Those unfamiliar with African fashion might think it’s all vibrant prints and explosions of color, as is the stereotypical assumption. But South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, offer something different.
Aesthetically, Cape Town style reflects the city’s status as a global melting pot, but there’s an easy, chic minimalism to be found as well. While indigenous materials inform some local designers, traditional arts and crafts inspire others. Quite simply, Cape Town’s fashion scene is beyond definition, always electric, evolving, and expanding.
In recent years, the art galleries and chain stores along the V&A Waterfront have given way to an explosion of local boutiques that should be a part of every traveler’s itinerary. And remember, the seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, so you’ll often find sales on what you want to be wearing at home. Read on for the best places to shop if you’re looking to bring home a piece of the Mother City.
If you only have time to shop one place while in Cape Town, make it the Watershed market on the V&A Waterfront. A magnet for, well, virtually everything, the stalls and shops feature all the classic South African goods, from gorgeous green malachite bowls and bracelets to souvenirs made of springbok hide, recycled bottle caps, and even pressed protea flowers. There are also outposts of beloved local brands like Skoon (for sustainable beauty products), plus art (both affordable and aspirational), East African kitenge fabrics fashioned into simple Western styles, adorable baby clothes, and hand-painted leather clutches that are guaranteed to get compliments no matter where in the world you take them.
Mungo & Jemima
Walking into the Long Street flagship of Mungo & Jemima (there’s an additional location at Watershed Market) is a little like entering a kaleidoscope, so many colors and patterns abound. The clothing store began in 2008 as a place for two designers and friends to showcase their own labels—Coppélia and Good—but has since expanded to include a curated selection of South African brands, all with an emphasis on fun. Beyond the original hand-sewn linen frocks and patterned jumpsuits, racks here are hung with feminine fashions in a rainbow of hues, encouraging shoppers to step outside their comfort zone into new, joyful territory—say, a floral one-piece swimsuit or jungle pants emblazoned with tiger faces.
Kat van Duinen
South African designer Kat van Duinen harnesses her country’s incredible supply of leathers to make contemporary handbags and accessories. Durable yet biodegradable, the pieces help support ethical farming practices—for example, all leather is sourced from regulated farms and employees are paid fair wages in accordance with South African law. Visit van Duinen’s appointment-only studio in the V&A Waterfront area to snag her signature unisex tote (it doesn’t get more classic than the black crocodile version) as well as accessories, clothing, swimwear, and collaborations with local artists like painter Kelly John Gough.
The Neighbourgoods Market
A compelling reason to be in Cape Town on a weekend morning (especially Sunday, if you want to eat your way through the food-focused Oranjezicht City Farm Market, too) is the dynamic Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in up-and-coming Woodstock. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., hip locals and tourists alike weave their way through what can only be described as an abundance of all things artisanal—edible, wearable, and otherwise. The most jam-packed part of the market is usually the massive tent lined with vendors specializing in mushrooms, bread, paella, pizza, honey, cakes, cheeses, and craft brews. It’s a veritable smorgasbord, so wear your stretchy pants, and work it off afterward by strolling the other section devoted to micro-merchants selling baby moccasins, brightly colored swimwear, offbeat home accessories, recycled brass jewelry, and more.
Merchants on Long
If you’re after fashion with a capital “F,” head straight to this high temple of African design, which claims to be Africa’s very first concept store. Merchants on Long opened in 2010 with the goal of curating the best African labels, and it’s done a fine job. Behind the store’s terra-cotta facade, you’ll find modern desert boots made of ethical kudu leather (Brothers Vellies), avant-garde womenswear (Sheila Madge), surf-inspired menswear woven on century-old looms (Amirok), resort-worthy cotton separates (Lemlem, from supermodel Liya Kebede), men’s knit capes (Maxhosa), and eye-catching ensembles in sustainable textiles designed by a South African graduate of Central Saint Martins. Visitors can also look forward to an in-house lifestyle brand, a shop-in-a-shop for art nouveau–inspired accessories line Okapi, and gift items like candles and natural skincare.
Bree Street is always a good idea, whether for shopping or eating (the nearby restaurants are excellent). If you’re there for the former, don’t miss one-stop shop Klûk CGDT from fashion designers Malcolm Klûk and Christiaan Gabriel du Toit, known for their internationally inspired apparel with a South African lean. At the boutique, you’ll find their colorful clothing alongside leather accessories from Cape Cobra, stone-heavy pieces from Ciani Jewellers, Crystal Birch hats, Lalela scarves, and a range of apothecary items, all locally made to support disadvantaged communities. If your days fill up with sightseeing, no need to worry—Klûk CGDT will open after-hours by appointment.
Design fans visiting the Cape Winelands for tastings should also make time for this charming home decor shop on Franschhoek’s main drag. The 20-year-old Masquerade is a treasure trove of appealing kitchen and home goods—from linen bedding and olive-leaf soaps to room fragrances, stationery, and aprons—all with a French bent in homage to the Huguenots who settled in the surrounding area centuries ago. Especially cute gifts include disposable South African alphabet placemats, mouse-shaped cheese knives, crayfish bibs, and ornamental trinket boxes.
South Africa’s wine may be world famous, but the country’s gin is also starting to gain international attention. For a taste, drop by Hope Distillery in the Cape Town suburb of Salt River. The city’s first licensed small-batch distiller, the spot is known for its Hope African Botanical Gin, infused with hand-picked endemic shrubs and organic herbs. On Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m., visitors can stop in to taste the spirits, learn about the distilling process, and bring home a bottle of their favorite gin.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Cape Town