Is it possible that there could be such a thing as a noncapitalist yuppie? Of course it is, writes They’re called the yuccies – young urban creatives – and they’re coming to a city near you
t used to be that when you told your friends you got a promotion at work, they’d congratulate you and maybe pop some Champagne to celebrate your ascent up the corporate ladder. These days, that’s not always the case. While some of your working friends will give you a high five, it’s likely that many of the others will mumble an awkward “well done”, while wondering why you allow yourself to be trapped by “the man”. After all, these days, you can operate off the grid, outside the 9-to-5 corporate shuffle and make money doing it. It’s the era of the start-up.
The terms “hipster” and “yuppie” may come to mind, but we’ve moved on, and there are new dynamics at play. Braamfontein-dwelling twentysomethings aren’t just sporting beards, riding skateboards to work and drinking craft beer any more. Instead, we’ve got a new crop of creatively inclined but economically driven individuals who want to make it on their own.
Enter the yuccie
These are, according to the witty David Infante of Mashable, young urban creatives. Yuccie is an unfortunate word, but there you have it.
While these young people were certainly part of the thriftshopping and warehouse-party crazes, they’ve grown up, started paying their own rent and realise the happy-go-lucky idealism of the hipster is at best overhyped and at worst immature.
And I speak for myself here too. I went through (read: am going through) a period of wearing lumberjack shirts and making my own headbands because I wanted to differentiate myself from my well-off parents and, subconsciously, also prove I was unique – not just another cookie-cutter output with a nice background and degree.
But new trends are showing us that uniqueness is as much an economic asset as it is a social one.
Profit with a conscience
Around the world, and increasingly in Africa, we’re seeing young people swapping salary slips for artisanal coffee shops, mobile boutiques, network hubs-cum-offices and retail outlets that benefit the homeless – businesses that are both profitable and socially conscious.
So they only use fair trade sources, hold discussions about gentrification and make social issues relevant to a generation glued to their iPhones.
Clothing brand Thesis Lifestyle, well known for the iconic bucket hat, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. It has built its look around kasi pop culture, and although it could move into a fancy Melrose boutique, it has kept its flagship store in Soweto. Co-owner Wandile Zondo still models the clothes himself, and is part of the day-to-day running of the business. The label is not just about being trendy, but retaining pride in where the brand started and offering employment to locals. This is where the new entrepreneurial consciousness is going.
Spaces such as Braamfontein in Joburg, Woodstock in Cape Town and Rivertown in Durban are populated by start-up businesses that have retained their cool by keeping it real.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses – despite what your cool blogger friend posts on Instagram. Between the yuccie’s short attention span, magpie-like awareness of the next big venture and the slew of creative job options available, people get burnt. That is, burnt out from the financial implications of being self-employed, the psychological toll of still having to rely on the corporate world (which you still need to market and buy your new product) and the realisation that your mainstream friends trapped in their 9-to-5s can easily afford to pay rent while you are still trying to get on your feet.
In Johannesburg especially, where cool is an incredibly lucrative but fleeting currency, there are brand strategists and digital marketers and aspiring DJs on every corner – and as more people buy into the yuccie dream, the harder it is to stand out. A report by the Kenya Youth Business Trust suggests that many potentially viable and lucrative businesses run by young people are squashed because of investor fears.
Established businesses do not want to hire a new-age advertising agency and banks are wary of giving loans to the latest banting restaurant because of uncertainty about the returns.
But there is something to be said for the shift in mind-set of the previously utopian outlook of the young creative professional. And for every horror story of a DJ going into a job in IT, there are more stories of successful young people carving out a financially secure and creatively fulfilling future. And that’s a consciousness worth supporting and believing in.
Thesis Lifestyle focuses on kasi pop culture