To South Africa, From China.

By: Jabu Sopete

China has one of the highest number of successful locally based independent designers out of the global fashion capitals. This is mainly due to having systems in place which allow designers direct access to necessary resources and the consistent support designers receive from the fashion industry and its associates.

Living (and working) in Shanghai for the past year has opened my mind to a totally different world. This time has given me an opportunity to take away many lessons from the fashion industry here, of which I believe South Africa could adopt. 2018 should be the year in which fashion industry professionals start using their platforms to aggressively implement all those 2017 industry discussions in order to play an effective role in bringing forth overall development whilst altering the general population’s view of the fashion industry.


South African born, Shanghai based Fashion Marketer & student, Daniel Magunje, shares these sentiments. He believes that South Africa could definitely learn a thing or two. “Being in China has opened my eyes and understanding that change and development is not only a matter of time but also a combination of hard work and persistence. The Chinese fashion industry has literally developed right in front of my eyes, making all heads turn to the East and I believe the same is possible for South Africa.”.

China’s vast development can be attributed to the collaborative efforts made by major industry players such as fashion publications, designers, influencers, broadcasters, publicists, retailers, investors and e-commerce platforms.

“The press has played a big role in the development of the industry as they are constantly promoting the country’s fashion designers globally and locally on different platforms. I certainly have to give credit to the likes of Vogue China, GQ China and Elle China as they have effectively added local flavor even though they are foreign owned magazines. Not only do the media houses publish the latest garments from the designer’s look books but also sponsor emerging designers to showcase at major fashion weeks worldwide as designers aim to expand into other fashion markets. As a result, this has given them a space to promote Chinese designers to a widespread audience.” adds Daniel.

Also drawing from my personal observations of the Chinese fashion industry – here is what I think South Africa could benefit from:


Fashion PR is the main driver

PR plays a huge part in the development of a brand, and designers need to start hiring in-house PR professionals to handle this aspect of the business while they perfect their craft. Most local designers lack business acumen yet insist on handling everything by themselves, from designing to managing the brand, which then results in one or all of those these aspects drowning. An in-house PR team is tasked with positioning your brand, publicity and business partnerships etc. If you are still an emerging designer and cannot afford experienced professionals; you can even hire final year or recently graduated students in PR, Marketing and/or Communications. It will be a skills exchange.

The priority consumer is at home

I am aware that it is every designer’s dream to get their brand exposed overseas but the most important thing they seem to forget is making sure that the label is firmly established at home first. It is important to build an emotional connection between your brand and it’s consumer which is easier to achieve with those in the country or continent you are based. If your brand is not received well internationally, you will still have a profitable business if you have cultivated your local or continental consumer base.


Fashion weeks are handled better

Fashion weeks are handled quite differently in China compared to how they operate in South Africa. Firstly, most of the shows are invite only, meaning tickets are only issued to professionals within the fashion industry. These are typically fashion investors, magazine editors, important influential figures, celebrities and only the most recognizable fashion bloggers. This is done simply because the Chinese believe in presenting work to an audience who can in return invest in or then guaranteed media coverage for designers. Only trade shows are open to the public because they are a platform for designers to interact with potential customers, introduce their brands on a personal level and also get to sell their product directly.

In terms of fashion influencers – organizers of South African fashion weeks need to eliminate granting front row tickets to bloggers who only attend the shows for their personal agendas and don’t offer comprehensive coverage afterwards. People who only care about being “seen” at the shows, because after the week comes to an end, the only thing on social media are street style or crowded front row photos  instead of proper coverage of the actual designers showcasing.

Broadcasting of fashion weeks

In China, fashion week shows and workshops are broadcast on television in order for everyone to follow the progress in the industry. It is also a great way to introduce designers to the public. There is usually dedicated channel to broadcast the full shows, interviews and so on. I believe it is possible for South Africa too by forming a partnership with one SABC’s channels to offer a special broadcast of the fashion weeks. Potential TV channels would also include Soweto TV or ETV.

Usage of E-commerce platforms

Another major player in the Chinese fashion industry are e-commerce platforms of which, I think, are still heavily slept on in South Africa. These platforms can give both and established designers spaces to sell their designs to a greater number of consumers. This can exponentially increase profits for budding designers. Platforms such as Zando, Spree, Superbalist, to name a few – are some of our e-commerce platforms that we should be exploiting a lot more to expose designers and help them retail in bigger platforms.