Fashion Week isn't just in New York and Paris anymore. The week where designers show off their newest wares for the season, has reached Soweto, South Africa. Soweto is an African township in Johannesburg. In the past, Soweto was more associated with urban fighting than fashion. But now, thanks to Soweto Fashion Week organizer Stephen Manzini, designers had their chance in the spotlight. The late May event was actually only three days and it showcased 16 local designers. And Manzini promised the eager crowd the event will continue to grow over the coming years.
But Soweto isn't the first city in South Africa to get Fashion Week. Fashion Week is actually in countless cities currently, including London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Toronto, Madrid—and Johannesburg, South Africa. SA Fashion Week (SAFW) was actually launched in 1997. And according to the director of SAFW, Lucilla Booyzen, the event has not only opened up doors for South African designers but also created a freedom of expression not previously available. “SAFW was founded sixteen years ago and since then, I have witnessed a South African aesthetic unfold in a growing field of creativity to become a rich resource for our country,” says Booyzen. “We have experienced political transformation and global recession and, as with any climate, that heralds change, South Africa’s designers have found their voice and made good business of fashion in following their visions.”
SAFW Autumn Winter 2013 Collections will be in September 2012.
The SAFW has also boosted financial backing for the designers in the country. “Retail structure and buyers that sustain the fashion industry have historically supported the financial dynamic that surrounds any Fashion Week and its designers,” notes Booyzen. “In South Africa this dynamic was non-existent sixteen years ago. Today it is a different story. From its inception, SA Fashion Week has been committed to the development of the creative fashion design industry through the designers that constitute it. In order for designers to be successful, they need to plug into all relative markets, from couture to prêt-a-porter and diffusion. SA Fashion Week introduces designers to these structures and how the distribution line process works from luxury brand shops and boutiques to department stores.”
One South African designer who has found the SAFW to be godsend is Craig Jacobs. "My label, Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs, has been in existence since 2004 and I have shown at other local and international fashion weeks before, but I took a strategic decision last year to align myself with what I felt was the most powerful South African platform committed to growing fashion as a business not only in South Africa, but on the continent,” says Jacobs, founder and creative director of Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs. “My label is committed to sustainability and empowering local artisans in creating a distinctive African signature . Through the infrastructure in place at SAFW through its founder, Lucilla Booyzen, we have been able to not only raise awareness through local media platforms but also engage with consumers through the organization's boutique network to generate sales.”
SA Fashion Week, which also has a mentorship program for designers, has become a launching platform for many new designers in the country.
“SA Fashion Week has established itself as the only credible national platform that can fast-track the business of local designers. The company is committed to providing sustainable employment among the youth in the South African fashion industry through a nurturing and enabling environment. As a result designers flourish and grow,” says Booyzen.
According to Jacobs, the SAFW will help introduce South African fashion designers to the world. “We really are a small market here in South Africa, and there is a strong need to not only educate the general public about the appeal of local design, but also to build partnerships with retailers who often look overseas for product,” notes Jacobs. “SAFW, since its inception over a decade ago, has not only raised awareness of our burgeoning industry, but also managed to develop agreements with major local retailers, such as Edgars (South Africa's leading fashion retailer) to ensure that what we show on the catwalk is available to the general public."