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Why The Fashion Industry In South Africa Isn’t Dead

The South African fashion industry could bounce back resiliently from the challenges it has faced from Covid-19, provided it embraces the lessons learned and shifts to wholly support the local market.



Stadio School of Fashion (SOF), formerly LISOF, is calling on the industry as well as consumers of fashion to avoid reverting back to pre-pandemic practices, where the majority of textiles were imported from overseas and ‘fast’ fashion was voraciously consumed.


“The local fashion industry has indeed taken a knock, however, we can emerge stronger if we continue to embrace the ‘local is lekker’ ideology, especially when it comes to our supply chain, alongside consideration for the environment,” says Maryne Steenekamp, Head of Stadio School of Fashion.


‘Local is lekker’ and keeping it green


“Since the start of the pandemic it’s been difficult to import clothing and textiles from Asia, which means that we should use this as an opportunity to focus on our local industry and keep it alive. We can support local designers by seeking out ‘Made in South Africa’ garments and fabrics. As designers and producers of garments, we need to realise that the more we contribute to our local supply chains the more cost-effective it will become compared to imports from China. This means that we can safeguard our local economy and become more competitive,” says Steenekamp.


“As educators, we also have the responsibility to teach our students to be ethical and to embrace ‘slow’ fashion, which results in fewer products being created which are of higher quality. At Stadio SOF we have embedded sustainability in our curriculum to ensure that students are aware that they are part of an ecosystem. We train students in textile manufacturing and in the production side of it to ensure that all fashion practices are sustainable,” says Steenekamp.

Textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products. The fashion industry is also responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.*


James Barrett-Poulsen, Acting Head of Department (Fashion Design) adds, “The fashion industry is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution and not being environmentally friendly. But we are addressing this in our curriculum by encouraging clothes swaps and turning off-cuts into something usable. We’re teaching students from the onset to minimise wastage in everything they do.”


Shifting online – from learning to e-commerce


Steenekamp applauds the industry for its quick action to adapt to an online marketplace. “Stadio School of Fashion changed its teaching and learning by moving to the digital space and embraced the technologies that are available to us. Our teaching was adapted to account for the new world of retail e-commerce.


Barrett-Poulsen adds, “Moving teaching online gave us the opportunity to instil the importance of adaptability – to show how things can change in the blink of an eye. Adaptability ensures that students are well-equipped to work in an industry where we don’t always know what the future holds.”


“However, there were some elements that this year’s graduates did miss out on. Hosting our annual fashion show extravaganza was not possible, however, Stadio SOF was able to replace this with an online interactive ‘lookbook’ that features photographs of the fashion students’ collections,” Barrett-Poulsen adds.


“We’ll be announcing the winners at our first Stadio SOF industry engagement on 8 April at our Randburg campus. Key players from the industry are invited to discuss the concept of the fashion industry eco-system to see what bridge we can build between industry and Stadio SOF to make sure we honour the Council of Higher Education and discuss how we can further meet requirements of the industry to ensure our students are employable upon graduation.


“We do a lot to ensure our students’ future employability, both locally and abroad. We are accredited with the British Accreditation Council (BAC) and are known as the most progressive fashion and design school in Africa. The lookbook gave us the opportunity not only to showcase our students’ work locally but internationally as well,” says Barrett-Poulsen.


Steenekamp and Barrett-Poulsen acknowledge that the pandemic will leave long-lasting scars on the industry but maintain that there are positives to be drawn from the experience. “The future remains positive because of the entrepreneurial spirit that has been created – it presented an opportunity for local designers to shine.


“We encourage learners to consider the fashion industry as a viable one that will create sustainable employment. Students develop a versatile skillset - if you have a keen eye trained for fashion design, nothing stops you from exploring graphic design, architecture or interior design.


“Our student intake is looking very promising, so I do think the industry is considered very much alive by school leavers or their parents. There is an appreciation for these creative curricula,” Barrett-Poulsen concludes.

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