Local fashion designers face many obstacles trying to do business in South Africa, but there are some benefits to South Africa’s fledgling status in global fashion, according to a report in BusinessDayLive.
Lucilla Booyzen launched the first South Africa Fashion Week 18 years ago with 17 designers. Since then the event has grown. Almost 40 designers are expected to show their collections at the Autumn-Winter 2016 Fashion Week Oct. 21-24.
South Africa imports most of what it wears from countries such as China, Bangladesh and Vietnam, according to a report in eNCA.
When it comes to high-end fashion, South African consumers look for international labels. Luxury boutiques stock labels from Italy, France and the U.S., while local designers struggle to scale up their operations and command high prices, eNCA reported. Every season, fresh new local designers send their creations down the runway, but very few designers have established recognized labels that can show and compete internationally.
Yet South African boutiques said in a survey they are interested in buying local, BusinessDayLive reports.
South Africa Fashion Week has 403 designers in its database, according to BusinessDayLive. These include 365 in women’s wear, 66 in menswear, plus 770 women’s boutiques and 160 men’s.
South Africa’s fashion designers often hit a roadblock when it comes to securing government funding, which is more focused on supporting clothing manufacturers, Booyzen said.
When China was included in the World Trade Organisation in 2001, local South African clothing manufacturers suffered immensely, according to a report in BusinessPartners, a financing company that invests in entrepreneurs. South African businesses began importing cheaper textiles and clothing from China.
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Jobs in the sector decreased from around 180,000 in 2002 to 80 000 in 2013. A government rescue plan for the textile and clothing industry in 2009, has helped to recover the industry.
In 2013, clothing, textiles, footwear and leather industries accounted for about 14 percent of manufacturing jobs and represented South Africa’s second largest tax revenue source, according to a report in BusinessPartners, a financing company that invests in entrepreneurs.
Fabric manufacturers want large orders, Booyzen said. The quantity of fabric that local designers need is often so small that they can’t compete with orders from big department stores.
Designers who can’t secure fabric can’t guarantee supply to buyers who place larger orders.
The dominance of manufacturing hampers innovation and development, Booyzen said, “but things are looking up.”
Some fashion design businesses such as Black Coffee, Colleen Eitzen, Gert-Johan Coetzee, Rubicon and Sober have enough orders to make it worthwhile for a manufacturer to print fabric runs to their designs.
There are benefits to South Africa’s fledgling status in the global fashion world, Booyzen said.
“We’re a very young industry. We’re babies taking baby steps and that’s to our advantage. The rules are not set. It is hard for someone in Paris to get in (to the fashion world) because it is well established, the space is hogged by so many big names. Our advantage is that we are focusing on the (small, micro and medium enterprises) and building them.”
In South Africa, new designers often start out with custom items, then later begin to make money with ready-to-wear garments, Booyzen said. When demand is high enough for them to open their own stores, their profit margins improve. This has already happened for several womenswear designers.
South Africa Fashion Week has showed menswear since its inception, and introduced a menswear competition in 2013. “Now the designers have grown. Sheldon (Kopman) of Naked Ape has a shop in the (Rosebank) Mews (in Johannesburg). He’s selling ready-to-wear. That’s the future, but it takes time,” Booyzen said.
Booyzen and Annette Pringle-Kölsch started an agency in 2012 to help designers. The Fashion Agent markets designers and provides a buffer between them and the boutiques.
“We do all the nasty stuff like demanding payment from buyers, and pushing designers to produce,” said Pringle-Kölsch in an interview with BusinessDayLive.
Much of South Africa Fashion Week’s work goes into preparing designers for the international market, Booyzen said.