Soweto Fashion Week takes runway to the grassroots

Soweto Fashion Week (SFW) continued its pursuance of taking promotional platforms home, SFW has done it again showcasing upcoming designers from one of the country’s most eclectic suburbs. Established in 2011 to give black designers a platform that was closer to home and independent of the bigger, more conventional events, SFW is now well recognized […]

Soweto Fashion Week (SFW) continued its pursuance of taking promotional platforms home, SFW has done it again showcasing upcoming designers from one of the country’s most eclectic suburbs.

Established in 2011 to give black designers a platform that was closer to home and independent of the bigger, more conventional events, SFW is now well recognized even beyond South Africa.

Designers from Namibia and Nigeria were also featured alongside their Southern African counterparts.

Steven Manzini founder of the Soweto Fashion Week said at the launch on Wednesday that he saw himself as a visionary and this plighted him to start the showcase experience. Originally coming from a modeling background Manzini described how he saw a gap in the Soweto fashion industry. 
“As a visionary you are never where you want to be,” he said. 
“I was kind of hoping that after six or seven years, I would be in a stadium by now. But I am grateful for where we are. The plans are to go international, we have already done the blueprint for that. We want to take our designers overseas and sell their stuff all over the globe,” Manzini said.
Senior Brand Manager of Darling, Pearle Peane told the The Star that the Darling hair collection, one of the sponsors of the event, is telling a story from way back with vintage looks that run through the times. 
“It being Africa Month, we realized that we should be paying tribute to Africa and showcasing African designs. We have realized that Africa is now global. It’s open to the world to come in but also the world is open to Africa. So in terms of styles that is what I am expecting to see,” said Peane.  

Soweto, a township just outside Johannesburg was once a flash-point of the fight against apartheid, which ended in 1994. It has grown into a mix of tidy suburbs to serve a growing black middle class.

It is that history that Manzini was hoping to tap into with SWF, although at first it took some time to catch on.

“Well, it was challenging in the beginning, especially in Soweto because some people were thinking it’s a competition, some people were thinking it’s a beauty pageant and they’re like, ‘what going on, what’s happening?’. I mean our first show had like 10 people show up, you know. But now we reach almost 2,000 people a week. So it has grown, it has grown, even from the community – we are not urban but we are now attracting people from different areas,” he said.

Designers like 33-year-old Isaac Lekwene are the heart of SWF. The owner of ‘Tiller Clothes’ sold his car to buy a professional sewing machine and started his business four years ago.

Initially, he specialized in formal traditional wear for a few clients but as the business grew Tiller Clothes became a designer brand, gaining recognition through events like SWF.

“Starting Tiller Clothes, there was like a… because I was having the passion for drawing and for sketching things, for bringing… I wanted to bring them to life, that’s how it started,” said Lekwene.

“They give us a platform where we can showcase to buyers, we can showcase to new clients. It builds a brand. It builds our brand because some people don’t know us, some people know us. We meet new people who can open up new doors for us. So, it’s a very great opportunity to showcase your stuff in Soweto Fashion Week, or your SA (South African) Fashion Week because it just helps you to get into another level,” he added.

Lekwene has also been invited to showcase at this year’s “J Summer Fashion Show” in Paris.

In the long run, he wants to own his own clothes factory and hire 500 staff to work on different designs across Africa.

Credit: daeding.co.za

Meanwhile, SWF tries to keep things fresh every year, incorporating a range for children.

“Just so refreshing, like the actual name says, #freshwear, it was just exciting seeing the kids on stage and the life that they bring on stage – it’s just exciting,” said Miss Soweto 2016, Nthabiseng Kgasi.

“I loved it because it was storytelling-ish, you know?” said designer, FCB.

Soweto fashion week designers take part in the protest against Violence against women
Picture:Bhekikhaya Mabaso
House of Noir by Natasha Tlagae and Switch Couture by Lame Chilume, both hailing from Botswana are expected to showcase a different kind of African design during the week.
Producer and manager of the designers at the show Serge Kabisoso said: “We give designers a theme and you know that today fashion goes with technology. We asked designers to think of something different and for the future. They had to look at what is in and what is out.”
“House of Noir by Natasha- she is more inspired by your Mediterranean and Arabic designs. She is into modern women, who feel sexy about themselves when they are covered up,” he added. 

South Africa’s fashion industry was worth more than 200 billion rands ($15 billion) at the end of 2014.

Johannesburg Fashion Week and Cape Town Fashion Week attract designers and investors from around the world and feature alongside events in Paris and London fashion weeks.

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