Just shortly after their latest inception of their latest collection Iqhugwane S/S 23/24 which is a plural term for a hut for the Zulu Nation, Malcom Mokgope and Minehle Memela the creative directors touch down at Story Cape Town and sat with us in an exclusive interview on all things REFUSE
Can you guys explain a bit of the background and friendship between both of you?
Yeah, so we both attended the same school DUT in KZN and met in 2016 in first year. 
It kinda started at envy for me(Minnie) towards Malcolm. He had his own brand “Misunderstood” and thought he was Mr Kanye West at the time. I started REFUSE and both Malcolm and I needed that collaboration to really take our brands to the next level. We unfortunately both failed our first year and with the name Refuse being a double meaning, we thought: there are two of us, why not really give it a go since we have nothing to lose here and refused to give up on our aspirations. DUT wasn't exactly a space that let our creative minds thrive, ultimately the focus was on academia like many institutions. Looking back , failing the first year was just part of the process, just one of those necessary sacrifices made in order to grow what we have today. I think that's really a testament to our mindsets and our shared passion for growing REFUSE.
When did you best decide to take this whole fashion thing seriously?
We’d say the first year we actually passed. What really worked for us was incorporating  REFUSE into our school work and course work. This allowed us to grow the brand while simultaneously doing decently well at University. It was quite a reality check for us walking around campus knowing people like Riky Rick were wearing our brand.
What does the name REFUSE mean to you and what should it mean to the consumer?
Well we both had our independent brands and decided that REFUSE was more of a suitable name. We both have two different but similar meanings of the name. 
I (Malcolm) lean more to the name meaning that when you wear REFUSE you are the type of person that is self assured of yourself, someone that refuses to comply with the brackets society puts you in. Therefore I feel our customer and target is someone who really believes in themselves, someone who loves culture and wants to stand out while still remaining true to themselves in the world. I (Minnie) see it from the sustainability side. Basically REFUSE is an analogy for turning trash into luxury, with luxury being the end product we sell, with luxury being us with all the knowledge we have gained. It's all about perspective of the journey at the end of the day. Put a piece of trash on the side of the road and its garbage, put it in a museum and its art.
Can you explain what Umsamo means and how working with Mr Price was a perfect showcase for what REFUSE stands for
Well Mr Price approached us, it wasn't necessarily planned but it was actually perfect. This campaign portrayed the sustainability meaning of REFUSE to the tee. Mr Price was something we and many kids would grow up wearing and being part of a collaboration with them to really make Mr Price “cool” again was really special. It once again shows that “trash” into “luxury” narrative that is so prominent in everything we do. In layman's terms Umsamo in this context for this collection portrays our roots, and to put it literally where our umbilical cord meets our ancestors. Our roots are obviously from Durban and we grew up wearing Mr Price. That's where it all started. In terms of apparel we would thrift and buy blanks from Mr Price.
What has been one of the biggest challenges for you guys throughout the evolution of the brand and how did you overcome these challenges?
We think the name REFUSE kind of speaks for itself here. The mindset to refuse to give up but rather learn from our failures or shortcomings. A perfect example is the Scouting fashion show in 2021. Unfortunately we never won. Looking back now, the winners had a better concept and story behind their designs which ultimately gave them the edge. We entered again in 2022 and won because we learnt from where we fell short. Fast forward now, the entire brand is entirely focused on the narrative behind every single part of everything we sell. We learnt from our mistakes and now we offer meticulous attention to detail in the storytelling of every collection.
Can you explain why you named your latest collection iQhugwane and how the meaning of it spills into your storytelling?
So basically iQugwane is the plural word for hut and those huts are the structural homes for the people of the Nguni clan. It represents how we were raised. Umsamo collection was our roots and what follows after that is obtaining the best far from home. Moving to Cape Town and then calling this collection home is fitting as we feel that Cape Town is now home for the brand.
Cornrow Tee
The significance of cornrow tee lies within the historical roots and origin of the hairstyle really. During the era of slavery, they served as a means for Africans to covertly communicate. Patterns in cornrows were utilised to convey messages or symbolise escape routes. Thus, we feel cornrows transcend mere hairstyling; they embody a profound form of resistance and defiance which is what the brand is all about. Our aim with Refuse is to promote cornrows among guys in townships and rural regions. In essence, Refuse stands as a declaration against conformity.
Face Tattoo Tee
As we said, our upbringing plays a significant role in shaping our perspective. We weren't not instilled with a sense of pride in our cultural identity amidst today's diverse world. Consider African-inspired tattoos; they're sadly rarely seen. With the Face Tattoo T-shirt, our intention was to depict a guy who maintains a connection to their African heritage and promotes his rich african culture, flaunting it effortlessly. The character on the shirt embodies this vision. It's designed for fellow Africans navigating the complexities of the modern global community. It depicts a man who may modernise himself but still takes his home with him. This Afrofuturism is what drives us. That merging of modern western culture and Nguni culture in our collections. This gives us a platform to be an educational brand which makes it acceptable for everyone to wear regardless of their background. 
Protect Africa Tee
Another friend of ours drew up a picture  featuring the Protect Africa toy adorned in Refuse attire. This illustration symbolises our upbringing in KZN and our limited exposure to contemporary cultural trends. Through this collaboration, we aimed to involve different creatives from KZN in our mission.
Who are your guys role models in the streetwear scene?
 Definitely would say Kanye West and Virgil Abloh. Back in the day we both wore a lot of Yeezy. For us we see it like Kanye was the founder and then Virgil modernised it and cemented what Ye started. So we’d say Virgil number one.
Are there any younger designers right now who you really like to follow?
Yeah definitely, there are a few. Rhuigi is someone who stands out for both of us though. We feel he resonates with what we try to do and there are certain parallels with Rhude and REFUSE. The Zara and Rhuigi collab is a perfect example and the whole story is very similar to how our Mr Price campaign came about. For us Rhuigi is one of those guys who truly understands luxury streetwear but also expertly understands the commercial side of it.
REFUSE has just landed at Story Cape Town and we are extremely excited for you to get your hands on these amazing high quality pieces that are meticulously crafted with attention to detail and own compelling narratives.
Designed by Malcom Mokgope and Minehle Memela shop all REFUSE here at Story Cape Town.
Adam Jordan Moosa