SA's ‘slow fashion’ label gathers speed

Walking tall: Kim and Natalie Ellis. (Charlene Schreuder)

Walking tall: Kim and Natalie Ellis. (Charlene Schreuder)

From the tie-and-dye floating dress in hemp to the clean and functional designs of Stella McCartney, the road to ecofashion was not always paved with good intentions, great style and socially and environmentally friendly clothes. But the collapse in April of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, and the death of over 1 000 workers, once again turned the spotlight’s glare on the precarious working conditions often found in the garment industry and the pressing need for durable change.

In 2012 South African sisters Kim and Natalie Ellis created an organic and ethical label, the Joinery, which they hope will contribute to the process of change. Growing up in Amanzimtoti near Durban, a small town “with a great sense of community”, the Ellis sisters spent some time immersed in London before moving back to South Africa to discover “a plethora of extremely talented women who, due to the downfall of the [local] textile and manufacturing industries [were] highly skilled yet unemployed”.

The Joinery was born, as the encouraging fusion of a women’s sewing co-operative based in the Cape Flats and the design expertise of the Ellis sisters.

Their spring/ summer 2014 range is about “slow fashion”, with key trans-seasonal pieces: “Our Kita swing Kimono shirt can be worn flowing and open on top of your summer bikini, or buttoned up with a bolo tie for a winter boho look.”

This year, the brand was selected to be part of the Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives and the range will soon be available online.

Where did you learn about fashion?
Natalie: At the London College of Fashion.

Kim: Working in London as an office assistant to both the design team and creative director of Burberry, Christopher Bailey, and as an assistant at Jimmy Choo.

What is great style for you?
Kim: Coco Chanel classics mixed with risqué Shoreditch eclectic street style.

What do you think are essential elements to a great ‘green’ collection?
Kim & Natalie: Respect for the environment and introducing ecoconscious methods through the use of environmentally friendly materials where possible: Fair Trade, sustainable methods of production, produced by hand as much as possible, supporting local artisans and producers, collaborating with designers and artisans in finding alternatives to fast fashion [and] designs that appeal to the fashion consumer.

Ethical and organic can be sexy, exclusive, and natural at the same time.

What is on your mood board at the moment?
Natalie: Curry powder.
We love the autumnal colours of mustard, maroon, and navy.

Where to find organic fabrics in South Africa?
Kim & Natalie: Sourcing organic fabrics locally is quite difficult. Tony Budden of Hemporium is in the process of running a trial research ­programme by Rapula Farms, which is working towards providing locally grown hemp products. We have visited the hemp fields based just outside Cape Town and it’s an awe-inspiring project.

What are the biggest opportunities for a fashion designer in South Africa?
Kim & Natalie: We are blessed with an industry that allows you to play and experiment, while embracing the journey. Our cultural heritage of craft and design means that we have the opportunity to use these tools to empower and create beautiful authentic pieces.

How do you feel about fashion in South Africa?
Kim: Inspired, it’s real and raw and designers are making it happen. There is a bubble-up movement from street to studio. It’s unapologetic, refreshing and authentic.

In Africa, which city best represents local fashion?
Natalie: Jo’burg, it’s an eclectic extravaganza. Street culture mixed with high fashion, African style!

Which city is the global capital of fashion?
Kim & Natalie: We look to London for its grungy, ‘’I don’t care’’ street attitude.

Which designer inspires you?
Kim & Natalie: Vivienne Westwood, Safia Minney (founder and chief executive of fashion label People Tree) and fashion designer Katharine Hamnett for their activist approach to fashion. Orsola de Castro (ethical fashion designer), for her dynamic upcycling ethos. Carla Fernandez, for her work with local Mexican communities highlighting the importance of culture in fashion.

What is your favourite destination?
Kim & Natalie: Weekends away on the untouched, rustic West Coast, surfing with friends by day, chilling with Diemersfontein Pinotage, good food and board games around a roaring fire at night.

Any secret addresses in Cape Town?
Natalie: The Department of Coffee at the Khayelitsha train station.

The obligatory cheesy question: cheese or chocolate?
Natalie: Chocolate pinotage.

Kim: Wensleydale cranberry cheese.

What do you always travel with?
Natalie: Earplugs, Balm Balm (organic lip balm) and Green Vibrance (health products) is a must!

Kim: The Lonely Planet guide and a travel iron.

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