I find the South African fashion industry incredibly inspiring and so saturated with talent. Though in the past year I have learnt that having a well-curated collection of product might insure sales but working with like-minded people who share your values and vision is the key to the venture’s sustainability.
The initial concept of FABRICATE studio was to establish a network of local creatives. As much as we compete internally for sales we collectively strive to build a stronger local fashion industry . This way we can start collectively competing with bigger players rather than each other. Self-serving enterprises are not going to survive the next revolution in retail. The landscape is rapidly changing and by learning from each other we have a much greater chance of success.
This turbulent time in retail encourages entrepreneurs to be inventive and FABRICATE boutique became the platform where designers and clients could interact. Traditionally this relationship has not been nurtured, but a shift in how the value of something is determined has guided us to reevaluate this status quo. We have become more likely to invest in something made by someone you know.
We launched FABRICATE studio boutique pop-up store in Design Quarter in November 2018. I have learnt a whole lot in the last year, made some expensive mistakes and met some insightful people. By no means do I think I have this story figured out, but I do have a fairly good idea of where I want to take this adventure.
As much as the fashion industry is going online internationally, the South African market is still a quite wary of this transition. Though FABRICATE I would like to gradually ease shoppers into this new way of shopping. Our website brings the rails of clothing alive and becomes the most influential point of interaction where shoppers can browse from the comfort of a couch. The shop itself needs to be focused on creating an experience rather than just making sales.
Customers are no longer just buying a dress they are subscribing to a new way of shopping for clothing. This interaction needs to be more intimate and a lot more exciting than the mass consumption model that we have become accustomed to. This process starts with introducing the designers to the people supporting them.
I have been selling dresses for 15 years at the height of the curve more than 100 units per week, that is a large amount of clothing! It is still the highlight of my week when I meet someone who has purchased one, or usually a couple, of my dresses. They always seem to be quite surprised (and happy) to meet the designer. My personal favourite was when a lady did a full on happy dance and gave me a hug, my second is each time someone who walked in looking uncomfortable in her own body, looks into the mirror and smiles unselfconsciously.
Designers are, for the most part, an interesting bunch and by interacting with them one gets a much greater appreciation for their creations. It gives you an insight into their way of thinking allows you more freedom to experiment with their designs and own the pieces on a more intimate level. This is all part of the journey to finding your own style and establishing your own fashion identity.
This relationship is naturally a two way connection. For as much as I want to show you the person behind the creation I would also like to get as much constructive feedback from clients as possible, because this is how designers grow. This is how creatives make more things that you like and want and stop wasting energy on the things that you don’t.
Transparency then goes a step further to where we share where and by who each piece of clothing was made. The global Fashion Revolution movement has recently started highlighting the plight of the garment worker. Locally we have such strict employment regulations that most designers adhere to much higher ethical standards than our international counterparts, but we don’t tell anyone about it! I came to the disparity this creates when I was once innocently asked “but it is made in South Africa, why is it so expensive?” The greatest expense to producing locally is labour. Most designers do production in-house with a team of machinists that become like family or outsource to small CMT (cut make trim) factories that are willing to do production runs suited to designers’ needs. These are militantly controlled by bargaining councils that make sure the machinists needs are catered to.
The hands that made your clothing are important and need to be honoured. Through putting a face to the person responsible for making your garment you add value to that piece and this in turn increases the lifespan of a garment. How likely are you to throw out a dress that a friend made for you than one your bought from a chainstore?
To tell our story we need intelligent voices. Fashion journalist who write articles that educate the readers, influences who realise that it is a serious faux pas to not wear local fashion to local fashion weeks, media partners that have a vested interest in building the local fashion industry because by building us you are securing a future for yourself.
A loss of faith in the advertising industry combined with the sheer volume of advertising that we are exposed to daily has changed also had a large impact what medium we should be focussing on to
On first day at fashion college we all got asked “why do you want to go into the fashion industry?” and many responded with the “passion for fashion” auto-answer. 18 years later I can vividly remember rolling my eyes and stringing together something equally insipid. Yet this passion has driven me to keep reevaluating and reinventing the way I do business, to keep creating things that I am proud of and to only participate in adventures that align with my ethos alongside people that have the same passion for fashion.
On an international level fashion weeks have started to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. There have been calls for fashion weeks to be scrapped in favour of climate protests. Some fashion weeks have caved, others have changes their mantra to suit this new eco-conscious trend and others still strut forth as if nothing is wrong.
But there is so much wrong with this industry - fashion weeks are merely the tip of the iceberg. A very visible tip. The tip that sells the rest of the spectacle - The tip that glamorizes one of the biggest polluting industries in the world - The tip that hides exploitation of natural as well as human resources.
Fashion week has thus become unfashionable.
That is an easy statement to make and the easy solution is then to advocate for an end to fashion and to the entire fashion industry as it stands today. For many this is unthinkable, and, as matters are at the moment, impractical. The fashion industry generates income for a vast amount of the world’s population and until a replacement for the capitalistic system has been established it is how matters need to continue.
In order to ensure we have a planet left filled with humans to appreciate designers’ creations, the industry needs to change its spots. The clothing industry needs to become sustainable. Fashion week, as the current face of this industry, needs to do more to make this a reality if they wish to stay relevant.
The first step would be to identifying achievable goals and making sure that all designers represented by fashion week change their business models accordingly. All the designers need to be telling the same story and thus all designers would need to be involved in establishing and enforcing these goals. This would be much akin to herding cats
The second would be to encourage collaborations across fields. Through connecting different industries, new solutions could be developed. This includes new fabrics created for recycled waste products and versatile pieces being designed for specific industries to limit the quantity of clothing required. Developing finishes for garments that can reduce the amount they need to be washed or increasing their longevity, keeping them out of landfills just a bit longer. Shaldon Kopman once referred to himself and all designers not just as designers but as outstanding problem solvers. I find this a very valid outlook and a skill that we need to employ if we wish to survive.
The more voices that get involved will also spread the message exponentially faster. Partnering with loud voices would be step three. Influencers, media, buyers and fashion week attendees need to all be supporting the industry they celebrate and feed from. Instead of wearing a set colour to fashion week we need to make sure they wear the designers’ clothing that they have come to support. Consumers need to be educated about what they are wearing, where it comes from and why it matters.
Next would be establishing new platforms on which to showcase this new mindset. To re-brand a runway as suddenly sustainable is near impossible. The whole identity of a catwalk-centred show consists of models with perfectly unattainable bodies flashing past, reducing a team of creatives’ works to mere minutes, leaving the audience hungry for their next fix. It perpetuates the problem and we need to start conceiving and implementing solutions. The type of platforms would need to be more accessible, relatable and would need to be cohesive to the story — this can be done in synergy with the eco-friendly ethos or in contrast (as Stella McCartney has done)
This shift in the fashion week mentality would not need to be tied down to bi-annual event. It could be a multifaceted continuous story being retold in many different voices on a number of different platforms the whole year round.
Fashion week as an event could become a recap of what has been done in the past six months, represented through film, photography, performance or exhibitions. This would elevate fashion to art through collaboration with other creatives creating something that is considered and relevant instead of a conveyor belt of fodder for the fickle fashionistas to pick through.
Many local designers don’t have the capacity, mentally, creatively or financially, to create more than one collection a year. But if this could be broken down into smaller projects running throughout the year, released when the designer is happy with the final product, it would be much more manageable. Smaller, more curated collections would also fit in to the “buy less, choose well” philosophy of climate activist Vivienne Westwood.
A vital addition to fashion week would be hosting discussions, seminars and starting dialogues around what fashion week, designers and other industry players are doing and what they would like to achieve. By collectively brainstorming problems and sharing resources solutions to industry wide problems would be easier to solve.
In the past there have been some really inspiring talks during SA Fashion Week. Establishing an incentivised platform on which we could monitor and follow up on the ideas generated though these lectures could inspire designers to continue these discussions throughout the year, developing them into tangible products and solutions.
This is a colossal and daunting vision but one that I truly believe in as vital to the sustainability of this industry. An industry that excites and inspires me, one allows me turn my creativity into something functional, into something that can positively contribute to my muse's life.
Isabelle Lotter; clothing designer with a passion for sharing ideas