Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WE NEED A NATIONAL FASHION COUNCIL WITH TEETH

Almost everyone in the fashion industry has sung the “National Fashion Council” chorus at one point or another. And now that it is finally becoming a reality, it may be time for all to sit down and look at what this council really means for our fashion industry.


A model struts it in Black Coffee at SAFW in March this year
iFashion reports that the council may be up and running as soon as December this year, but when one thinks that December is actually three months away now, surely there must be some sort of model the government is looking at for the establishment of the council. The impression I get from reading the iFashion report is that, although much time and effort has gone into researching what the fashion council should be, those tasked with making it a reality still have no clue what they want to do.
Now, let’s not be critical for the sake of it, but if I may, let me just point out a few things that should raise the alarm bell when one earmarks December as the date at which the council will be launched.
According to the report, it is envisaged that the national council should have no jurisdiction over regional bodies, namely the KZN and Cape Town Fashion Councils that already exist. I’m not sure what informs this idea, but I foresee unnecessary chaos.
The findings of the research into a possible model for the NFC were presented by UKZN Professor Justin Barnes, who works for B&M Analysts, the company commissioned by the DTI to do the research.


iFashion further reports:
He presented a proposed framework that placed a National Fashion Council Industry Board overseeing a CEO that would then implement a four pronged approach to the South African fashion industry. Barnes put forward the NFC’s primary objectives as encouraging and implementing the international profile and exposure of South African fashion; mentoring and monitoring the phased development of SA designers; celebrating and recognising individuals, organisations and the industry in its entirety through competitions and recognition of achievement; and facilitate educational standardization and accreditation.
All good, all well, but Barnes goes on to say that he “sees no place for fashion week owners on the board of the council as they have vested interests in the industry that may cause complications”.
This means Lucilla Booysen, who convened SA Fashion Week back in 1997, as well as AFI, who organise Joburg, Cape Town and Africa Fashion Week will not be included on the board.
For me, this in itself is the complication. Is the point of creating a National Fashion Council not to unite South African fashion behind one vision?
Barnes, himself, reportedly notes that “the market wanted more foresight and planning when it came to the timings of fashion weeks and that they should exist more as a merchandise offering for the big retailers rather than an entertainment entity”.
Yes, fashion week has to stop being a place to be seen and start being more business focused, which I think SAFW, specifically, has tried to make a reality for quite some time now. Yes, we do need some foresight and planning in the timings of fashion week. Secondly, let’s not shy away from it, we need to get a structure and get rid of the fifty fashion weeks chaos currently in place.
I interpreted the report as saying that the NFC doesn’t want to meddle with fashion weeks, yet it wants to have a say in them.
If I am indeed correct in my interpretation, then this council really won’t know what the hell it is doing. The industry needs a unifying force that will kick commercialism out the window and force the current owners of fashion weeks to work together, under the NFC’s umbrella. The commitment to building the fashion industry will only be illustrated by a willingness to pull together under the auspices of a non-profit. Failure to do so will only exhibit greed. We must reject the commercialisation of fashion week at the expense of designers and the broader industry. Yes, there are many other concerns that the NFC is addressing in it’s current, proposed form, but it would be a mistake for them to think that the issue of fashion week does not spill out into the rest of the industry. It affects editors, buyers and, most importantly, the designers themselves and the springing up of fashion weeks every year creates a notion that it is some sort of party, thereby fuelling the false idea of fashion’s frivolity. We need uniformity but this must not push researchers and even the government, however noble its desires, to rush into something that may turn out more chaotic than the present situation.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

This is something that we've all wanted for so long and when I read the report on iFashion I was also not convinced by what the National Fashion Council presented. The NFC needs to work with the regional bodies with an overriding theme to grow the local fashion industry and a special focus on tackling the challenges facing new and established designers. The NFC needs proper entrepreneurship coaches to guide designers in good business practice, media and new media profesionals to guide designers with marketing and portraying their brand - to name a few areas of special attention. Retailers should be invited to help discuss every day challenges such as fabric availability and costs and of course, the whole consignment issue.
I'm excited to see this coming together, but I hope we will all be invited to pull together to represent this dynamic industry and help grow it.