Friday, July 9, 2010

Lessons from Africa Fashion Week

The African, South African in particular, Fashion industry is in turmoil, yet again. Following Africa Fashion International’s blunder of fashion awards, bloggers and murmurs are questioning Africa Fashion International’s intention when it comes to Fashion.

I have just read a blog post by Miss Milisuthando Bongela, please read it (here), it’s a fantastic read – though laced with anger and total disregard for AFI in its entirety – and it awakens dormant issues regarding the fashion industry.

Before going on a rampage, I think it’s absolutely fair that I agree with her on the prematurely thought Fashion Awards: what is the selection criterion, for instance? For Grace Jones and Michael Jackson to be awarded “prestigious” awards as they did was absolutely nonsensical. Fashion Awards need to be carefully thought through!

South Africa, and the rest of Africa, needs a fashion council – and my sentiments on this are substantiated by Fern Mallis who was slightly perturbed by our lack of a National Fashion Council (read here)– during a fashion seminar hosted on Friday the 2nd of July. Amongst other profiles that the National Fashion council will have will be to establish a working relationship with other African Fashion Council to keep abreast of cross-continent fashion-related issues. I will rest assured in future when, for instance, Black Coffee wins the Best Designer award because I would know that their work is known throughout the continent and it cannot be disputed by a Fashion critic and follower in, say, Tanzania.

A Fashion Council will also assist to plateau the AFI and Lucilla Booyzen (the biggest fashion week conveners in South Africa) issues, if media is anything to go by, who I believe compliment each others work. Lucilla Booyzen hosts a national fashion week (as with most African countries) which has found, praised and hosted some the country’s finest designers – Black Coffee, David Tlale, Clive Rundle to name a few – and her contribution to South Africa’s Fashion industry is undeniably tremendous! However, through her work for the national fashion industry, there has been a minimal effort to cross the border to expose our talent to the rest of the African continent and beyond. Enter AFI. AFI’s effort to open communication channels between South Africa and the rest of Africa has proven to be successful. In a matter of two years, Africa Fashion Week has become an international force that can no longer be ignored. Africa Fashion Week, through AFI, recognized a gap in the market and filled it successfully, elevating from where Lucilla seems to have left off which proves to be a complementary (silent) partnership. Furthermore, AFI has taken work by other Country-based fashion weeks and amalgamated it into one big fashion week which enjoys international media attention – which is a good start to entering the global market.

So is it fair to disregard AFI’s efforts citing reasons such as: it exploits African designers and offers nothing instead… well, let’s face it, that’s nonsense. The online boutique store that AFI will be launching will also see designers, whose clothes are not readily available, being made available to the national and international market – another direct example of how AFI is trying to rectify the lack of support and exposure African designers are getting.

Fine examples of the AFI’s Africa Fashion Week success stories are Thula Sindi and Heni who have both received local and global interests and they both generated income through the onsite boutique and will both be stocking for (an online boutique). Thula Sindi also managed to secure 1 new Johannesburg based stockist while keeping his old stockists happy with his recent collection (and orders have been placed). Heni over and above securing local stockists has been invited to sell his collection at the London Trunk sale, which coincides with the London Fashion week, AND has been invited to design homeware items which will be sold by an online stockist. So to state that AFI pushes for La bon vie for the Motsepe’s and guests is absurd!

Lessons learnt: South Africa needs a Fashion Council. South Africa needs to stop hosting multiple fashion Weeks which are a waste of time and money! How about 2 national fashion weeks or trade and road shows under Lucilla Booyzen’s umbrella (to source fashion talent and to inform South African buyers and clients of what’s available to them) and One BIG Africa Fashion Week under AFI (which follows the continents fashion contribution) and then perhaps an awards ceremony that will be overseen by the continents Fashion Councils? A fantastic marriage of Lucilla and AFI’s skills, talents and international influence is what the Industry needs – not a ridge fuelled by media who obviously prefer one over the other.

Next time we hear of Bunmi Koko- who are being stocked by Harrods as of now, ahem…- winning designer of the year, heads should not turn to try to figure out who and why.


Maryse B said...

Maque!Congratulations on a well written blog!

I have trouble understanding the need for so many Fashion Weeks in such a small fashion market. Good on AFI for garnering global attention for african fashion through african fashion week. But one can't deny how that very same organisation has diluted the value of a South African Fashion Week in the global sphere with events like Joburg, Durban & Cape Town Fashion Week(s).

Fashion, like any industry, needs to be making money to justify its existence. And based on that I understand why the good doctor threw her hat in and is essentially milking the South African public's desire for these kinds of events for all its worth. My biggest issue with this, though, is that it is happening at the expense of fashion. Fashion is art, and anytime art becomes too commercialized is problematic.

France, England & USA with there more established fashion markets & overall entrenched fashion culture each only have one fashion week that matters for the different seasons, namely Paris, London & New York. And because of the exclusivity of these events, everyone takes notice and waits with baited breath to see what marvelous creations will find their way down the ramp. None of that anticipation exists for any of our many fashion weeks.

Fashion is not a democracy. I feel like there's no reason for the masses who can afford a ticket to one of these shows to be there. It's not like they're there for the fashion.

I completely agree that there needs to be a fashion council. I feel like the fashion industry is just in a bad place and something important needs to happen to elevate it to where it needs to be so that we can properly compete with our global counterparts.

Enough ranting!
What do you think?

Maque DeGorgeous said...

Hi Maryse!!!

wow! you've touched on so many issues and i would like to address them all:

Firstly, I completely agree with you on South Africa having too many fashion weeks (under SA fashion week and AFI), 5 in total and that's just silly! PS To my knowledge, Durban Fashion week is no longer active. I blame both SA fashion and AFI for diluting the value of Fashion Weeks! There are other ways of conducting fashion exhibitions (which is what fashion week really is) and these need to be tapped into.

I want to address the more prestigious fashion weeks versus AFW:
1) we need to stop comparing our fashion week with the recipe implemented by these other fashion weeks because we are governed by different principals. For example, some of the collections shown at New York, Paris and London fashion week are not always available to the consumer immediately after fashion week. in some cases there's a 9 month waiting period before that collection is available to the end user - and this is what South African fashion weeks do not do. As soon as the curtain drops after a fashion show, the collection is available to the public.
2) should customers rely solely on press to let them know what each fashion label is offering? NO! media picks and selects what they want you to see and their selections should not over-rule what the designer would like to make available to the public (although media input plays a large contribution to the success of a brand). The public should also be engaged in the fashion shows and hence I think making tickets available to the public being a great idea. Customers need to see their favourite fashion label's collection to also motivate them to support local designers by buying what they like - and not just what the media thinks they should like. Cutting them off in the name of exclusivity will cause a drift between clients, potential clients and the fashion brand (which is a business at the end of the day) and that's the last thing designers want. International Fashion weeks can afford to do this because catwalk clothes are not immediately and readily available (unless by arrangement) and therefore rendering tickets being available to their public pointless.
3) it's true that some of the masses who flock to fashion week are not there for fashion but see it as a "fabulous event where they need to be seen" and that saddens me. Look, as with all, say Brand Activation parties for instance, not everybody is there to engage with the brand but amongst them, there will some who are genuine so we need to take the bad with the good.

Competing with "our global counterparts" is good in theory. Nevermind the fact that most of them have been running for decades but what i want to point out is the fact that some of these fashion labels are owned by big groups (Gucci and LVMH for example) which, in essence, takes care of their investment by securing them space during fashion week (where they pay for models, production, PR, advertising, space and etc - which AFI and Lucilla Booyzen does on behalf of all the designers). So for us to compete, our fashion designers need to buy into the idea of being bought by these bigger groups - which I, although great for business, is something I do not want to see. i prefer independent brands that pave their own way to success.

not to patronise you, but you should read "Fashion Babylon" which reveals a great deal about how international fashion weeks operate from the perspective of a young fashion label and compare that with what local designers are offered. It will make you proud of how our (young) fashion industry is operating, even wih its mishaps, and how it supports fashion designers. We just need to iron out certain issues because South Africa has the winning recipe for global succes.