SA Fashion Future

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Here, South African fashion fundis give their perspectives on the future of the field. They will all be part of a 35-designer summer extravaganza showing at the South African Fashion Week 2001 to be held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 28 August to 2 September.

I fiercely support South African creativity. I fully believe that local is lekker - it doesn't have to be from overseas to be fashionable or trendy. SA is rich in exciting, directional fashion. It doesn't have to do it in a clichéd way. I am from Durban and have never been overseas. For me to pretend to be inspired only by international stuff is to deny my cultural roots. I'm currently working on the Durban Designer Collection and everything's got a local twist. It's Durban-inspired.

At present we do manufacture very good quality merchandise for the overseas market but it is usually under license and by foreign designers or labels. We have sophisticated media and I have a feeling that they would be able to assist many designers with exposure as long as the designers are consistent in their work and provide quality product at a good price.

All too often, 'designers' rely heavily on overseas influences and token Africanism, which usually degenerates into bad copies and 'ethnic' type merchandise that is often unacceptable for export as well as the 'upper' end of the local market.

Africa has long been a source of inspiration to many designers and artists overseas thanks to its exoticism, colour, print, texture and ornamentation. I always find it ironic that we only embrace African inspiration when Galliano, Gaultier or Versace do and not when we see it in our own backyard or on our own streets. In my experience, Africa is a never-ending source of inspiration and gives my work the edge when I sell it overseas. I approach it differently every time and can't quite pin down what it is that makes it so timeless yet contemporary, so universal and so exotic.

The markets are out there. Recently South Africa was zero rated by the United States and conditions are ideal for export with more favourable exchange and duty rates. Now is the time to re-think and re-develop. We need all those truly talented and committed designers to work with the manufacturing and marketing industries to find 'the look', 'the product'. South African fashion deserves governmental support but I suppose it is not a 'fashionable' enough cause. They need reminding that the industry employs both in the formal and informal sector almost as many people as the mining industry.

It's definitely growing from strength to strength. We need more international writers to witness fashion week because there's definitely something fresh to be seen and to take home with them. The future looks promising. For example, there are about twenty young designers from my home town in Durban who, if they had the necessary finances, would blow people right out of the water with their designs.

We are essentially a conservative society with Eurocentric tendencies - yet with our conservatism the level of tolerance for variance is great. Our fashion future lies in this tolerance for variance. Under apartheid the natural evolution of a true SA style stopped. We do have, however, a distinctly South African way of doing things. SA's fashion future will happen when we accept that whatever we do as South Africans is great and realise that designers can draw inspiration for a huge rage of influences.

The future for designers in this country is phenomenal. Doors are starting to open internationally. Personally, I've been exposed in Wallpaper and some French magazines through my showings at SA Fashion Week, which would never have happened any other way. So it's getting better. South African designers are all developing individual styles. Commercial stuff doesn't really work for me. The stuff I'm doing now is probably the most creative I've produced. I just do my own thing, which, thankfully, sells well.