Explore Joburg fashion with the Caraci Experience

05 Jun 2024
Like many people who love Joburg, Sebo Caraci Marobela was born elsewhere – in his case, Phalaborwa, Limpopo. The town borders the Kruger National Park, and he has fond memories of hearing radio news reports about the occasional great escapes from the park, like two elephants spotted outside the gate or a lion on the run.

“I thought everyone grew up like that,” he says. No doubt when you grow up so close to the wild, the Joburg's urban jungle seems a tad less intimidating.

We meet in his studio at London House in Marshalltown, a building that harks back to a more glamorous era in the city’s history. It’s where his Joburg fashion experience starts. The studio itself is a rush of colour, filled with rails of glorious wax-print kimonos, bomber jackets, dresses, and flouncy skirts.
In studio with Caraci Experience. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

We can understand why the author of a 2022 article in Condé Nast Traveler hailed the Caraci Experience as “the best tour I booked in Johannesburg”.

Since reading the piece, we've been following Marobela and his Caraci Experience on Instagram. Two years passed and then, without any prompting, Heather Mason (aka @2Summers), a U.S. blogger in Joburg and a long-time Johannesburg In Your Pocket friend helped set a date for us to connect with Marobela.

"These were places where people looked and spoke like me."

Floor after floor of London House is filled with tailoring services. Just a few blocks from the Rand Club and Gandhi Square, this area is a well-managed part of the city, thanks to the oversight of commercial property developers. It’s a reminder of what a functional city could look like.

We don’t want to give too much away, because what makes the experience so special is how it unfolds over the day. It all begins with each person telling their story of how they came to be in the room. Mason told hers, we told ours, and then it was Marobela’s turn.

From a young age, Marobela loved pretty things, like fashion and tying up his hair. “All this was cute at six,” he says. But when he was 12, the adults around him started to say, “Be like other boys.” They told him, “You should be playing soccer.”
A sewing experience with Caraci Experience. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

He escaped the limitations of life in a small town by watching TV and recalls seeing cities like New York, Los Angeles, and London on screen. These were “places where people looked and spoke like me”.

One day he was watching TV and saw Johannesburg. “I said to my sister, ‘Where is this? I want to go there’; she said, ‘Make sure you get good grades. Joburg is a place to get an education.'

From that day on, Marobela’s books became his closest friends. “All I was focused on was finishing high school,” he says. 
His father wanted him to study engineering, but Marobela did a marketing degree instead. This, he admits sheepishly, involved a few years of him strutting his stuff, but also being thrifty and unwittingly edging closer to starting his own business.

In the two years that followed, he worked in the corporate sector, spending all his spare time dressing people who had noticed his flair and impeccable fashion sense, turning to him for help when getting ready for special occasions.

“This is my love letter to Joburg. This city has given me confidence and friendships...”

He then travelled, spending some time teaching in China, while still feeling an entrepreneurial spirit growing inside him. After a few false starts, the “experience” he offers today was refined into a full-day event and, together with his team, he’s delivered it to nearly 300 people who’ve found him on Airbnb Experiences. 

Once the stories have been told, it’s time for a city walk, and we head off to the historic fashion district. It’s a pleasant walk (it helps that Marobela towers over us like a human shield), and a few blocks away the stores start to change in appearance.

The buildings in the fashion district range from shops selling cheap, imported fashion displayed on mannequins in front of their entrances, to fabric outlets and haberdasheries. We’re here to choose a bolt of fabric each.

We enter a fabric shop where Marobela is greeted warmly. The shop is like a cavern of African-print fabrics, dazzling and dizzying in their seemingly endless colours and patterns. The fabric hangs from the ceiling, folded in tall stacks, or spilling out across the floor. The choices seem limitless but we each eventually pick one and hand them over to Marobela. Mason is equally intent on finding herself the perfect print.
Heather Mason finds her fabric. Photo: Johannesburg in your Pocket
Heather Mason searches for the perfect fabric. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

We leave with our neatly packaged fabrics in Marobela’s hands and take a leisurely walk back to the studio, stopping along the way for photographs and to study the city’s architecture more closely. 

We photograph Mason on the city legislature’s stairs and dream of what it would be like if any one of us ran this city for a day (the average tenure of most of Joburg’s recent mayors). Part of the magic of the experience is the city walk itself (not to mention the conversation about the city and ourselves that unfolds naturally along the way). Then it’s back to the studio to get measured by Marobela’s team. Time is also found for a sewing lesson.

We stand in front of the mirror while Marobela calls out the measurements. He takes us through the process of making a garment – creating a pattern and doing the cutting. We even get a chance to use the sewing machine. By then, we’ve decided what garments we’d like to see ourselves in, and we set off for lunch.

Marobela is committed to the city and supporting other City Centre businesses, so the choice of lunch spot changes with each visit. After hailing an Uber, we head to Maboneng’s The Social Table, a spot on Fox Street. There we feast on a fine vegetarian curry. We wander out of the eatery after lunch.
Johannesburg In Your Pocket's publisher and editor (Laurice Taitz-Buntman) joins Sebo Caraci Marobela for the Caraci Experience. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

We’ve heard about a new piece of street art by artist Dbongz – a portrait of famous local artist Esther Mahlangu that’s part of his icon series dotted across the city. The image is making waves on Instagram, and we’re keen to see it. From there, it’s back to London House by car, where the team is waiting to put together our outfits. Fittings are done and adjustments are made.

On the rooftop of London House, it’s the early evening golden hour, and Marobela plays the role of chief fashion photographer. 

“This is my love letter to Joburg,” says Marobela. “This city has given me confidence and friendships... and when you leave, you take a great memory of Joburg with you.”

It’s the perfect end, in every way.

This article first appeared in The Sunday Times on Sun, Jun 2. 


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