African Fashion International (AFI) recently held a briefing for all of their designers. The aim was to assist the designers in producing quality ranges and to guide them in making their businesses sustainable. The briefings were held at Sew Africa in the JHB CBD and a number of industry insiders were invited to speak.

The message that was stressed by every one of the speakers, was the need for the designers to extend their business beyond the flashbulbs of the ramps. The intense focus on fashion weeks in South Africa has created a sense that these are the only vehicles for fashion business. While the fashion weeks give much needed publicity to the designers and local fashion industry, they have also created an illusion of what fashion business is. This fantasy is detrimental to small and emerging labels that are ill prepared leading up to and after the shows. The blame is not at the foot of the fashion week organisers, but instead is due to the lack of experience and education of the designers. This is why both SA Fashion Week and AFI have taken it upon themselves to provide the designers with seminars and briefings that aim to support the designers.

The moment the designer decides to present their range at a fashion show, they make an active decision to engage in a professional relationship with the public and industry. This engagement begins with the planning of the range, which is usually months before the show and ends when the designer decides to retire to an obscure part of the Southern Coast.

The Planning

The planning of the range is made possible by keeping the end result in mind. That end result is not the fashion show, but rather the sale and distribution of the designer's clothes through one or many retail options.

The retailer is the last step of the supply chain, which begins with the designer. The supply chain is the entire logistical process from idea to end user, the consumer and understanding the supply chain flow allows a business the ideal opportunity to analyse the weakness, show its strength, allocate resources and streamline productivity.

Supply Chain
Grant Blackbeard, owner of Blackbeard & Dare and India Jane stores spoke extensively about understanding the supply chain flow and how it is impossible for a designer to cost their final product without this level of detail.

Knowing what your products will cost to produce, places you in a better position to turn your designs into a business. You can plan months in advance how many items you can produce within a particular time period and with the resources you have available to you, which will inform potential buyers of how much stock they can order. This forward planning will prevent you from making promises you can not keep; promises that can ruin your business.

The Manufacturing

The garments that are produced for the fashion show are merely samples. This is not to say that they should not be of the highest quality, but rather that the designer should keep in mind that these exact items will not be sold in the stores. This gives the designer the opportunity to tailor-make show garments. If you are able to finalise the models far in advance, you can make the clothes to their exact measurements, ensuring perfect fit. Show garments also give the designer the opportunity to experiment with new ideas.

Sibongile Simelane, trend consultant and stylist, described using the 'fashion triangle' to plan which items to produce for the show and retail.
fashion triangle

A good range comprises of the perfect mix of basic, trendy and cutting edge items. The basic or core items are the solid base items on which you can build the rest of your range. These items are usually not that strongly influenced season trend changes, other than changes in colour or fabrication.

Your trend items are the "what's hot this season" pieces. They make your ranges current and keep them interesting from season to season. Of course in order to know what the trend items are a designer must spend time researching them. South African designers, both new and old, are living the dream that we exist in a vacuum, but we don't. We live in a world where the consumers are savvy to experiences across the globe; particular because of variety and sophisticated in their purchasing decisions. By understanding the world we live in, a designer can tap into an unconscious expression which manifests in the desirability of certain items of clothing. The greater the desirability, the more likely the items will sell.

The cap on the fashion triangle is the domain of the designer's creativity alone. This is where one can play, experiment and test the potential success of new items. For a fashion show, one can get away with more fashion forward items as these stimulate the fashion media and show potential clients what you can do.

Next week we will take you through the planning of the show and the show itself.

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