The Fashion Industry around the world is feeling the pressure of Chinese domination in the mass-made clothing market. The South African Fashion industry is no different. Some local players have even gone so far as to say that our local clothing industry is dead.
A few die hard optimists feel differently and they are finding innovative ways to remain competitive in this market. They are turning to handmade crafts to differentiate their products and are building an authentic local flavour that stands out from mass produced imports. With handmade craft embellishments it is possible to create small runs of unique products that are cost effective, in-house.
This trend is not only helping young designers to grow and flourish, it is also helping rural crafters who were previously disadvantaged to enter into the formal sector and become a functional part of the economy. The synergy provides a win/win for both parties.
This is happening in a number of different ways. Organizations like SA Fashion Week have an aggressive Skills Development policy where they pair up young designers with appropriate crafters. There are a number of NGO’s that also service the industry like Sizakele Creations. Some independent crafters are using their initiative and approaching designers directly. This is adding a rich diversity of layers of craft to South African fashion garments.
Marianne Fassler has always had her own signature style and she has incorporated crafts into her work for decades. She uses tie-dyed fabrics, lino block prints, embroidery and crochet work on most of her garments to create her own unique look and flavour.
Stoned Cherrie has made extensive use of hand-dyed silks in her collections. She also manufactures small runs of specially woven cloth that she incorporates in her work. Sun Goddess use tie dye and lino block prints extensively, as does Jacques van der Watt of Black Coffee. Other designers who have used dip dyeing include Marion & Lindie and Lunar Clothing. Clive Rundle, best known for his avante garde deconstructive style, uses hand dyed fabrics and crochet work in many of his collections. Airbrushed and hand painted finishes are also spilling onto the catwalks.
At the last SA Fashion Week they ran a competition for student designers to create garments that incorporated craft into the construction of the garment and the results were astonishingly detailed layers of dyeing, felting, crochet and printing.
The world seems to breathe in waves. For a time mass produced garments dominated the fashion landscape. Now there is a movement back to the authenticity of handmade craft. People who once wanted more than anything to fit in, now want to express their own unique identity and stand out.
Crafts that were once threatened with extinction are now experiencing a revival as more and more designers are finding value in these techniques. The ability to produce very small runs of very different items gives them agility in the high end market that is achievable and cost effective. Even for people who do not share my love of all things handmade, the craft option makes good business sense.
Melanie Brummer is a manufacturing textile designer, writer and teaches people how to make their own cloth using hand-made techniques. Brummer works with dye and lino- block prints. She teaches fashion, crafts, skills development and education.