Hit the road in style in fashion takkies

Amanda Ngudle

Amanda Ngudle

They used to be the symbol of crime and grime, and were associated with all things vile.

Though the Converse All Stars have had an ongoing pop culture link to them, in exclusive venues the message at the door warned: "No All Stars Allowed". And that's because wearers of these takkies were often thought to be unsophisticated, street-corrupt and up-to-no-good loitering louts of the township.

But, in an exhilarating turn of events, the Converse "sneaker", as it is globally known, has experienced a resurrection to become arguably one of the strongest fashion statements in the black and white South African communities.

"Sometimes they were made to look funny, especially after Mercy Pakela recorded her famous Ayashis' Amateki hit in the 1980s," recalls tavern owner Biggs Thwala. "My old regular patrons, who knew that All Star takkies were not allowed in my tavern, used to just rock up in them and dare me to send them away knowing I wouldn't dare."

Clementine Shokoe, a fashion stylist, says the culture of the Converse is one that has always stirred curiosity in her.

"They have always been used by rebellious people and even if you look at today's wearers of Converse, you will find that they are not your typical obedient blue-collar type," she says.

And you just have to look at the people showing the "symbol of individualism" to realise their diversity. Princess Diana owned a pink pair, Snoop Doggy Dog has pairs in many colours and for Zola Dlamini they are a way of life. Thandiswa Mazwai regards hers as the symbol of a movement.

Converse All Stars, founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills Converse, celebrate 100 years of existence.

At first, they were aimed only at basketball players. Over the years they have been reinvented in many styles, but the name remains the same.

"That's because Converse has given birth to numerous other brands, simply following the same design. We look at Converse as a legend, rather than as a contender," says shoe designer Quinton Luthuli.