius. I could geek out for ages.” Perhaps accidentally, his elaboration on the game’s evolution sounds like a metaphor for the erratic journey that is running a local fashion brand. “You could never really master it,” he says. “You could always improve. There were serendipitous things that happened in the game’s development: a programming glitch where you could do one punch and it would go straight into another. People started mastering these things and it became a part of the strategy.”
Of course, running a South African label means you need to do a lot more than have a strong concept that fuels your creative direction. The business savvy necessary to support creative outputs - an entrepreneurial role young designers are forced to adopt - has been a part
of Anthony’s story since he did “the sensible thing” and enrolled in UCT’s BComm degree after high school. Half way through second year “I basically smoked myself into obviation.” The situation spiralled: Anthony put his course on hold, moving home to Port Elisabeth to recalibrate. When he returned to UCT it was to study Film and Media, levelling up with an Honours in English Literature, his thesis on the commodification of hip hop culture.
2Bop was born in 2004 as a side hustle. Four years later, Anthony partnered with graphic designer Bradley Abrahams to work on the brand full time. In 2011 they opened Smith & Abrahams, “a modern take on the classic mens’ outfitters,” in Woodstock. Sneakers, streetwear and magazines were sold in the front, and 2Bop was manufactured in the back. “I think it was a bit ahead of its time,” says Anthony, though even then reporters lauded the space for its ‘cult following.’ That following multiplied in 2016 when Anthony and Bradly parted ways and the space became Corner Store: a home for 2Bop, Sol-Sol, and Young and Lazy. All three brands were (at least partly) produced and sold on the premises, and for a time it was also home to a design agency - easily Cape Town’s coolest creative space.
Corner Store closed in 2018, not necessarily for lack of business, but more the challenges in finding common ground between three businesses at very different stages of their evolution (Sol-Sol, for example, is 10 years younger than 2Bop). Does Anthony miss having a physical home to sell his product? “To be honest, no,” he laughs. “A lot more work goes into managing a retail space for relatively small returns.” Selling online, he admits, isn’t as easy as it may seem, explaining that a lack of physical presence can be detrimental to moving product. Still, just shy of a month after our meeting, the AW19 Blue Sky collection is almost completely sold out on 2Bop’s online pre-orders.
Freed from the admin that is boutique retail, Anthony enrolled in Threads, a fashion business accelerator course/competition hybrid by Standard Bank. 14 weeks of coursework compiled by an Italian university spanned traditional lectures and field trips across the country to fabric manufacturers and retailer head quarters. “It was kinda like a mini MBA,” says Anthony, confirming that he’d finally reached a place in his life where he could thoroughly appreciate a business course. And though he’s definitely too humble to mention it, he walked away
with first prize, which included funding to participate at a trade show in Paris, a popup at Patta in Amsterdam, and a fancy Benz to drive for a year.
“There needs to be an incubation program for young entrepreneurs,” Anthony muses. “I get approached about once a week by a young entrepreneur who needs guidance - I don’t have the time or resources. There are a few corporates that are planning to initiate incubation programs - I’ve written proposals for how they could operate based on what I’ve seen and what people ask me.” The ideal program would need to involve the perfect mix of education and funding: “A lot of people come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Being able to develop their first range in a risk-free way would be ideal. Maybe the first range is 100% financed, the second 50%… there’s all sorts of models you could use.”
A key ingredient in 2Bop’s success may well be that its creator has never been seduced by the fashion industry’s false promises of glamour and status. “I never thought of it as going into fashion,” Anthony says of starting the label. “To this day I don’t see it that way - I see it as a medium to express design ideas. I tend to take my inspiration from other media like art or music. I’m not saying other fashion designers don’t do that, but I’m just sort of oblivious to what’s happening in that fashion world – I almost don’t consider it. I think for me it just feels more honest, not being aware of what other people are doing. I feel you can get influenced like really easily, even subliminally – it can be kind of dangerous that way. Things are just more honest if you look elsewhere.”