Cape Town - South African designers preparing for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town, which starts in less than two weeks’ time, have the dual responsibility of not only putting on a beautiful show, but also helping rebuild what was once a thriving industry.
That’s according to Chamber of Commerce human resource portfolio chairman Michael Bagraim, who said Fashion Week and similar events were vital against the backdrop of a provincial fashion and textiles industry that has been “decimated” in recent years.
“It’s important to focus on local at this time, in order to re-establish the former glory of the industry,” he said.
Also a long-time labour lawyer, Bagraim said that, based on his own client base, the industry in terms of locally-producing retailers and factories had declined to about a third of what it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
Events such as Fashion Week, he predicted, could act as something of a catalyst to the revival of the industry, which was once the backbone of Cape Town’s economy.
Now the tourism industry has taken that number one spot, but Bagraim said Cape Town remained the fashion capital of the Western Cape, South Africa and potentially even Africa.
Attracting more designers to the city could, in the longer term, mean more factories, which would feed into the industry, eventually offering South Africans opportunities to buy local clothing at affordable costs, he added.
Until the 1990s, clothing and textiles was the biggest employer in the Western Cape, with thousands of people employed in factories in Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory.
“We’ve been bleeding for the last 25 years, shedding people, by retrenching, dismissing and closing down,” Bagraim said.
Jenny le Roux, the force behind “Mostly made in Cape Town” brand Habits, adheres to the idea of keeping their brand “local” and “lekker”. She said that showing at Fashion Week was beneficial to her brand, attracting local attention and seeing online sales soar.
But she adds that the costs to show professionally are high.
“Where to start? I get extra models – I think at the moment they are R2 000 each per show, plus I need extra models for trial runs. Any extra lighting is for our cost, and shoes can cost anything from R299 to R2 999. Some of my designs are really for ramp only, not sellers. We also pay for marketing material, the DVD of the show and the ramp photographs,” she said.
Added to that was the cost of designing and delivering invitations, and staff overtime for the “40-odd bods” who will inevitably work late nights, regardless of how much planning is done.
There is also the after-show party, which Le Roux said wasn’t a fashion show cost – but with just one show a year, “one must get as much value as possible”.
Fashion Week organiser African Fashion International (AFI) is the “leading fashion authority on the African continent and is committed to the promotion and development of the best South African and African design talent”, according to its website.
The company said they worked hard to create “leading, world-class platforms (including Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg, Cape Town and Africa) aimed at driving the growth of the industry and the support of talented designers”.
Last year the Chamber of Commerce put out a call for South Africans to buy local goods, not just in terms of fashion, but also generally. And Bagraim said the response had so far been positive.
“There is a strong feeling of patriotism that is starting to creep into our psyche.”
But there were still complaints that the stock of certain stores was mostly imported. With Eastern imports being cheap and arriving in bulk, people could not always afford to buy local – “and that’s where it falls apart at the seams”.
This year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town takes place from August 7 to 10 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Up to 30 designers will show their Spring/Summer 2013/14 collections. This year’s theme aims to celebrate the strength of “Fashion, Art & Design” in the city, leading to the city’s status as World Design Capital 2014.