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LargeUp Style: The Namibian Roots of Jamaica's Love Affair with Clarks

The Desert Boot is an icon of Jamaican fashion, often credited as coming from Britain. But what if the style actually emerged from Africa? LargeUp explores.


The Clarks Desert Shoe is one of those quintessentially Jamaican things, having made its way to the youth tastes of the island via British import after World War II. But, like many cultural things eventually claimed by the metropole, the iconic shoe may have actually have its origins in Africa according to this amazing photo essay by our family at LargeUp. The circulation of cultural styles across the diaspora is one of few lasting remnants of colonialism we can actually get down with — in the case of fashion, sartorial displays get mashed up and remixed in endless ways as they travel from continent to continent so much, it's often impossible to say exactly where the tastes of one country begin and another's end. Here's what LU had to say:

Ask any Jamaican where they got their Clarks, and you’d expect to hear England or America. But the answer might actually be Namibia. In fact, Namibians created a shoe exactly like desert boots as far back as the 1600s. Called “Vellies”—short for “Velskeon”—these shoes, made from durable kudu skins were originally worn by the Khoikhoi tribe before being adopted by the British.

How a traditional shoe from a small tribe in Southern Africa ends up becoming a shoe tradition in Jamaica brings new meaning to the term Triangular Trade. There’s no concrete proof that Clarks (which makes its desert boots from”hard” leather and “soft” suede, as noted by Kartel in “Clarks”) are the sartorial descendants of Vellies, but these pictures—taken by photographer Jason Eric Hardwick for Brother Vellies, a Brooklyn-based company that has begun importing “vellies” handmade in Swakopmund, Namibia—show a remarkable likeness, not only in the style of the shoe, but also the swagger of the wearer.

Check out some of the photos below, and head to LargeUp for the full feature.

>>>Read the full feature at LargeUp

Interview

Amadou & Mariam Forever

We talk to the legendary Malian duo about their rich past, songwriting process and their advice for young African artists with disabilities.

Amadou & Mariam don't require an introduction.

The couple has been making Afro-blues music for over 35 years, drawing inspiration from their home of Mali, for over 35 years.

Their 1999 albumSou Ni Tilé sold 100,000 copies. In 2005, their album Dimanche à Bamako won the French Victoire de la Musique prize for Best World Music Album of the year and the BBC Radio 3 Award for Africa. It also went platinum in France after selling over 300,000 copies. The duo have performed with U2, Coldplay, Blur and many others.

We caught up with them below for a conversation about their rich past, their songwriting process and their advice for young African artists with disabilities, ahead of the duo's performance at the upcoming London Jazz Festival 2021.

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