South African Fashion Week (SAFW) has committed itself to a five-year plan to spearhead the development of an ecologically-based and sustainable local design culture by 2025. 

Why? 

Because the phrase "the world is ending" is no longer a seemingly empty threat of some phenomenon that will occur in a very distant future we will no longer be a part of. 2020 is a few months away - the year in which our environmental deadline has been set. According to this BBC article, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and now director emeritus of the Potsdam Climate Institute said in 2017 that "the climate math is brutally clear: While the world can't be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020." 

A few top industries are now trying to reverse the clock on the damage caused by their production processes on the environment. One such industry is that of fashion both locally and internationally - several luxury labels have ditched fur, exotic skins, and have essentially gone vegan in a bid to quell its harmful effects on the planet.

According to Lucilla Booyzen, director of the country’s premier platform for South African design (SAFW), which is now in its 22nd year, the immediate goal is to initiate a process of collaboration and joint problem-solving with the designer community and the broader clothing industry behind the vision of establishing a local fashion ethos that supports people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measures.

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“In this, we subscribe to the values articulated by the international Fashion Revolution movement and support the groundbreaking work that this organisation is doing to turn the enormous power and influence of fashion into a positive force,” she says.

Locally, Lucilla aims to use the SAFW’s many established initiatives, in particular its prestigious competitions such as the New Talent Search that has launched the careers of many fashion luminaries such as Jacques van der Watt of Black Coffee, David Tlale and Terrence Bray; the Cape Wool SA Designer Challenge, and the SAFW Student competition, in order to reduce the fashion industry’s harmful impact and actively encourage circular economy principles. 

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This will be done by including critical sustainable fashion evaluation criteria such as usage of fabrics with the least environmental impact, incorporating crafting techniques as well as zero-waste cutting such as draping, knitting or patterning as well as an emphasis on creating timeless and trans-seasonal collection, she says.

“We will also actively resource-share with likeminded organisations and initiatives such as Twyg, the online sustainable lifestyle magazine’s Sustainable Fashion Awards , which will be announced for the first time this year, to extend our influence and reach."

These awards, sponsored by PET plastic recycling company, PETCO, recognise Southern African designers who have implemented a sustainable design approach and foster ethical practices in the fashion industry.

Lucilla also adds that SAFW is currently developing a curriculum of sustainable fashion workshops to equip designers with the skills and insights for developing viable business models and production systems which will be launched early in 2020. 

Internally the organisation has already begun implementing its own sustainability model following a comprehensive audit to see which measures it could take to reduce its own harmful impact on the environment. 

“This ranges from saving time and money by planning and working smarter to using public transport and green products, bringing plants into our offices and changing from bottled to tap water. We also work with like-minded suppliers wherever possible” the director says. 

Cyril Naicker, the country coordinator for Fashion Revolution South Africa, welcomes SAFW’s sustainability vision saying that "as part of the global family, South Africa simply cannot ignore the gravity of this issue.Whilst international retailers opening stores in South Africa has been good for job creation, there is also is a fundamental challenge with transparency. Very few people know what really happens behind the closed doors of the factories that produce the garments for global fast fashion retailers."  

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Cape Town used to be a clothing manufacturing hub, which is almost entirely gone, in part due to fast fashion sadly. The spending power is in the hands of the consumer.

"What it will take to restore our manufacturing?" Cyril asks. "We have to go back to supporting local designers and local manufacturing,” he says. 

SA Fashion Week only aligns itself with premium brands that understand the power and influence of the creative fashion industry and the positive impact it can have on our economy. More than ever, they value their generous commitment and urge the fashion community to please support them by acknowledging their involvement where possible.

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