‘Journey to Retail’ workshop unpacks the business side of fashion and importance of supporting local designers

The panellists of the “Journey To Retail” workshop.

The panellists of the “Journey To Retail” workshop.

Published Sep 7, 2023


Every designer knows something about the creative side of fashion but not many know much about the business side of fashion.

As such, Proudly South African recently hosted a “Journey To Retail” workshop at the Fedisa Fashion School in Sandton to teach fashion students about the importance of running a successful business within the fashion industry.

The panel discussion led by Happy Makhumalo Ngidi, chief marketing officer at Proudly South African, featured industry heavyweights from African Fashion International (Afi)’s Brand & Designer Liaison Manager, Khwaza Tshisela, who delved into the intricacies of putting together a world-class fashion show, followed by Thami Dish, founder of The Feather Awards, who spoke about de-gendering fashion and adapting mindsets around the innovations in the fashion industry.

In addition, one of this year’s Local fashion Police judges JJ Schoeman gave insights into how he made his brand a household name and shared the importance of retaining customers.

Sapho Raganya, the assistant director representing the Department of Small Business Development, discussed the department’s plans for aspiring fashion business owners.

Fedisa Fashion School’s Clothing Tech lecturer Siyabonga Kobue concluded the discussions with words of wisdom for the students and highlighted the importance of being the change they wanted to see in the fashion world.

“Being a well-established local designer is the last leg of the race. The journey begins with a vision and then education. It is, therefore, critical for Proudly SA to onboard fashion students in the revitalisation of the economy drive.

“They are critical pieces that we need from today’s generation to reshape the future generation and fill in the localisation agenda starting at grassroots levels,” Makhumalo Ngidi shared.

What is the business of fashion?

To understand the business of fashion, you must first know the supply chain involved in creating a garment- that it goes beyond the designer.

The designer may be the creative director, but there are many people behind the scenes involved in the creation of the clothes we wear.

Makhumalo Ngidi emphasised the importance of wearing local because instead of taking money outside, we are circulating it amongst ourselves, building our economy.

“For a number of reasons, at the top is the fact that it is an industry that carries a high value chain that contributes to roughly 80 000 jobs, which in turn sustains and improves livelihoods.

“The clothing, textile, footwear, and leather sector is a critical industry to the country's economy, and it's importance is that it does not only keep the designers, buyers, etc. busy, but highly contributes to jobs.

“As you can imagine, a fashion designer may be a creative director, but they also employ people who source material, deliveries, and sew. These are livelihoods that speak to our core mandate, buy local to create jobs.”

The legal implications of the business of fashion

As much as this industry is one of the biggest because everyone needs clothes, there are many risks involved, such as copying designs. In the creative industry, it’s easy for people to copy your work and present it as their own.

We’ve seen several designers fight over designs; the most recent one was between La Jaqueta and Bloom By Edzi over a Barbie dress.

In order to protect and trademark your designs, you need a legal representation. However, lawyers are not cheap and most emerging designers hardly have the money to pay for such services as they are still trying to grow their businesses, and that’s where pro bono comes in.

“There’s something called pro bono services from a legal perspective. Find a lawyer and speak to them on the basis of pro bono.

“Pro bono service is when an advocate or a lawyer can represent your company, and you will not pay them immediately. You will only pay them once you get the money,” said Makhumalo Ngidi.

The importance of producing local

Many designers want local people to support their brand. But the question then became about what’s the point if, as a designer, you don’t support local yourself.

By producing your garments locally, not only are you contributing to the local economy by creating jobs, you are also unlocking your gate to retail.

Getting into retail is not easy, there are designers who have been in the game for over ten years who have been trying to crack the retail code but have not yet been successful.

“Retail is a third party service that drives value beyond the fact, function and nature of the product. The requirements of getting into retail differs according to retailers. The brand must have have value, and the producers must have shown skill,” said Michael Lawrence of the National Clothing Retail Federation.

By producing local, retail giants like Mr Price and PnP Clothing are able to collaborate with you so that your clothes can be easily accessible to the local market, that way, everybody wins.

For example, Mr Price has partnered with South African Fashion Week for the New Talent Search, where they call emerging designers to compete by creating sustainable collections to showcase at SA Fashion Week.

The winner not only gets a cash prize, they also get to create a collection to be sold at Mr Price outlets nationwide.

The winner of this year’s competition was Cyla Gonsolves, who walked away with R50 000 in cash and a mentorship programme with SA Fashion Week.

PnP Clothing also has a designer collaboration programme, where they work with young, local designers.

They recently partnered with Thando Ntuli of Munkus to create a limited edition collection available at PnP Clothing outlets.

Ntuli is a former winner of SA Fashion Week New Talent Search (2022).