It’s only been open for a few weeks, but Rosebank’s Soko District has already attracted a lot of attention. And it’s not just for its collective of entrepreneurs plying their trade, but also conceptually this may be the future of shopping malls as pandemic-impacted lifestyle changes continue to challenge preconceived notions of retail.
Soko is the Swahili word for market, and, in this Rosebank Mall space, it all comes together in a department store-like concept that reminds of legendary shopping meccas like Garlicks, Stuttafords and John Orr’s.
“Shopping at the mall used to be a family outing,” says Flight coffee shop owner and Soko District tenant Divan Botha who remembers trekking to large centres with his family, breakfasting inside a department store and shopping for all kinds of goodies. All in one place.
“It was always this huge space, with a large variety of different goods on display, that awed me as a youngster.” And this is exactly what Soko does. The stores have been carefully curated to ensure that there is a large variety of product, it’s never stuck in the dullness of sameness.
“I believe this may just be the future of shopping malls,” adds Botha.
“Mall space is really boring right now,” said Soko District manager Andrew Khanye.
”You go into a mall and all you want to do is just get what you want and go home, because year after year, week after week, it’s still the same brand, same everything, the same product in many cases. But we wanted to bring about a very huge, diverse, nation of brands, as we call it.”
He says it is all about vibrancy.
“The mix of brands that we have stands out for anyone who wants to come in and have an ice cream waffle, a cup of coffee on a coffee date, fashion to chocolate, even come and enjoy an exhibition.”
WATCH: Soko District in Rosebank – the future of shopping?
At Soko District there’s baby and toddler clobber Annapatat Kids, the husband-and-wife team at Oliver Vagary with handcrafted leather products, Rialheim’s incredible ceramicware, Mos Fashion, locally manufactured Bummel shoes and DJ Zinhle’s Era fashion brand amongst others.
The Darling Sweet company’s legendary toffees are in-store as well as homemade dark chocolate at Just Rrrraw Chocolate. This is also the only place where you’ll find an entire store dedicated to lollipops.
It’s something to behold and try. Brigette Barnett’s Lollipop League’s small batch range of lollipops and candies come in more than 30 flavours from ingredients sourced from all over the world, including her own garden.
We much have a vast number of brands, and we have curated them not by who they are or who the owners are, but what they stand for. You’ll find that we have guys who have been to South African Fashion Week. We have guys who never owned a store before in their lives.
They’ve always maybe traded online. We’ve got guys whose Soko District outlet is their retail debut,” says Khanye, who also curates all the retail in the space.
“We never really look at how rich your brand is or how famous it is. We pretty much look at the possibilities of your brand and makes it different from what is already available in malls.”
He says it’s all about avoiding the boring and the usual.
On a par with its great mix of goodies on sale is the innovative way shopfitting has been done. The entire store is conceptual and interchangeable, so expansion and contraction or even accommodating a new brand becomes as easy as swinging about the fixtures and locking in new space.
It’s all about multi-purpose function and recycling, reusing and making the most of the space and the ingredients to its recipe for success. “And this is only the beginning,” says Kanye.