By  on September 28, 2011

JOHANNESBURG — Marketability and sustainability were the two buzzwords during South African Fashion Week, held last weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

In the 14 years since SAFW began, the event’s founder, Lucilla Booyzen, has repeatedly stressed the importance of understanding fashion as a business, and of building a retail platform for South African design. While it may be every designer’s dream to land a Barneys New York or Neiman Marcus account, Booyzen felt that it was imperative to develop the local buying culture first and foremost.

This year, Booyzen’s efforts seem to have paid off. SAFW landed a three-year sponsorship deal with Edgars, one of the country’s top three department stores. The deal includes prime retail space for South African designers at the Edgars flagship in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg.

The six permanent designers who make up the SA Fashion Week Designer Capsule Collection include established fashion labels Lunar, Black Coffee, Clive Rundle, Colleen Eitzen, Two and Cloche.

Three more designers will rotate on a monthly basis; the first batch comprises Hermanna Rush, Rubicon and Sies Isabelle. Among the other labels scheduled to take their turn at Edgars are the eco-friendly line Fundudzi, Ephymol, Kottin & Twille, Naked Ape, Christopher Strong and Gert Johan Coetzee.

According to Sandra Rogers, executive manager of trends and design at Edgars, the SA Fashion Week Designer Capsule Collection is a turning point in the history of SA Fashion Week, being the first time a fashion week anywhere in the world has launched a commercial line for its designer base. “It’s about providing a platform for SA fashion, and making it accessible to the general public.”

Booyzen added, “It has always been my belief that you should build in your own country first.”

Explaining the selection process, she said that “the initial group we’ve chosen are those that can deliver. They either have sustainable businesses or their own stores already. They have a track record of reliability, apart from being exciting, creative designers. The rotation of other designers is necessary to bring new energy to the store and to encourage industry growth.”

Sustainability was also big this season as labels such as Fundudzi and the recently launched 46664 showed what they called “clothing with a conscience.” Although Craig Jacobs, Fundudzi’s creative director, pointed out that his own clothing line, founded in 2005, already uses “clothing with a conscience” as its tag line, he was glad of the fact that “other clothing labels are using their brands as a platform for change. It is very much a global movement, I think, and it’s a welcome trend that I hope will stay.”

Fundudzi made extensive use of bamboo viscose and organic cotton, as well as hemp in the collection. The brand 46664, on the other hand, is the clothing label inspired by Nelson Mandela’s legacy of service, and positioned to become South Africa’s first global clothing label. While it’s not clear whether 46664 uses organic or ethically sourced fabric, it does apportion a percentage of proceeds to the 46664 Foundation, which is run by the Nelson Mandela Trust.

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