Moving South African Fashion forward

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Seasoned Fashion Insider views on the local fashion landscape

By Leanne Tlhagoane

The rise of young local designers and African Fashion as a whole on the global fashion stage is indicative of the fresh winds of change blowing through the decades-old established fashion systems.

It’s also a tangible sign of the strides that have been made on the local fashion front in many African cities across the continent including our own Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban- in a relatively short period of time.

That being said, it’s easy to lament the local fashion status quo, in part because many components of the system in our nascent industry are either broken, declining or non- existent. Take for instance something simple yet vital like fabric availability or something essential like manufacturing and the obstacles faced in production. Not too mention the lack of investment or funding in the right spaces and in many instances little to no support for the people and initiatives that matter.

Developing a local fashion system that thrives in a globalised hyper-connected world-that has brought with it sweeping transformative forces-is going to require a robust and focussed effort in a number of different areas.

To begin with, consider that in countries where fashion plays a key role in the economy there exists some form of a centralised organisation that drives a fashion agenda suitable and beneficial for its stakeholders. South Africa needs a more unified approach in setting its fashion agenda and in creating sustainable and cohesive platforms that benefit the entire industry. In other words, the industry needs a backbone.

Then, how about adopting a pioneering approach that uniquely positions South African Fashion with Summer, sustainability, heritage and culture to make our own point of reference in the global fashion space?

And what of finding ways to assist young creatives to innovate and develop new alternate fashion structures and systems that are relevant and worthy of the local market and equally for the new world order.

For a more expansive view on what should be next to develop a thriving local South African Fashion industry I’ve asked several fashion luminaries to share their perspectives and outtakes below.

In their own words.

Cyril Naicker is a fashion consultant, mentor and influencer in the South African fashion space. He currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Imprint Luxury, is a founding member of Fashion Revolution Cape Town and the Country Coordinator for Fashion Revolution South Africa.

 What is your take on the local SA Fashion industry?

South Africa has so much to offer globally. It is uniquely positioned with diverse cultures which provide a rich tapestry of traditions and this should continue being celebrated through fashion.

What needs to be done to strengthen the local fashion industry?

Local designers have to understand the impact of sustainability in the clothing industry on the environment. Sustainability encompasses three main areas: environment, social and economic. The goal of the designer should be to create a system that can be supported indefinitely in terms of both environment and social responsibility and still maintain their creative edge when designing. In addition, there needs to be an active role from government and policy makers. How do we reduce the import duties on fabrics? How do we create manufacturing hubs that can accommodate smaller production runs?

How can we better support young designers?

Consumers need to re-evaluate shopping habits and actively start supporting local designers. Conscious efforts to buy clothing manufactured in South Africa can make a difference. This is simply done by looking at the care label on a garment to see where it is made.

Founder, Senior Trends Analyst & Cultural Strategist – specialising in ‘Glocalisation’, Nicola Cooper is a formidable presence on Africa’s fashion and lifestyle landscapes.

What is your take on the local SA Fashion industry?

I think all the hard work of those within in the industry, across all levels, are coming into fruition. It is wonderful to see young designers rise, however, I think our ‘design focus’ does not highlight some incredible hard work that goes on behind the scene. It would be wonderful to see that full fashion chain being recognised beyond look books and runway.

There are some phenomenally talented people , the wheels and cogs that drive the fashion industry like the buyers, the manufacturers, the suppliers – behind the designers we know so well. I would love to see them empowered to the point that they are able to expand and grow their side of the industry as it would be beneficial to all.

What needs to be done to strengthen the local fashion industry?

 Skilled people. There are many facets of the fashion industry that need planners, buyers, marketers, suppliers etc. who are knowledgeable and driven to build our industry. Working in magazines or choosing a career as a designer may look sexier but some of the real leaps and bounds happen through necessary conversations in boardrooms and on factory floors. We need to invest into these because this is a vital component in driving fashion. Without great suppliers we will have no choice, without producers there is no stock, without buyers willing to take risks there would be no opportunity. These are the unsung heroes.

How can we better support young designers?

By continuing to wear, to share, to talk, to highlight and to have critical conversations which drive change.

Felipe Mazibuko, a well known fashion maven and style architect has more than two decades of experience in the local industry.

What is your take on the local SA Fashion industry?

The local fashion industry is a reflection of what the South African government is at in terms of policies that are far too zealous to implement. In the last 21 years ever since the first Fashionweek started I have noticed a platform with great potential to grow a creative industry but unfortunately there has not been consistent help with governing structures to set up policies in reaching mandates to grow the local economies of fashion. Instead there is AGOA that saw the growth and spread of Chinese imports to almost every commercial suburb killing the chances of local fashion designers with competitive prices and a wider range of merchandise which attracted local consumers. At this point and time the South African fashion industry is competing with Chinese imports and commercial international retailers (Zara, H&M etc.)

What needs to be done to strengthen the local fashion industry?

We can never strengthen the industry if there is no regulatory board at its helms.The defunct or non-existent South African Fashion Board has to be born again with an utterly transparent ecosystem that is inclusive of all the stakeholders from every level of the fashion value chain with a mandate of fostering sustainable partnerships and marketing platforms between and for sectors of the fashion value chain.

How can we better support young designers?

Young designers need the consumers as much as consumers need their wears. Wears that are authentic, that have been made with love, respect and integrity and that are ‘price friendly’ yet stylish. I would suggest a conscious once-a-week national ‘Wear Local’ campaign as a starting point to encourage consumers to stop buying or ordering from local young designers for special occasions.

Young designers should be encouraged to work with other creative industries i.e graphic designers and fine artists; should be visible beyond malls but other avenues of sales; should stop waiting to be discovered but go out there and sell their crafts.

We have shown the world with the success of the Mantsho x H&M collaboration that we have the talent and business savvy; how we can translate our narrative into wearable clothes with Thebe Magugu winning the LVMH prize; how our indigenous tribal prints can deliver a new aesthetic in knitwear in the form of the Maxhosa Africa brand and how with a simple message of affirmation #AfricaYourTimeIsNow, we can wear ourselves, be proud and make some money.

Lindi Ndebele-Koka is the Department of Arts and culture Senior Manager for Creative industries (Design, Film/Audiovisual, Craft and Visual arts)

What is your take on the local SA Fashion industry?

The 2016 research commissioned by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) found that the Clothing Textile Foot & Leather (CTFL) industry to which the Fashion sector is part of, is amongst the strongest in South Africa (SA) and it is the biggest contributor to job creation. Just over 58% of CFTL companies have been operating within the South African Fashion Industry between 5 and 20 years-which provides a picture of an industry comprised of well-established companies not withstanding the exponential growth of small businesses owned by individual designers with established brands.

The global acknowledgement of South African designers and the continuous presence of SA Designers at international platforms, is indicative of an industry that has a positive outlook.

In 2014 CFTL represented South Africa’s second largest source of tax revenue and facilitated an estimated 60, 000 to 80, 000 jobs and contributes around 8% to the country’s GDP. Despite the challenges in the decline of the Textile industry and the unequal competition with big retail stores that monopolise the market, huge opportunities exist in the fashion industry driven by designer talent. DAC has been consistent in supporting and implanting the following programs:

Market Access: DAC in partnership with Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) create opportunities for SA emerging designers to showcase at various international platforms with business opportunities.

Capacity Building (Skills): Running of capacity building programs for various Skills in the design sector. A partnership with the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives program provides an opportunity to 40 Emerging Creatives annually.

Sector organization support: This year DAC has initiated supporting Sector organizations to encourage an integrated approach, better coordination and relations with stakeholders.

What needs to be done to strengthen the local fashion industry?

Key stakeholders within the fashion industry emphasise the need for a quick response model (for the fashion industry) in order to ensure quick turnaround and to support, build and improve the capacity in the manufacturing and related value-chain of the CTFL sector.

How can we better support young designers?

Intergovernmental Partnerships

Funding for Programmes to develop the Fashion Industry Promote the Establishment of Provincial Fashion Hubs/Clusters

 Skills and Capacity Development through the development and provision of specific skills development programmes

Access to Financial support

Yasmin Furmie co -owns a brand called SiSi The Collection with her best friend Cynthia Allie . Known for her unique style and opinions on fashion, she has been a judge on Raw Silk (a fashion design TV show) for two seasons.

What is your take on the local SA Fashion industry?

The SA fashion industry is an extremely vibrant, varied and complex industry. The designers fill various niches, some catering to a very local market (as in a local area) whereas some designers produce collections for the national market and of course those who are exceptionally fortunate to be noticed by a global market and who go on to be recognized beyond South Africa. There’s a proliferation of talent producing some amazing clothes, but it belies the actual amount of designers who are acknowledged here and abroad.

South African designers bring a unique aesthetic to their brands, a story that makes the clothes mean much more to the consumer. Young creatives bring a true individuality to what they produce and those who stand out are able to make some strides in creating a business, albeit small at first. The issues that hamper designers range from lack of business skills, funding( government and private funding), a ready supply of good and unique fabric, issues with production and retail readiness. We also have a public who need more education around the consumption of SA made items and what that means for our economy.

What needs to be done to strengthen the local fashion industry?

In order to strengthen the local industry, designers need access to an overall education in relation to costing, wholesale and retail prices etc. as well as branding and marketing. The industry needs an injection to uplift and reopen factories that used to produce clothes, to reinvigorate fabric production and to skill young people in all aspects of the design and production process. Creativity is important, but the business skills and knowledge are vital.

How can we better support young designers?

Buy their clothes, buy local . For those of us who have any influence, we need to help in getting their names out and urging the public to buy.That’s the bottom line. They need the money to continue to produce and to keep their businesses going. It takes a mindset shift to recognize that we have exceptional talent and that we need to keep the industry working. I would love to see more opportunities for young designers to showcase their clothes; more SA design emporiums where people can readily access clothes with varying price points. And until we get a true push from business and design councils in marketing this, we will clearly bemoan the state of an industry already struggling to stay afloat. It is incumbent on us to do what we can in supporting, in highlighting and more importantly putting our money where our mouths are and buying local .

I would love to hear YOUR views on what it will take to move South African fashion forward.

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