Maxhosa by Laduma is one of the most successful South African brands. Picture: SDR.
African fashion is rapidly growing, making its way to be recognised globally but sustaining it remains one of the biggest challenges because operating in the fashion industry is risky itself. There is a limited shelf-life and a peril that some part of the collections might not be sufficiently commercial hence it’s important to have the right volumes and balance in the mix between fashion basics and the latest trends. 

To outline the challenges faced within the African fashion industry, Swedish multinational clothing-retail company H&M recently hosted the very first Sustainable Fashion African Summit in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. 

One of the key topics was Africa Rising: a discussion on how to take African design and fashion to the world with issues such as accessibility, supply chain, quality, production, brand, and story discussed. 

Sikazkele Maratlulle of Maratlelle & Co says not having enough fashion and design affordable and quality institutions also plays a role in setting back the industry. 

Everyone wants to make a star designer but what about the machinist, the cutter, and the pattern maker? 

“We still need people who will master being a machinist, a cutter, a pattern maker and so forth and that is where our industry actually collapsed. I know the government is trying to do something about it but the saddest thing is there aren't many people in the manufacturing process, it’s like a drop in the ocean. Everybody wants to speak designer nobody wants to talk about manufacturing,”  says Moratlelle who has a fashion training academy. 

Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa by Laduma says in order to be sustainable in the business of fashion you need to find your ground and stick to it. Picture: SDR. 

A South African designer who’s marked a global territory with his luxury designs, Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa by Laduma says in order to be sustainable in the business of fashion you need to find your ground and stick to it. 

“In my case, I think sustainability is a value chain. When I started my brand I had to decided my standing ground and mohair was the perfect one because it is a sustainable fiber. I looked into how they grind the fibers and what benefits you could get out of it. I then came to Johannesburg and had to scheme up my business to think about the sustainable culture,” says Ngxokolo. 

However, sustaining African fashion won't just come from having conversations only. Big brands, the public, and designers all have a role in ensuring African fashion stays relevant and sustainable. Seeing the gap local designers competing globally, H&M has African fashion, collaborated with Mantsho, a brand by Palesa Mokubung.

Mantsho designs. Picture: Eunice Driver. 

But then again, for local brands to compete globally, they have a responsibility of producing world-class designs. 

“We have to be very clear that sustainability also demands that we produce work of world-class quality. We cannot expect to compete with the world and not pay attention to the craft or basics of what makes a fashion label successful. Our local designers have to pay attention to the craft, and know what makes good design. 

“When we produce world class we are able to charge the money that we're worth to generate the value that we’re worth. If you look at Laduma’s brand, for example, he is unapologetic about viewing the luxury segments of consumers and his products live up to the expectations of what a luxury brand should be,” says Moratlelle.

Besides buying local designs, the public has also been given a task to help sustain African fashion by recycling old clothes. They can participate by taking old clothing to H&M to be recycled to create new garments.