South Africa has a bold new vision for the fashion industry

Imagine this scenario: you are browsing through the images from London, New York, Milan or Paris Fashion Week and, of course, there’s a lot “to die for”.

A week later, you browse through the trend reports on different websites and blogs and you can hardly wait to have some of those items in your closet. Now, what if it was possible to have those items ready for you on the rails at your favourite local retailer within six to eight weeks?

This is the world of fast fashion and South African National Fashion Council chief executive Anita Stanbury, who believes this kind of quick response to trend data, can be just what the local clothing and textiles industries need for the amelioration of the entire value chain and job creation, by default.

“We have to see fashion as catalytic,” she says, distinguishing between what constitutes fashion and basic clothing items. “We are talking about fashionable items that are driven by market demand. We need to understand what is trending, whether that be on the red ­carpets, the runway or social media.”

For a long time, fashion retailers have often simply ripped off samples from foreign retailers to create local ranges, but this is no longer a sustainable practice. Not if we are hoping for an industry that creates employment.

New strategies
The days when consumers happily snapped up items informed by what was trending in the northern hemisphere six months or even a year earlier are gone. Through social media, consumers are exposed to what is trending and they want it now. This is what the local industry has to respond to and Stanbury believes collaboration throughout the value chain is the key to achieving this.

“We can’t continue to work in silos,” she says. “Retailers need to link with designers and we need to link independent designers to small cut, make and trim factories to ensure this kind of quick turnaround.”

Designers, in turn, need to understand their market, Stanbury says. This means being able to respond to market demand.

Already, retailers such as the Foschini Group have invested in quick turnaround strategies that are conducive to the kind of operation Stanbury alludes to.

The Financial Mail recently reported that the group’s acquisition of clothing manufacturer Prestige Clothing in 2012 allows them to turn garments from concept to items available in stores in under 56 days. They have also formed strategic alliances with 12 independent cut, make and trim factories, which is key to their supply chain strategy in a fast-growing home market.

Local vision
Through a partnership with Elle magazine and its Rising Star Designer search, Mr Price is able to engage local design talent to produce capsule collections that are ­on-trend and locally produced. Edcon continues its partnership with SA Fashion Week to make ranges by local designers available to their customers.

But the problem with the latter is that it is based on the consignment model, meaning designers have to find their own capital to produce the ranges rather than the retailer placing orders for a particular design.

Be that as it may, we are beginning to see collaboration throughout the fashion value chain, something Stanbury sees as being pivotal for the growth of the industry as a whole.

Having assumed her duties early last year, it remains to be seen whether Stanbury’s vision for the industry will get the necessary buy-in from all stakeholders.

For independent industry practitioners, Stanbury says her institution has a R10-million annual budget aimed at funding various projects across the country. “We have to make sure that the projects that seek this funding are identifying critical issues. When you take hard-earned taxpayers’ money and give it to one person, we won’t achieve what we’ve set out.

“We’ve got to ask: Are there projects out there that will have a wider impact? We want to make sure that when we put funding into something that it is going to be catalytic in developing the fashion, clothing and textiles value chain well into the future. We want this to be sustainable and I think that’s critical. It’s about stabilising, growing and sustaining the entire value chain into the very distant future.”

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