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.
Isabelle Lotter; clothing designer with a passion for sharing ideas