Newsletter No. 9 20 March 2020
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Masterclass unpacks ethics of sustainability within African fashion
AFI Sustainability Masterclass panel. From left to right: Solophina Nekesa, Tracey Chambers, Isaac Mokwana, Laduma Ngxokolo, Jackie May, Dr Esther Mahlangu, Dr Erica de Greef and Vere Shaba.
The first in a series of masterclasses held at AFI Fashion Week Cape Town this past week tackled the topic of sustainability in the local fashion industry. Hosted by Jackie May, the founder and editor of Twyg Magazine, the panel focused on our ability to sustain ourselves, sustain the livelihoods of others, and sustain the planet.
May introduced the theme by posing a multifaceted question to the audience and panellists: What does the ideal future of fashion look like?
Erica De Greef, the co-director of the African Fashion Research Institute (AFRI), kicked off the panel by sharing a story about the world-famous South African designer, Thebe Magugu. When Magugu was still a design student at Lisof, he wrote an essay evaluating Africa’s contribution to global fashion. His essay was awarded a 100% mark, an almost unheard of achievement in his Design Theory class, according to De Greef who was the lecturer at the time. Eight years later, Magugu was showcasing at Paris Fashion Week, exporting his African design aesthetic and perceptive sensibility to the world.
The value of cultural sustainability
Sustainability is succinctly defined as: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. There are three pillars of sustainability that are widely recognised, namely: economic, social and environmental. But in Africa there is an addition to these pillars – cultural sustainability – where our ability to preserve our cultural heritage in the present is said to impact our African identities and global contributions in the future.
De Greef used the example of South African shopping malls to further drive home the point of decolonisation. Our malls host a variety of international brands, which serve as stark reminders of a colonial era where western philosophies were sold to us as better than our own institutional knowledge and capabilities. The impact is far-reaching, affecting our economic gains and our social cohesion, and the only visible solution in the short-term is to buy and support locally-made and owned brands.
For the African creatives who are propelling their art on international platforms, understanding their cultural history and anthropology is a sure-fire way to ensure their contributions are valuable and unique. Dr Esther Mahlangu is one such artist, who has had opportunities to elevate Ndebele art and messaging through international brands. For Dr Mahlangu, continuing traditions has become her life’s purpose and she shares everything she learned from her own mother and grandmother with the youth of today.
“Respect the work of your hands,” she said. “The way you were raised in African culture, carry that wherever you go”.
Global showcase of African identities
Laduma Ngxokolo, the renowned designer behind the brand Maxhosa Africa, shared the sentiments of Dr Mahlangu, but uses his brand to fluidly translate diverse African cultures to local and international audiences. “I wanted [to make] a product that would outlive me,” he said, talking on the quality of his garments and other accessories. While Maxhosa Africa began as an expression of Ngxokolo’s own Xhosa heritage, he quickly branched out to incorporate multiple Xhosa identities – as well as cultural symbols relating to tribes across the continent.
From Ngxokolo’s perspective, it’s important to showcase African identities that are not one-dimensional, which reflects in his take on sustainability as well. His use of South African wool and mohair – luxury raw materials that we are famous for – creates opportunities along the fashion supply chain. At the same time, he offers all his customers a lifetime guarantee, which includes mending and repairing their garments for free, in an effort to educate people about durable fabrics and garment care.
“I wanted the product to sell itself, not the price,” he added, reminiscing on his childhood where the clothing purchased by his family was seen as an investment expected to last for years.
Vere Shaba, founder of Greendesign Africa, further added to the perspectives of sustainability from an engineering point of view. She emphasised that there is a business case for sustainability, as profit can be generated through the preservation of African prints, techniques and culture using technology. Fusing tech and cultural disruption together gives African creatives ample pathways to express identity and heritage through a modern lens.
Community-centred sustainability efforts
While these tech visions of the future can provide hope, the founder of The Clothing Bank, Tracey Chambers, brought attendees back to the present when she highlighted practical short-term sustainable techniques. Chambers began her career in retail and was horrified by the leftover stock that was discarded and burnt because the supply exceeded the demand. The large informal sector within the country has allowed The Clothing Bank to blossom, by supplying unemployed women with retail clothing that they use to start their own small businesses.
Fast fashion has bombarded global markets with affordable, trendy garments that are quick to deteriorate, but The Clothing Bank has turned this into an opportunity for low-income women to support themselves and their families.
In closing, Solophina Nekesa of the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) network – raised the point of putting people at the centre of all sustainability efforts. “Planning sustainable municipalities requires all stakeholders,” she said, adding that in order to build a sustainable community, we need a collective understanding of both the natural economy and the social economy.
Whether or not international fashion houses consider African cultural preservation as a social sustainability pillar, is debatable. However, the global fashion industry is searching for alternative stories and sources of inspiration to reflect in their designs. Only time will tell if the rise of African narratives in the global fashion market is sustainable or just another fad. Source AFI
Lesotho urges textile firms to explore new markets
Lesotho’s trade minister Halebonoe Setsabi recently said the country’s textile factories should urgently explore new markets as the clock ticks towards the end of the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). The future of the textile sector lies in the regional markets, he said. So far only the duty-free facility has kept US companies hooked to Lesotho’s textiles.
AGOA, the trade facility for poor countries to export textiles to the United States free of duty, is set to end in 2024 and its renewal is reportedly uncertain.
Without AGOA, Lesotho’s apparels will be more expensive than those from Asian countries that have sustained their burgeoning factories with incentives like generous incentives.
Yet the galloping costs of labour, energy and transport have already aggressively whittled down Lesotho’s competitive advantage.
The impending end of AGOA is likely to be the last straw for a sector already in decline, according to a report in a website dedicated to news from the Middle East and North Africa.
There is a strong possibility that factories, most of which are owned by Taiwanese companies, might leave Lesotho and render thousands jobless.
Setsabi, however, said there is no need to panic. As he believes the regional and domestic market is a viable option for serious investors that want to remain in the textile business. His worry is that some companies might be too late to diversify from the AGOA market.
He said the government is working on a post-AGOA strategy whose focus is to quickly wean Lesotho off the US market.
He says it will take monumental efforts to push the sector to start focusing on the regional market.
Twenty nine of the 65 factories in the country sell their products under the AGOA and they have 30,000 of the 47,000 jobs in the sector. F2F
What is the future of Leavers Lace, an endless source of creativity?
Presented during a conference at Première Vision Paris SS21, legendary Leavers lace, an exceptional blend of art and craftsmanship with centuries-old heritage, has gradually given way to industrial lace that has finally got the upper hand. Unless new textile opportunities offer it an unexpected future.
An emblem of textile craftsmanship…
Production time reduced to a minimum, a frenzied pace and above all increased quantities: the ready-to-wear industry has little by little turned into an intense production-oriented machine, gradually setting aside delicately produced precious textiles such as Leavers lace.
Meeting specific technical demands, its production generally proves to be long, costly and fastidious, especially with regard to positioning the pattern. Synonymous with traditional know-how, lace also evokes a classic view of clothing and the style it exudes, moving away from contemporary manufacturing channels.
…with a host of promises.
Sophisticated and innovative, it has nonetheless continued to contribute to the stylistic renewal of fashion and luxury, its heritage origins having always been a profound source of inspiration for designers. These include Olivier Theyskens, who highlighted in a conference held at the Première Vision textile trade show how much Leavers lace has been the subject of a constant back-and-forth in Western trends, able both to fall into disuse and become highly desirable. The latest meteoric rise? This historic lace was boosted thanks to Alexander McQueen’s collections, some of whose looks willingly shelled out for this technically produced fabric.
To reconcile it with the ready-to-wear industry, some experts recommend exploring the rich array of possibilities that Leavers lace offers, from conceivable colours through how it feels to the touch to the looms used. In short, meeting this challenge and giving this heritage item a new, modern dynamic. Promostyl
Did you know……..
China is still the largest maker and exporter of silk in the world and has been for 100’s of years.
The earliest evidence of fabric textiles has been found in Turkey, Egypt and Israel.