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Staff Affections: Unknown Union on Darkie

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Every other Thursday, Stephanie Osei asks employees and employers at our favorite shops around the world what their most cherished in-store item is for our column Staff Affections. This week, she caught up with Sean Shuter, the co-founder of Cape Town's Unknown Union about the Darkie Jacket by Darkie.

The Darkie Jacket you selected is a label by South African designer Themba Mngomezulu. How did you find the brand? Darkie Clothing was established in 2001 and has long been a favorite of my colleagues. His shop on Long Street was one of my first stops when I visited Cape Town, and I was very impressed. I met Themba through our shop manager, Wandile Twalo, in early 2011. I found Themba's years of experience in both retail and manufacturing to be of invaluable help as I was learning the ropes down here. In June of 2011, Themba decided to close his retail location to focus more on design and wholesaling. Unknown Union and Darkie now share a design workshop and project space on the second floor of the UU boutique. Darkie is the first South African brand to be carried in Unknown Union, and we have many projects lined up together in the future.

What makes the Darkie Jacket interesting? This piece from Darkie is a hybrid between a cardigan and a baseball jacket with a great fit. It's in a weather-resistant fabric with a soft cotton jersey lining. What I like best about the piece is the faux pocket square flap over the functional breast pocket which makes clever reference to a much more formal garment. This detail perfectly captures the wit that Themba always brings to his designs.

What's your history with Capetown? I was living in New York but my business partner, Jason Storey, has a long history and deep ties with Cape Town and it had long been his ambition to open a boutique here. I traveled to Cape Town to get a sense for the place. It was during the World Cup, and I instantly fell in love. I signed the lease on UU's 300-year-old landmark building the day before I flew back to New York. A few days later I told Jason that I wanted to relocate to Cape Town to oversee the construction of the boutique and to stay on to direct operations for UU. I was also attracted by UU's commitment to sourcing ethical and sustainable manufacturing in Africa and to giving a portion of proceeds from sales to community based organizations and charities. I knew it would be a challenge, and one that I wanted to be part of.

What is Cape Town style? I have seen very interesting use of traditional African fabrics such as Shwe Shwe. It's a direction I'd like to explore with UU in future.

You've made it possible for Cape Town locals to have access to some brands for the first time. How do you pick labels? Cape Town is in many ways a beach town, so I look for designers that do something exciting and innovative with casual wear. Warriors of Radness is a perfect example of this and has been very well received here. I also wanted to introduce brands with a great heritage such as Pendleton whom in its almost 150-year history, has never been available in Africa. I'm also finding that the more directional pieces I've brought in have been very well received, so I'm feeling more adventurous with my selections for Spring/Summer 2012. Some brands I'm looking to include Norse Projects and Lightning Bolt.

Posted: September 29, 2011
Staff Affections: Unknown Union on Darkie