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By Marizka Coetzer


No matter how you dress it up, SA deserves a richer fashion industry

If you think about international fashion, names such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana immediately come to mind. How many local designers or brands could we name?

Every year I look forward to the Durban July – not for the horses, but for the fashion.

I have never been to the race meeting and usually enjoy the highlights on social media, like the other average Joes who do not get invited or who didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket.

This year’s event did not disappoint, delivering fresh fashion looks galore. There were a lot of shiny avant-garde ensembles to illustrate the theme of “Out Of This World”.

The outfits were made of anything from crystals and see-through silhouettes to newspapers – and everything in between.

I loved Somizi Mhlongo’s dramatic entrance and his seven, yes seven, wardrobe changes and looks on the day.

However, I also could not shy away from Pearl Thusi in a Gert-Johan Coetzee ensemble, which was, as usual, magic.

What would a news journalist know, right? Wrong.

I initially studied fashion design and interned with Coetzee more than a decade ago. As a twentysomething student and aspiring fashion designer, this was a dream come true.

I first met Coetzee as a second-year student and one of the semi-finalists for that year’s Durban July Young Designer Awards competition and, later, had the honour of interning with him.

That was one of my coolest experiences.

Forget about the blood, sweat and tears of working on a fashion week collection. The glitz and glam were everything and more.

At his studio, I met “Dezi” (Elma Postma) from 7de Laan and the queen herself, Bonang Matheba, before anyone could dream of how influential and popular she would become.

Not only did I learn a lot about the fashion world, I had the opportunity to work backstage during SA Fashion Week for Coetzee and, oddly, remember brushing hair off the garments while the models lined up to walk the runway.

Ironically, I have also never again attended Fashion Week.

They say punk is dead and the newspaper industry is dying.

Then where exactly do we stand on the fashion industry? A handful of South African designers have made it big, becoming household names and dressing celebs.

Here and there you see a “made in South Africa” label or a “Proudly South African” T-shirt with a catchy phrase representing some stigma or group in society.

Come on South Africa, can’t we do better than that?

If you think about international fashion, names such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana immediately come to mind.

How many local designers or brands could we name? I wondered what the fashion or textile industry looked like after Covid, inflation and load shedding.

I guess, like every other sector, it’s headed in a downward spiral.

A Google search showed the textile industry is responsible for around 14% of manufacturing employment in South Africa, facilitating an estimated 60 000 to 80 000 jobs and with a contribution of around eight percent to the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Industrial Development Corporation.

It does sound semi-impressive, but I’m not convinced.

Why are we importing substandard items from the likes of China when we could be cultivating, making and producing these products in our own back yard and empowering our nation?

On the other hand, a local designer could not make that item and compete with next-to-nothing prices. The labour outweighs the profit.

My dream for South Africa is to have a richer textile and fashion industry that creates more jobs and showcases more local talent.

An industry that competes against any Prada, Versace or whatever designer avant-garde outfit on that runway.

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Bonang Matheba Durban July fashion week Somizi

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