Q&A with Anita Stanbury on SA fashion

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Anita Stanbury is the Executive Director of SANFC

JOHANNESBURG–Recently eNCAlive discussed the local fashion industry, on the backdrop of the Mercedes Benz fashion week.

Our panel included industry expects like Anthony Bila, a visual artist and blogger, and the executive president of the South African Fashion Designers’ Association, Sonwabile Ndamase.

A playback of the debate can be viewed at http://www.enca.com/life/live-discussion-fashion-industry-sa-fabulous-or-bust

This week we have SA Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015.

Every season, fresh new designers send their creations down the runway, but very few designers have established recognised labels that can show and compete internationally.

In this Q&A, we catch up with Anita Stanbury, the executive director of the South African National Fashion Council about the prospects for the local fashion industry.

1. What is the significance of events such as the SAFW and the Mercedes for young, upcoming designers, and why are there two fashion weeks (or more)? Is this a problem? Would integration not serve the industry better?

These fashion weeks offer an opportunity to young, upcoming designers to showcase their emerging talent to both their peers, and to potential consumers. In South Africa we have platform specifically aimed at young designers – such as the ELLE Rising Star, AFI Fast Track & Next Generation etc. Platforms such as these at Fashion weeks in SA, give these young designers the much needed exposure, to ensure that their design talent, and their brands become known to potential buyers in the Retail environment, and also to potential direct customers.

SA is not unique in having more than one Fashion week platform available to fashion designers in the country. Where we do have a challenge, is the fact that there is currently no SA Fashion calendar, to advertise to the world which fashion weeks, and which fashion platforms are “supported” by SA, as the ones which we want the World to “see”.

2. What kind of support do designers need to get ample exposure, and make their businesses more profitable?

Exposure is just a small part of success as a designer. In fact, having greater market access, and being exposed on platforms such as fashion weeks, pop-up-shops, online stores, etc., can have a negative impact on a designer’s business, if the designer does not have their manufacturing capability (value chain) in place. Designers must be able not only to showcase amazing one off designs – but they must be able to follow up these exposure opportunities with multiples of the product, on demand. There needs to be availability of raw materials, of trims, of manufacturing capacity, and the finance available to convert the customer orders into final product, before a designer can commit to showcasing their product on a public platform. Quality, reliability, on-time-in-full delivery, price and original, innovative design are all part of what is needed for a designer to be successful in the real world of the “Business of Design”.

3. What platforms are available out there?

There are also independent retail chains, such as The Space, Sam, and Egality, which offer rail space to designers based on a consignment model. Larger retailers also offer space to designers through the Edgars Capsule Collection, and the Mr Price / Elle Rising Star ranges. Online Retail has also blossomed in the last 2 years, with the growth of Spree and Zando – which offer a platform for both local and international design. Larger “bricks and mortar” retailers have also ventured into the online space. Apart from the Fashion Weeks in SA, designers can also make use of craft markets in their local area, to get initial recognition.

4. What type of funding / support is available for designers looking to break into the industry, and what kind of criteria need to be met?

Through the South African Fashion Council (SAFC), funding opportunities are now available to designers to develop their brand, their business and their value chain. Designers can contact [email protected] , or call +27(0) 21 422 1446 for more information about the funding available, and to get copies of the funding guidelines and funding windows for the 2015 period. The criteria for each fund is specified in the related guideline, and can also be explained to the designer individually by a SA Fashion Council staff member.

5. How difficult is to protect one’s creative work? Is plagiarism a big issue? Should someone with a reputation for copying others’ work be shunned by the industry?

In the creative arena it is very difficult to prove that any piece of work is 100% original. There will always be “inspiration”, and a link to another design or product. The challenge is for the creative individual to understand the fine line between pure inspiration, and unconcealed copying of another design. Most of the “ready-to-wear” products which are purchased, both in local and international retail stores, are a cheap copy of a high-end haute couture design.

6. Is South Africa doing enough to prevent dumping/ cheap imports flooding the local market?

At a National level, there is a SARS Clothing, Textiles, Footwear and Leather Industry Forum, which is a collaboration between SARS (Government) and Industry. It tries to address the many issues which face the value chain around dumping, under-invoicing, trans-shipment etc. This is not a simple task, but rather an ongoing engagement to continuously ward off illegal or underhanded activity. The formal retailers in SA are also assisting with the SARS process, and are helping to further reduce the level of cheap imports, with a stronger focus on Fast Fashion and Quick Response. This strategic model will see a growth in local retail procurement, of SA designed and manufactured goods, from 25% local to 40% local. This growth of local Retail purchasing, will see almost a doubling of employment in the industry in SA, from 80,000 to 155,000 jobs. This will support more than 1-million people in a home environment through buying local.

7. What can SA learn from fashion capitals like Paris, New York, Milan, and London, about building reputable and viable brands?

It is at platforms such as Paris, New York, Milan and London, where the world gets inspiration in the form of colours, silhouettes, lengths, textures etc. From here the trends are filtered down into more mass-market / ready to wear platforms, for general consumption.

Building reputable and viable brands does not happen overnight – but requires a strategy and a business plan for a brand. Designers need to know that it takes more than design talent to make a brand sustainable. The brand needs to be developed, and needs to have a vision beyond pure design.

8. What is the South Africa National Fashion Council’s mission and vision for fashion?

The South African Fashion Council has a mandate to identify the key areas where change is needed, and through the funding of catalytic industry-led projects, we are able to help effect real change in SA, and to fast track development towards achieving a strong and sustainable value chain. We focus on designer development, market access, education, international exposure and value chain development to name but a few areas.