South Africa’s involvement in the British Fashion Council’s International Fashion Showcase was sabotaged by the South African High Commission in London, writes iFashion editor, Emma Jordan, who believes SA lost a major marketing opportunity to showcase emerging designers in the process.
The British Fashion Council (BFC) announced last week, that with support from the British Council, they would be hosting an International Fashion Showcase during London Fashion week, which takes place from February 19, 2012.
The initiative involves every country with a British Council representative presenting a selection of “fashion designers felt to be most representative of the future of fashion in their region”.
Sarah Mower MBE, BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent and Contributing Editor to US Vogue, will chair an advisory panel that will judge each piece of work, with an award given to the country that presents the best emerging fashion talent showcase.
Alongside this, the British Fashion Council is adding their considerable PR and logistical support – a map, guide and passport will encourage the public and London Fashion Week audience of UK and international press and buyers to follow the trail of the International Fashion Showcase around the various venues in central London.
Impressive. This is the right time, with the right people, at the right place.
Naturally, when the release flew in my inbox I quickly skimmed looking for South Africa. The British Council has a presence here, we have – or so we constantly all tell each other – a sophisticated fashion industry.
The world is continually looking here for fashion inspiration and the repeated lament goes: “Why oh why are we not exporting?”, or “How can be stop the clothing and textile industry becoming obsolete?” – bigger, better, more…We HOST Africa Fashion Week.
South Africa is not part of the International Fashion Showcase.
Fashion talent from Australia, Korea, Estonia, Uzbekistan will all be showcased. As will the US, China, Italy and Croatia. Nigeria is there. Jewel by Lisa and Lanre da Silva continue their immediate assimilation with “African Fashion” in the eyes of the world – having both shown repeatedly at NYFW.
Sierra Leone is there. As is Botswana. Of course they are. Over the past two Africa Fashion Weeks there has been a fountain of talent pouring in from Botswana and Sierra Leone. Um, no.
Excuse my French, but WTF happened here? Why is South Africa not on this list?
Last August I got an email from Jacob Mothopeng, the marketing officer for the DTI at Trafalgar House in London. The South African High Commission had been approached by the British Fashion Council and he was looking for assistance. I recommended a few names I thought would be appropriate and forwarded the mail to Bryan Ramkilawan of the Cape Town Fashion Council who works with London-based Shaun Borstock on the Design For Africa initiative. I also forwarded it to Errol Hendrickse of Ubuntu.
Both parties have interests in promoting and showing South African talent in the UK. Both parties are already in the process of doing this. Ubuntu presented Stiaan Louw, Heni Este-hijzen, Laduma Ngxokolo at Vauxhall Fashion Scout as part of London Fashion Week in September last year.
The idea was to nurture these designers over a three year period, cementing their presence on the International stage and growing their global experience. None of these designers are showing again in February. Ubuntu are yet to come back with an answer. However, both Heni and Stiaan say that while the initiative is incredibly valuable, it was a matter of funding and proximity to Joburg Fashion Week that ultimately turned their hand.
According to their website, Design for Africa’s mission is to “mentor, nurture and empower young learners and emerging designers within the creative industries in South Africa by providing them with international experience to help them achieve their entrepreneurial ambitions.” In September last year Elle New Talent designer Cleo Droomer was given exposure to the UK high street brand Karen Millen.
Both these organisations are perfectly placed to have cross-pollinated their already existent enterprises. If the Ubuntu initiative was proceeding according to plan, Louw and in particular Laduma with his Xhosa-inspired knitwear could have presented a unique South African vision. I have little doubt Sarah Mower would have been impressed. I have little doubt, that with the hefty support of the machine that is the British Fashion Council, press and public pick-up would have been far more than a few bums in seats at a morning fashion show.
I asked the British Council why South Africa was not included: “We invited all embassies and cultural institutes in London to participate in this project,” says Alex Bratt, seniorp officer. “The South African Embassy was interested in participating but unfortunately they decided not to participate in the end.”
I started probing. Ramkilawan tells me he forwarded it to “the ministers” – which ones, he is vague about, and “The High Commission in London messed this one up”.
Hendrickse tells me Ubuntu was involved and indeed South African fashion would have been presented. But it all fell apart at the final hour.
I pushed him, and it turns out that on December 12, 2011 – three months into planning – he got an email. “The South African High Commission in London regrets to inform you that we will not be participating in the Fashion Exhibition arranged by the British Council and the British Fashion Council next year February. This is due to the unavailability of the South Africa House premises as the venue for the Exhibition.”
Hendrickse responded to the effect that South Africa House is not needed as the British Council will host all the African designers at their premises on St. James. Not only that, but The British Council commissioned Carol Tulloch, the curator of Black British style at the V&A, to curate the African collections.
The South African High Commission did not respond to Hendrickse’s mail. In fact, there was radio silence until I started probing. Mathopeng, who originally sent the mail last year, says he has nothing to do with the catastrophe and questions should be directed at Phindile Xaba, from Department of International Relations and Co-operations (DIRCO). I sent emails. Many. With no response.
Here we sit at the tip of this continent, constantly berating the fact that African talent, and in particular South African talent isn’t acknowledged.
That famous National Fashion Council – the exact details regarding the what, where and how are still not available – seems ever more to be a faded illusion of smoke and mirrors. Organisations squabble over ownership of fashion weeks and designers’ camps that divide accordingly. Government promises support, but jobs are lost and opportunities thrown away.
It’s rubbish. All of it. Because while it’s something one gets parochially accustomed to – on an international level it is unacceptable. It’s embarrassing and damaging.
This is not a piddly hotel room on some back street of an outer borough. This is the British Fashion Council. This is Sarah Mower. This is an Epic Fail. Shame on you SA
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Image: From KLuK CGDT collection shot for the label’s magalogue as on iFashion.