Daniel Ting Chong is a Cape Town-based designer and illustrator. This month, he unveiled his collaboration with Puma at one launch event in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg.

Ting Chong, who was tasked with breathing new life into two sneaker designs, the Duplex Evo as well as the Duplex OG, is no stranger to working with Puma.  He tells me: “I’ve worked with Puma before but not on such a large scale. It’s super scary.”

“This is probably the biggest project I’ve done. You know how many sneakerheads there are out there and they all have their reviews. Besides that, I know this is a shoe collab but it’s more than that for me. This is for everyone. For South Africa. Like, putting us on the map in some way.”

As the collab press release explains: “Chong’s design of the earthy hued Duplex OG was inspired by Unkulunkulu, the Supreme Creator in traditional Zulu culture.” And, it further explains: “The second sneaker in the collection is the Duplex Evo, with the various hues of green on the sneaker referencing Mamlambo, the Goddess of Rivers in traditional Xhosa culture.”

Naturally, it’s surprising that Ting Chong – a second-generation South African whose family is Chinese – chose cultures that he is not born into or intrinsically entrenched in for his inspiration.

As expected, and rightfully so, quite a few people feel this approach is simply – at the very least – problematic.

There was some interesting dialogue, regarding this, on Dillon S Phiri’s page:

You can go to Facebook to see all the points made.

Anyway, back at the Joburg launch, I ask Ting Chong how he is going to address the feeling that he was appropriating other people’s culture.

“For me, it was a fine line,” he shares. “I am second generation South African-Chinese. Funny enough, my dad can speak fluent Afrikaans and Xhosa which is insane because he was born in Port Elizabeth. He grew up in a rural community and had a little shop so he had to learn how to speak Xhosa fluently.”

“Besides that, for me, I didn’t want to reappropriate culture or make it seem like I’m stepping on other people’s cultures for my own benefit. I wanted to push the cultures and say this is what it’s about and let’s celebrate it. I’m not taking ownership like it’s my story in any way.”

He says this process that took about four years to complete because “there’s a lot of back and forth with prototyping and making decisions” was different. “This is a shoe celebrating South African culture. For me, that’s important,” he says.

“That was the brief from Puma. They were like: ‘we’re going to give you two shoes but how can you contextualise it to South Africa?’ Instead of just throwing colours on, I really wanted to tell a story.”

“I was looking through Zulu and Xhosa mythology and these were the two that really resonated for me. Instead of me designing the shoe from a cerebral process, I chose the stories to inspire what the shoes would look like and what the colours should be.” In addition to being on sale in Gauteng and the Western Cape, the collab will reportedly be available “in parts of Europe are getting it as well.”

What do you think?