By: Renato Palmi

The ReDress Report � South Africa: June 2007

With the three major South African Fashion Weeks nearing � the Durban MTN Fashion Week, the Cape Town Fashion Week and the Sanlam SA Fashion Week the debate about the value these Fashion Weeks bring to the development and sustainability of South Africa's fashion industry is beginning to heat up. It is clear that there is division between South African fashion designers with those who support the Durban and Cape Town Fashion Weeks that are managed by one company and the Johannesburg based Sanlam SA Fashion Week.

A survey was conducted with sixty designers that participated in the 2006 Durban and Cape Town Fashion Weeks to ascertain the benefits of their participation in these two events. Only one respondent said that she had not seen any benefit for her small fashion business the remainder of the respondents in various forms said that it was worth their time and energy to participate in either the Durban or Cape Town Fashion Weeks. "The response from the public and press towards my designs was incredible", said one designer. Another said, "I have due to participating in the Cape Town Fashion Week expanded my customer base and have seen a growth in my business."

There were numerous complaints from the respondents directed towards the organizers of the Durban and Cape Town Fashion Weeks, with many young designers saying, "It seems that more assistance and publicity is provided for the better known designers." Another respondent said, "It is frustrating to see that the more established designers being promoted by the organizers whereas new designers were often left out of press meetings."

A number of the respondents said they were frustrated with the continual fighting over territorial control of the Fashion Weeks by the owners. One designer said, "When the owners publicly fight or argue over the merits of three Fashion Weeks in the media it gives the fashion industry a bad name." Many of the respondents said they felt it was imperative for the South African fashion industry to have three major Fashion Weeks in the major South African cities. "There is not a culture of buyers in this country who will travel from city to city to see new designs meet with designers for potential business opportunities", said many of the respondents. Most of the respondents felt that having only one Fashion Week in South Africa would do more harm than good to the fashion industry as they felt it would exclude many young designers and cost far too much in logistics.

One well-known Durban designer was adverse to having three Fashion Weeks. He said:

"Personally I think that all these fashion weeks have already done so much damage to our industry, the international magazine editors think we are a joke. How can a 3rd world country at the bottom of Africa host more fashion weeks than The US? SA fashion week in Johannesburg was started 10 years ago and is still the hub for fashion in SA, these other events [Durban and Cape Town] only started once they saw it was financially lucrative.

The designers that have been chosen to participate on all these events have very limited commercial products in the market place. It's just another excuse for fashion designers to get a free platform to pepper there egos. Why out of all the people that do all these shows every year, is there so little local product in South African stores?

List the 10 most well known designers in South Africa and then go to the local mall and try and buy there product. There is something fundamentally wrong. It is not about being fabulous or famous; it is about building a successful business, which starts with producing a good product that can stand up against the imported stuff. Unfortunately, that is hard work and compared with swanking down the catwalk is rather a drag it would seem to our designers. The only sure fire trend for the SA fashion industry is more fabulous fashion shows."

Some of the points made by this designer are valid especially relating to the sustainability of the many designers who participate in the Fashion Weeks. Many South African designers do not have the capacity to create viable commercial fashion business operations but the lack of commercial success cannot be blamed on the Fashion Weeks. The Fashion Weeks provide a central point of reference, an opportunity for the participants to market, promote themselves and network with possible business partners. What needs to be addressed in the South African value chain is the link between designers, manufacturers and retailers. It is imperative for these links to find solutions so that South African designed content can be manufactured quickly and affordably. Furthermore, it is imperative for retailers and boutique owners to support local designers by providing more space for local designed content in their stores.

During the run of the 2006 MTN Durban Fashion Week, more than 10 000 people attend the event and it generated over 30 million Rands in media publicity. The clothing and fashion sectors in South Africa contribute to 3.6% of South Africa's GDP and provide 10-14% of manufacturing jobs. The promotion of South African fashion design and the opportunities presented to designers through Fashion Weeks is a positive contributor to these important industries. Furthermore, Fashion Weeks have an economic spin off for the informal economy where many of the participant designers use informal workers to embellish their designs with traditional beading and designs.

It is imperative for key players in this economic sector to forge respectable partnerships, look beyond egos, and collectively come together for the sake of growing the industry and assisting the growth of small business development. If this does not occur, the only people who will suffer the consequence of such territorial struggles will be the designers.

About the author:

Research, Business Development, Writer:
Clothing, Textile, Fashion and NGO Sector
PO Box 52006, Berea Road 4007
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Tel: 031 -2616096. Cell: 083 943 0235

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