NOTES ON THE HEALTH OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY AND SOME IDEAS REGARDING WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO HIGHLIGHT IN MY NEXT COLLECTION...
One of the key elements of the creation process is the talented machinists and other crafters that help to construct the garments we design. It is a symbiotic partnership where one cannot function without the other. The exploitation of workers in the garment industry has been a hot topic in social media generating massive momentum with the hashtags #whomademyclothes and #fashrev along with the proudly South African #lovezabuyza. Documentaries made after the Rana Plaza collapse, such as The True Cost have also highlighted the plight of workers in the garment manufacturing industry
In a recently published paper concerning transparency in the fashion industry titled IT'S TIME FOR A FASHION REVOLUTION the following interesting points were made.
WE ARE THE FASHION REVOLUTION
Our main focus is to change the narrative surrounding fashion. To transform it into a force for good. We believe that it is everybody’s responsibility; not just the fashion designers, buyers and big retailer, but also the end consumer, who allows this state of affairs to continue by purchasing the “poly-blend T-shirts and runway rip offs”
Highlighting WHERE and by WHOM clothing is made is an integral part of the Fashion revolution’s mantra, telling the stories behind the clothing. Transparently is key to insure that consumers don’t unknowingly aid and abet dubious practices “and contribute to a future that is bad for people and the planet”
WE BELIEVE IN A FASHION INDUSTRY THAT VALUES PEOPLE, THE ENVIRONMENT, CREATIVITY AND PROFIT IN EQUAL MEASURE
As a fairly well established designer in the South African fashion industry I feel that is is my duty and privilege to help spread the message. I have always believed in creating sustainable jobs especially in the labour intensive clothing industry and thus I’ve kind of approached the topic back to front.
In a recent "Eureka!" moment I realised that being an ethical designer does not end with paying a fair wage, crediting all input in design and well as production and insuring that as little as possible waste that we generate ends up in landfills. I need to tell people; consumers, fellow designers and other members of this huge industry, what I’m up to.
The main reasoning behind it is so that my loyal and amazing customer know what they are buying and why they are paying more for my clothing than mass produced runway-ripoffs. I want them to share in the feel good glow; contributing, in whatever manner, to creating more a sustainable industry. I want this ethos to rub off on my fellow designers, most of whom are already ticking all the #fashrev boxes, and inspire them to talk about what they are doing.
By adding more voices to the movement and using any available platform to broadcast it the Fashion Revolution will happen. We have committed 30 years of fast fashion atrocities and created an unsustainable monstrous industry that generates trillions of dollars annually yet fails to honour its most key member.
AFRICAN HANDS CREATING CLOTHING FOR AFRICAN BODIES
South Africa sits at the tip of a culturally rich continent with access to a huge pool of talented craftsmen and -women. Before the rise of the industrial far East we used to boast many successful fabric mills and production houses. Our bodies do not fit the Chinese, European or American mould and we have been forced to feel shame rather than celebrate being healthy human beings. Our sense of style and ethnic signatures has been appropriated the world over, yet we still flock to support cheap, badly made Western fast fashion.
We need to change our own narrative and stop allowing ourselves to be exploited. We have the power to unite the local fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way we think about clothing.
To start at the beginning; after finishing at lisof I worked as a shop slave (technically shop assistant, but “slave” was a more fitting a term) for a year. After that I was fortunate enough to secure a position at a Cut Make and Trim factory (CMT) that produced clothing in downtown Joburg. The owner; my first patterns lecturer, Erica de Greef, guided me exposing me to all the different elements in this insane industry. I worked under her guidance for the next four years learning more about the gritty, practical aspects of fashion than I ever thought existed!
The local fashion industry is fairly small and well guarded. Sure, anybody can walk into Golden Glow (a fabric wholesaler in Fordsburg) and buy fabric.. in theory.. In real life; it’s tricky. Who to speak to, how to tip, what to ask for, what to avoid, who has the best quality, best price, who is the most reliable, how to find out what fabric is being brought in just after the buyers return from the East and so much more. Having a mentor helps you avoid some very expensive mistakes. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve made my fair share of f#ckups, but it could have been worse.. On my own I would have struggled to survive one season.
On that note; I’ve also been blessed with an amazing financial guide, who happens to be my father and who happens to turn 60 tomorrow. Very few aspiring fashion designers value the importance of being able to draw up a little spread sheet showing their predicted income and expenses. Most fashion diplomas/degrees have only recently started adding business as a possible subject for students to take and then, in most cases, it is presented in such an abstract way that students don’t realise the value of it.
I want to say that I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also put in a fair amount of work.. luck and hard work do seem to go hand-in-hand.. But either way, I wish to continue the cycle of sharing. For the past six years I’ve accommodated interns from the various fashion design institutions/institutes in and around the country. Some helpers have been more successful that others; some have been chased away and some became close friends.
It is a huge risk letting these creatively charged, excitable and oh so young personalities into your space, into my creative bubble, into my secrets that I’ve spent the past decade gathering. I’ve been hurt, had designs stolen and copied; down to the pleats inside the pocket! But I still feel internship is a vital rite of passage between student and designer.
Photographs of some of my fabulous interns courtesy of Lingo Rodrigues and Jess le Roux, depicting some of the mad things we've done. So much love to all my interns, wherever you may be <3
Isabelle Lotter; clothing designer with a passion for sharing ideas