While there is certainly no lack of design talent in South Africa there aren’t many South African brands that make it big on the international stage. Why is this? Below is my take on some of the reasons why.
Availability of fabric
It is very difficult getting hold of fabric from South African suppliers that is affordable, high quality and unique. This is especially difficult for South African fashion designers that are just starting out. While it is possible to source fabrics from international suppliers the cost, effort and large minimum order sizes become a real problem. This is why you see so many South African designers using the same fabrics. It’s not because they lack imagination, it’s because that’s all they can find!
Competing on price
The other day a friend bought a top at Mr Price for R45. R45!!! you couldn’t even buy enough fabric from local suppliers for a top like that. This excludes manufacturing costs, marketing costs, overheads and heaven forbid a tiny slice of profit. It is very very difficult to compete on price if your manufacturing operation is based in South Africa.
Competing on Quality
Ok, so competing on price isn’t an option. What about quality? Again this is a problem. The majority of South African CMT’s don’t specialise in highly complex high quality manufacturing. We already spoke about the availability of fabrics. It is very difficult to justify I high price tag on a dress that is made from the same fabric found on every second hanger in YDE.
The next problem is the volumes of orders. Many of the problems go away when you start moving your production capacity overseas. There are two problems with this though.
1. Most large international suppliers and manufacturers have large minimums. Not a problem for large established brands but for a new designer it’s a show stopper.
2. We want to be proudly South African, it’s a shame that we have to move jobs and business out of the country just to remain competitive. Minister of trade and industry I am looking at you to help solve this!
Lack of support from big retailers
Recently Woolworths has made some good moves to support South African Designers but the majority of the large retailers work against the new up and coming designers. Even YDE (who has done a lot for local designers) has it’s limitations. Any range supplied to them has to be exclusive, they also have a very specific target market. This means it is very difficult to break out of YDE once you are in and also makes it difficult for any brand that doesn’t fit in the YDE demographic.
Lack of business skills
There is a tremendous amount of design talent in South Africa, the problem isn’t in finding the talent. The problem is often the lack of business skills required to take a small business to a profitable enterprise that is sustainable in the long term. Things like financial knowledge, marketing, pricing models, general management skills. All these things are critical to take a good designer and turning them into the owner of a successful business.
What do you guys think?