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14 Apr

Interview: One On One With Dennis Chuene Of Vernac Bags

Dennis Chuene has been in the fashion industry before most us even thought of printing t-shirts and claiming to make fashion brands, an urban fashion legend currently shying away from the mainstream media. Dennis was inspired by the value placed on the tartan bag by African’s all over, the tartan bag is a part of our lives and history; Which makes it understandable why Dennis made  it the core of his craft. We had a chat with this Soweto/Limpopo native to dig more into his head space.
To start of tell us who Dennis is and what got you into design?
Simply put I’m a designer, got into fashion 2 months towards the end of my high school days when I picked up my dad´s shirt and needle and made it smaller. The rest is history!
You have moved from JHB to CPT, how has that worked out for Vernac Bags?
Its worked out quite well. The challenge I found in Joburg was that it wasn´t well resourced and also created an illusion of success by the occasional appearance on TV which I see some of my old friends still doing. The move has allowed me to hone my skill and introduce more mediums of design other than those I´d became synonymous with. Everything is now a stone through away, creating a well executed product with exceptional craftsmanship; now the work speaks for itself. Unlike JHB, creatives here are not just backpacking cool kids with anarchist vintage dress sense, we run things here. Shops and offices, global product awareness as well as the market (not a stand at the market) are one of many trades that are quitely simply basics of doing business. Not how do they call it, “Hustling.“
Vernac’s trademark and core is the tartan bag, which we’ve seen being used big brands such as Louis Vuitton and most recently adidas. What’s your take on the big brands using something that you have been using for so long?
This is a touchy subject for me. 2006 some one said LV copied your design, “dude you should be proud of yourself“, Celine last year, Amakipkip vest this year and more recently Adidas. This all good and well but compliment, my ass, quite frank that statement is hogwash. No one remembers the guy that comes in 2nd or even last for that matter let alone cry´s when the school bully takes their homework. So I wont whine over spilled milk.
adidas x Clot ZX Flux

adidas x Clot ZX Flux


Yes, I came up with the use of the tartan bag years before all of the above mentioned did and I will still continue to do so with no apology nor entitlement cos if I did, the Casper Nyovest of this time would need pay me royalties for the pony tail. Just saying

What began in 2005 as an idea to celebrate rags to riches of Africans and those in the diaspora has now become a trending medium to line pockets of those that, well. . . see profit. So you can argue the merits of ownership on the basis of its origin to which I would answer from China like the synthetic hair pieces and all other inferior products.
You were focused on just backpacks for a long time and recently we saw a wide variety of Vernac clothes, why did you go back to making clothes?
Progressive growth quite frankly and to answer some unasked questions. More to the truth I found I was defined by bags. Many forgot I put man in Skirts at David Tlales Exodus men’s wear range which I did in for him 2007 which also featured the bags as well as other design techniques.
At some point I listened to too many advises and not my own heart this also lead to the move to Cape town. I´m not just a bag designer nor a fashion designer I´m a designer.
You have been in the fashion and textile industry for a while, what is the one challenge that never goes away?
Can´t say anymore, because I finally closed the gap.
There has been a slew of ‘fashion brands’ popping up everywhere in past couple of years, what do you think of this ‘fashion designer’ we are currently witnessing? 
This has been popularized by mainstream medium mainly TV. The introduction of Amakipkip in 2008 led to every Tom, Dick and Sipho to believe they can create a brand from from printing a t-shirt. So I´ll be that guy, no dude you can´t. Sorry your friends didn’t break it to you but not every one is a designer. Slogans on tees, vest and crewnecks are the basis of their design. Its all a trend just like those that creeped out the woodwork and started deejaying after a stint at a friends place. NO DUDE.
Its empty at the top and full at the bottom because most people take up wrong shit because of popular culture. This only makes us look good in comparison. Do you!
The latest Vernac shirts.

The latest Vernac shirts.

Streetwear or Haute Couture, and why?
Both, streetwear only buys the bread but Couture affords me the chef. On a serious note, Haute Couture means I can exhibit my creativity whilst streetwear keeps me afloat and in tuned with everyday life. Not every is a celebration with a frog

Vernac Denim

What can we expect from Vernac in the future?
Diversification. Finally launching our concept store May 29th which will feature furniture and home wear products as well as our clothing line
Any advice to young and upcoming designers?
Do you at all times. Hardwork works when talent doesn’t.
You can get Vernac at vernac.co.za and at Afrikan Swiss in JHB
  • Thuli

    Such and honest and refreshing interview.

    April 14, 2015 at 11:51 am
  • Tumi Mngomezulu

    Well done to you Dennis . You are an inspiration to people like me who have finally listened to their guts and taken that step into the desining field. A 9-5 desk job has finally gotten to me and I have decided to persue my love for interior design. It is still early days but with hard work, determination and love for what I am starting I know I am going to be successful. I love it when you say, “I´m not just a bag designer nor a fashion designer I´m a designer”. That speaks volumes to me, why put your self in a box when the world of design is so broad. I look forward to visiting your store when I am down at the Cape. Well done to you again and keep doing your thing man….Peace!

    April 14, 2015 at 3:04 pm