Wednesday, 29 July 2015

eThekwini Municipality Invests in Fashion!

Deputy Mayor
Durban has made fashion its business and has invested at least R20 million in the Durban Fashion Fair (DFF), making it the only city in South Africa to own its own fashion week and brand.

Speaking at the official opening of the Durban Fashion Fair 2015 at the Suncoast Hotel on July 16, Deputy Mayor of eThekwini, Nomvuzo Shabalala, said that the DFF that is due to take place between August 26 and 29, on the SUNdeck at Suncoast, went way beyond glamour.

Although showcased by a glittering four day event, it was not as much about the runway as it was about revitalising the textile and clothing industry itself within the city. It was about giving newcomers to the industry and opportunity to showcase their work but also to help them create sustainable small businesses.

“We believe fashion is one of the job creators. One designer cannot work alone. That’s why each designer is a wealth creator,” she said.

As the city celebrated the talent and creations of some of the big names in South African fashion, it also welcomed the opportunity to help develop the many talents that would make up the next generation of designers. 

"For us, this is definitely not just about fashion shows. It is about developing young talent through fashion and reviving the clothing and textile industry in the city. We have come up with something different - a touch of Africa, exciting home grown designs and concepts," she said.

This year's DFF will be preceded by a Fashion Development Programme that includes a mentorship programme enabling 20 up-and coming new designers to learn from the city's fashion gurus. Of these, 10 will be selected for a two month long internship in Milan where they will attend two international fashion shows, buyers' fairs and even art exhibitions. This is aimed at enabling them to experience a culture of fashion that is far more than skin deep.

Shabalala said that the young interns had an opportunity to learn about the global fashion world whilst also discovering the importance of sound business skills and related issues such as brand development and brand recognition.

"Italy is one of the countries that has been able to sustain its economy through its clothing and textile industry," she pointed out, looking to a bigger picture that would enable the fashion and related clothing and textile industries to again become major contributors to the city's economic growth.

With a heart for community development, Shabalala said she believed that the city needed to invest in its youth in order to develop a sustainable economy. Fashion could be a job creator and skills developer in a country and region where youth unemployment was amongst the highest in the world.

She added that she believed that we needed to rediscover the skills that had been mothballed when factories closed during the eighties and nineties and ensure that not only were these passed to the next generation but that the youth attained the additional skills needed to make their mark in the modern day industry.

Shabalala said that Durban needed to move beyond its past when the local industry had buckled under competition from cheap imports from China.  "We believe that has compromised the quality of the garments sold in chain stores across the city. We also believe that if good clothing can be produced locally, we can begin to revive the sector."

This vision was integral to the DFF from its earliest days. What started out as a small component of the Durban Business Fair 17 years ago, has taken on an identity of its own. She credited Sindi Shangase, the Programme Manager for the Business Support Tourism and Markets Unit, with the massive growth and vision that has emerged over the past three years.

"I have seen it start as a single evening at the Coast of Dreams and grow to be spread over a number of evenings at the Durban Exhibition Centre - and I believe that this year's event will be even bigger," she said.

Three years ago, 30 designers participated in the DFF. This year, in addition to the 20 emerging designers who will be competing for internships to Milan, the 10 interns who have returned to Milan together with big names in the fashion industry will show designs at the DFF.

The response to this year's DFF has been such that there is a long waiting list of designers wanting to take part. It will also be the longest Fashion Fair to date, taking place over four days.

2015 had also seen growth in international support for the DFF, especially from across the continent. African countries represented at this year's DFF include Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi and Cameroon. This provided an important opportunity to forge lasting relationships and move beyond the recent xenophobic incidents that shook the city of Durban, said Shabalala. She added that a great deal of support had also been solicited through the sister cities programme and noted that, globally, there were a lot of major centres from which Durban could learn.

Another major milestone for this year's DFF has been the inclusion of Gelvenor Textiles as a sponsor. One of very few remaining success stories in the local textile industry, she said that participating in the DFF had effectively taken the company out of its comfort zone through challenging young designers to adapt fabrics that had been developed for use in the industrial, aeronautical, outdoor, technical and protective clothing sectors, for use in mainstream fashion.

At things stand, local designers and the small number of cut, make and trim operations that still operate in the city rely almost solely on imported fabrics - something that Shabalala would like to see change. "We need fabric to be manufactured locally so it can be less expensive and more accessible.
We used to export textiles. The clothing and textile industry had a big presence in New Germany, Hammarsdale and Clairwood. What happened to those factories? Where did all the people and the skills go that we could use to revive it?" She said that as part of its commitment to reviving the clothing and textile sector in Durban, the city has also brought on board a research team to look closely at the demise of the local industry and determine a new path forwards. Results of this study are expected by year end.


For more information about the Durban Fashion Fair visit: www.facebook.com/DurbanFashionFair