South African Fashion Designers – The problems we face.01-18-11

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.

Low volumes

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?

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Loyde Villarroel 2:20 pm, January 23, 2011

The problem is not just there but everywhere int he world i think. I live in Ecuador, South America, and we have exactly the same problems and actually what you wrote here is part of my classes all the time. I am underwear/beachwear designer and i work part time as teacher in a fashion institute. The lack of bussiness skills as you said its part of the daily living here. Lots of young designers have the resources to present their “HIGH FASHION” collections in fashion weeks but the costumers are not willing to pay for those products or the designer does not know how to manage the production processes so he/she can not enter the market. Also the big stores do not help, their prices are so low!!! same problems in different societies… =)

Ciaa 2:41 am, January 29, 2011

It’s like u read my mind . I am an African fashion blogger and this is a problem that most African countries face. They rather buy their own fabrics and copy the work of a well known designer than to support them . The lack of fabrics is a big issue too . This is great article !!

Karyschka 10:00 pm, January 30, 2011

This is such an insightful piece and I am very happy to see that you as a designer/artist/entrepreneur has spoken out about this issue. Which I am sure has been raised numerous times by other deigners who are not willing to expose the problem.
It is as if the large concept stores have some sort of judgemental and almost ‘fear’ of the local designers, that they would rather have their consumers buying into the largely mass produced fields, than support local designers which are able to set an individual trend within the store and create unique garmets.
I wish you all the best, and really hope that the larger companies and other consumers realise this and start supporting the local talent more.

Stephen Young 10:30 am, February 1, 2011

Hi Karyschka,

Thanks for your words of support. I think all the problems I mentioned feed into each other. As a large chain store you want to have designs that are unique, if all the local designers are using the same small fabric pool you can’t really differentiate.

I think things can be changed but it will take a while and require some work. I know CTFC is working on an initiative to make more fabrics available to local designers. I hope that pays off.

Stephen Young 10:31 am, February 1, 2011

Thanks Ciaa, I am not surprised that this problem is as bad (if not worse) in other African countries.

Thularem 12:56 pm, August 18, 2011

You;ve hit the nail on the head and articulated exceptionally well reasons why SA designers are challenged s a  South African fashion designer and entrepreneur I am faced with theses  problems you  have mentioned on a daily basis. Something needs to be done and soon if we are to grow this industry and for it to be sustainable

Faridha Kalungi 12:39 pm, October 5, 2011

the same prob happen to us in the ugandan fashion business hence support u argument

Jmarks 11:09 am, November 7, 2011

Calling on new upcoming fashion designers to showcase their work. Email me me at jmarks@live.co.za to get in touch. Big possibilities!!

Ernst Huisamen 9:41 am, December 14, 2011

Having been in the industry for over 26 years. I have to agree that your points are extremely valid. As designers you need to understand that the opportunities for young unknown designers have vastly improved. Consumers are more open to testing unknown brands. The internet and social networking have become very effective tools. It is very important to realise that it takes time and a lot effort to build a label.
Please consider the following points. 
1]I see young aspiring designers almost every week. The first thing that I ask them is whose clothing they are wearing. More times than not. It is clothing that has been bought elsewhere. If you are not prepared to wear your own crap then why the hell should I ???? You are your own advertisement. You are supposed to be a reflection of your style. Before you make a range to showcase. Make a wardrobe for yourself. whenever you go to a party, club or to the mall and someone asks you where did you get the top or skirt. Tell them it is my creation, give the price and hand them a card.
2] Go to shopping malls and ask if they will allow you to showcase a rail of your creations.
3] Flea markets are great. People who go to flea markets are the type of people who are more likely to try a new label.
4] Put your label and details in the window of your car.
5] Ask your parents and friends to put your label and details in their car window.
6] See if a local club will let you have a fashion show.
7] Approach local papers to see if they will showcase you.
What I am trying to say is that there are other ways of getting your name out there.

 One of the major mistakes that designers make is when it comes to sizing. In YDE for example. Why are a larger percentage of the garments that have a medium label in it actually a small. Very few woman who are a small will wear a garment that has a medium label in it. Rather be generous with your sizing. It helps ! Most woman who are a medium would love to fit into a small.

Decide on what body shape you are catering to. Make sure your sizes are consistent. Nobody enjoys trying on garments. If people like your fit. They will first go to yourt rail to see if there is anything they like and then move on to the rest.

I can go on for ages. 

Best of luck. Never give up. If there were not challenges we would all be designers. 

Tatumpaperdoll 9:05 am, February 29, 2012

Hey Natasha, we actually have a solution for a lot of these problems! We have featured your blog post on our facebook page to enlighten our fans.


Keep on loving SA fashion!!

Tamryn Rossouw 11:15 am, April 13, 2012

Hey :) I can help! I own Glavro House.. We are looking for designers who would like to stock their collections in the stores that we will be opening this year. Our website will be up next month and we need to start with photoshoots ASAP for advertising and international shipping on the website. We want to help the designers that work with us by sorcing more quality material and many other ways too. We dont take a percentage of their profits, we only charge a rental so this should help. We need to push the ministers to make our industry a priority! My name is Tamryn Rossouw.. If you know a designer who would be interested please search for me on facebook and send me an inbox message about this so i know you are not some random person :) thanx! Lets all help each other and grow this industry!! :)

Bobessack 6:31 pm, June 9, 2012

Being an established fashion desiginer for the past 30 years , i can understand were you coming from.I call it the Chinese Fashion Invasion that has effected the fashion industry in our country and I strongly believe that we should not allow them to walk over you we should get together and give them a fight. We have very talented fashion desiginers in this country ,we need to build a vision to move forward like Ernst says.

I am in the process of launching the FASHION & STYLE VILLAGE which is a collection of fashion desiginers, proudly South African. We have awonderful selection of desginers and are always in the lookout for talented desiginers.We offer space at a very reasonable rate and a good few fashion happenings to promote your label.We are looking for S,A, desiginers who understand Quality – Trendsetting – Marketablity. If you do please inbox me on facebook  -Bob Essack

BobEssack 6:49 pm, June 9, 2012

Hi Thularem,

My name is Bob Essack – an established fashion desiginer -please email me may-be we could net -work and connect in the fashion industry

thank you

Bob Essack

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