And then there were two.
Less than a month before it was scheduled to take place, Africa Fashion Week was abruptly canceled. The event’s owner, African Fashion International, issued a statement confirming that “Africa Fashion Week, scheduled to take place from November 4 to 7, 2015, will no longer take place in its current format. In its place, AFI plans to convene leading stakeholders on the continent to the first Africa Fashion Forum.”
No reason was given for the development, which AFI positioned as “a new strategic direction.” The South African fashion industry was abuzz with speculation. Perhaps it was because Mercedes Benz, which had sponsored previous Africa Fashion Weeks, was no longer a sponsor, although it remained the headline sponsor for AFI’s two other properties, MBFW Johannesburg and MBFW Cape Town, industry officials said. Others believed that with the South African Fashion Week taking place from Oct. 22 to 26, followed immediately by Lagos Fashion and Design Week from Oct. 28 to 31, African designers might have preferred to show at Lagos, which has proven to be a successful platform, attracting a pan-African audience, not to mention more international media and buyers, than Africa Fashion Week.
AFI declined further comment, except to say the forum, which would take place in the first quarter of 2016, would be the first of its kind “to seek to address the state of the industry and jointly discover new ways toward growth, competitiveness and sustainability to actively participate in the global fashion value chain.”
AFI’s executive chairman, Precious Moloi-Motsepe, promised to give more details about the forum in a press briefing scheduled for Dec. 2.
Lucilla Booyzen, the founder and director of the SAFW, declined to speculate on AFI, preferring to focus on recent changes that the 19-year-old SAFW has undergone.
“All the designers that show at SAFW, except the Competition Designers, must supply at least five stores or have their own stores,” she said.
The devaluation of the South African rand has also been beneficial. “There is an enormous growth when it comes to designers supplying stores, and this was not the case even four years ago. Again, the falling rand is helping the designers because it forces the boutiques to look internally. And we have good design and quality when it comes to South African designers.”
Among the standouts at SAFW this season were Clive Rundle, who showed a mostly black velvet collection that was layered, both in concept and in fabric. Barcelona-born and Cape Town-based Amos Tranque and Durban-based Life by Andrew Martin showed men’s wear that was vibrant and refined, while With by Dean Charles Hauptfleisch, the winner of the SAFW Sunglass Hut New Talent Competition, had an almost all-white collection for women. Sun Goddess, Dope and House of Ole focused on African fabrics and themes and made them look fresh.
Consumers are embracing local designer labels with growing enthusiasm, Booyzen noted. “We have done intensive research and there are 940 boutiques in South Africa interested in stocking local designers, and at the moment the designers are supplying more than 20 percent of these stores.”
The Edgars x SAFW Capsule Collection, which began as a pop-up experiment in 2011 in Edgars Department Store in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, is doing well, she said, and is present in three more flagships — Sandton City, Menlyn and Rosebank.
The Fashion Agent, a wholesale agency representing several South African fashion designers, reported sales last year of more than 12 million rand, or about $870,000 at current exchange, according to Annette Pringle, showroom agent. Online stores such as Runwayonline, Spree and Zando have also fueled the rise of local designers, who are not encumbered by the pressures of supplying large quantities.
Booyzen said “the strength of the designers that show at SAFW and the Creative Fashion Industry at large emanates from our cultural diversity.”
“Because the CFI is still in its infancy in SA, there is a freedom of expression through design that is not bogged down or held back by the tradition of fashion design that exists in Europe and America,” he said.
Opening Lagos Fashion and Design Week, owned by Style House Files — the creative development agency for Nigerian and African designers founded by Omoyemi Akerele — was Tiffany Amber, the label created by Folake Coker in 1998. Other successful labels showing at LDFW include Maki Oh, House of Marie and Orange Culture from Nigeria, as well as Laurence Airline, a men’s wear brand based in both Paris and the Ivory Coast.
Apart from the runway shows, LFDW — whose headline sponsor is Heineken — also hosted The Fashion Business Series of panel discussions on the state of the fashion industry in Africa. Exchanging views on distribution, e-commerce and the future of fashion retail were Jonah Adams, chief strategy officer of Interswitch; swimwear designer Andrea Iyamah; Tunde Kehinde, managing director of courier company ACE, and Honey Ogundeyi, founder and managing director of Fashpa, a Nigerian online fashion boutique.