LUCILLA BOOYZEN on SAFW
For the uninitiated, the concept of a Fashion Week — especially as it has evolved in London, New York, Milan, and Paris — is inseparable from a sense of European exclusivity and haughty couture. Perhaps we owe some of that to Meryl Streep’s arch delivery of the fictional Miranda Priestly’s acidic quip: “Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking.”
But a conversation with South African Fashion Week founder and director, Lucilla Booyzen, proves that SAFW is diversifying what Fashion Week can offer local designers and, ultimately, the conscientious consumer. “We’re not snooty,” she assures me over the phone, “we’re about accessibility.”
What The Devil Wears Prada doesn’t quite capture for civilian fashion fans is that Fashion Week is not a theatrical production, it’s a significant business opportunity for designers. However, whereas the international market is dominated by world-renowned fashion houses seeking to secure their legacy, SAFW champions local designers who are as yet unknown to a broader audience. “My aim is to develop household names,” says Booyzen.
And South African players are putting their money where their mouth is. Not only does SAFW provide an essential wholesale platform for emerging design stars like Refuse Clothing Brand, Munkus, Viviers, and more, but key players in the local fashion industry are equipping them with the capital and the business acumen to scale their collections. Booyzen described SAFW’s official retail partner, Mr Price, as a singular incubator for local design talent.
“They are prepared to actually be there for the designers and nurture them, not just give them a store and expect them to deliver…that is really to be respected. I have never worked with a team of people like that, they are unbelievable,”
she reports. It appears as though a spirit of intercultural collaboration and mutual support has always been at the heart of SAFW, something which Booyzen also accredits to the designers themselves. The collective efforts of the local fashion community has produced a Fashion Week unlike any other.
For instance, SAFW is the first and only Fashion Week to show designers in groups. Why? “You need about fifteen looks to do a capsule collection to be able to sell to a store,” explains Booyzen. Few South African designers have access to the immense material and social wealth required to launch a collection independently, so SAFW pools their resources for the benefit of the fashion community as a whole.
Furthermore, unlike with most Fashion Weeks, South African designers share the cost of their models and the event itself is financed by sponsors. This frees up more capital to invest in resource-intensive fabrics and prints, many of which cannot be blocked locally. Of course, SAFW opens doors to international trade for local designers but, as Booyzen points out, “it goes hand in hand with education and mentorship and an understanding of what the international consumer wants.”
As such, SAFW (in collaboration with the Department of Sports, Art, and Culture) facilitated workshops for designers. One morning during the trade show that follows Fashion Week, six international agents were brought in to speak to designers about how to export to a fiercely competitive international market. This level of mentorship is something that, once again, distinguishes South African Fashion Week from the rest.
Yet another distinguishing factor for SAFW is its commitment to sustainability, in more senses than one. Reading through the designer features on the SAFW website will reflect that scores of South African designers demonstrate an affinity for natural textiles like cotton, but SAFW is also committed to building sustainable careers for young talent. “I’m very excited about respectful fashion,” says Booyzen — a philosophy of bringing young designers up in a sustainable mode, both ecologically and commercially, and with a profound sense of respect for historical, indigenous design technique.
For all its enormous success, SAFW cannot be the sole champion of the local creative fashion design industry. Local consumers wield more influence than they possibly know.
“I walked into a big fashion retailer and it was so bland,” recounts Booyzen. The difference with local design, she asserts, is that you are wearing a story, not an item. “We identify with the story that they tell through design…Every time you wear that dress, you are wearing a story and a memory.”
For twenty-six years, SAFW has striven to create a collaborative fashion community and launch the careers of talented local designers. But if we are to live to see the names of Fikile Sokhulu and Thebe Magugu become as ubiquitous as Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, then Booyzen’s message is clear: buy local design.
Wear stories, not items.
SA FASHION WEEK