Young designers for Olympic outfits
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Every four years, the best athletes in the world gather at a celebration of their sporting prowess, where champion competes against champion to find the ultimate champion.
And then when they are done, they proudly wear their country's colours, an intersection of sports and fashion.
I have long believed that what athletes wear at the Olympics is important, and it sets the tone for their performance and their confidence.
The Opening Ceremony may be their final time of being relaxed and enjoy being celebrated, without the pressure of participating. So when I see Team South Africa looking haphazard, dishevelled and a sartorial and branding disaster, I get upset.
Upset because this is an opportune time for the best sportsmen in the country to be wearing garments that showcase the design prowess of the country. It's a branding opportunity that leads to the country's designers getting the best exposure possible - on one of the most-watched TV events.
The only time I was happy with what Team SA wore to the Olympics, was the London 2012 games, where Leigh Schubert designed the opening ceremony outfits.
I watched, with horror, at the Beijing 2008 games, as our athletes wore those white linen sack clothes, with green Crocs!
And then the Rio 2016 games as Team SA walked out in those ill-fitting, Ninja Turtle inspired tracksuits that did nothing for our athletes.
Watching Olympians from Canada, Sweden, UK and the US in their designer duds, left me with pangs of envy at what other sporting councils did for their athletes.
I wasn't holding my breath for there to be any change for the Tokyo 2020 (2021) games.
But it seems our comments finally got to the powers that be, and got four young designers to create the opening ceremony outfit for Team SA.
Sandile Sikhakhane, Mbali Zulu, Nompumelelo Mjadu, and Sipho Lushaba were hand-picked by Mr Price Sport to design the opening ceremony outfits.
Incidentally, all four designers were part of the 2020 Durban Fashion Fair mentorship programme.
Approached in February, the designers came up with four designs, which were then fine-tuned and then brought down to two - a shirt with chino and a playsuit.
The outfits will be finished off with a pair of veldskoene. It’s safari chic, but with a loud print.
But what they loved was that they had free reign to design what they thought would be outfits that the athletes would be proud to be seen in.
“It was a dream, there were no restrictions. They felt that if they gave us too many barriers, we wouldn't be as creative when coming up with the designs,” said Zulu.
There was one brief they had to stick to though, Mjadu adds. “We were also briefed not to stick to one culture. It needed to be representative of South Africa as a whole,” she said.
For them to come up with something that represented South Africa, they turned to Nelson Mandela.
“Our designs were based on Nelson Mandela's vision of uniting SA through sport. So we were inspired by his classic shirts and realised we needed to have a shirt. And then we developed a print that was uniquely South Africa,” said Lushaba.
“The biggest thing for us was to make sure that we develop our own print.
“We didn't want to use something that was already existing.
“We spoke about the Big 5, the unity angle, and so we decided to create an animal print that will be unique.
“It turns out we were on the money as the geo animal print trend is one of the biggest fashion trends this year.
“So our athletes are going to be fashionable at the Olympics,” Lushaba said.
The process took little more than a month and extensive research. “The minute we were approached, the first thing I checked was what Team SA had worn to the Olympics previously.
“I am a huge Olympics fan, but I also love the Opening Ceremony and the athletes parading. We all loved Leigh Schubert's take.
“The Ninja Turtle inspired tracksuits were very unfortunate. So we knew that the stakes were high, and we needed to deliver something great,” Zulu said.
The most important thing for Zulu was to make sure they had the input from the athletes.
“We spoke to some athletes about what they would like to wear, how they wanted to look and how they wanted to feel when walking into the ceremony.
“That was important, they are the ones who will be wearing these garments and they need to feel confident that they look good. I think we managed to do just that,” Zulu said.