Erica Louw is the head of operations for the South African National Youth Orchestra Foundation.
JOHANNESBURG - It's Women's Month and I am wearing pants for the first time in years. 

Not just any pair of pants, a tight-fitting, high-rise linen pair that accentuate every single part of my thick, cellulite rich, frumpy, wobbly, size 24 bottom.

You see, I look funny in pants because they just don’t “fit well” on people of my build. For the longest time I have been a supporter of loose-fitting T-shirt material dresses with leggings because they hide my rolls, apparently. And for the longest time I didn’t even own a full-length mirror, so terrifying an experience it was to see my own reflection.

For us big girls, the struggle to find fashionable plus-size clothes is real. One can only wear so much stretch T-shirt material.

I have tirelessly Googled “Plus size clothing South Africa” with no results. It’s not that there’s nothing out there, but it’s really not always beautiful, celebrating our bodies.

As a consequence, I used to buy inexpensive, poor quality, baggy clothes that only lasted one season, because nobody is willing to exchange their kidney for a R1500 dress. I ended up with a cupboard full of items, but I kept going back to the same few pieces.

Then came the Mari Kondo fad, where you de-clutter your cupboards, only keeping the clothes that bring you joy.

It turned out that the outfits that gave me joy were the expensive, quality pieces.

My conviction to buy local, quality clothes was reinforced after a trip to India in 2017 where I saw first-hand the awful circumstances of the people who make those R50 T-shirts and leggings we find in so many of our small retail stores.

That image has stayed with me on every subsequent shopping expedition, so now I make sure I stick to locally manufactured clothes.

I started shopping around and one day I found a shop in whose window a fabulous, bold jump-suit by Malesela Rachel or “Ouma Tema” under the brand name Plus Fab caught my eye.

Ouma Tema’s story started with her own shopping nightmares, like the ones I’ve described above. She would find something she wanted but it was never available in her size. And what there was available in her size screamed “grandma”!

Ouma Tema started making her own clothes and soon gained popularity by posting on social media platforms.

Friends and fellow plus-sized ladies kept on asking where she got all her wonderful outfits, sharing their own frustrations with her.

And so, Plus Fab was born and the company is now a fully-fledged member of Proudly South African.

I have also discovered that there are plenty of tailors dotted all over Gauteng, making bespoke pieces. I have found Adam’s Fashions in Yeoville, so whenever I need a dress for a special occasion, I call up Adam, sometimes taking my own fabric and other times we go to the fashion district to choose together.

Then I have a one of a kind garment, tailor made, fitted for my shape, and made locally, supporting local small industries.

Being a plus-size girl has brought me to my newly formed way of thinking.

Always support local.

Buy quality over quantity.

Save up for that R1500 dress. You will wear it for many seasons to come. (You really don’t need more than 10 dresses in your cupboard, if all of them are fabulous).

I will proudly show every curve of my body from now on, wearing local, vibrant, modern, made for big girl clothes. Why? Because I am worth it, just like all those designers, seamstresses, finishers and all the women in the textile sector value chain I am ardently supporting.

PS: I now have a full-length mirror.

Erica Louw is the head of operations for the South African National Youth Orchestra Foundation.

BUSINESS REPORT