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