Stiaan Louw is my second featured designer in this menswear designer series (last month I featured Keith Henning of the label 'Adriaan Kuiters')which I hope will help to start a conversation about developing and supporting independent menswear in South Africa. I asked Stiaan several questions about the industry, fashion week and online retail. Here is what he had to say:
SN: What got you interested in menswear design?
SL: I launched my menswear brand in 2008 at Design Indaba. At the time there were almost no independent menswear brands in the market innovating exciting clothes for men. I felt it was important to develop a brand that did not only provide the obvious basics but also challenged the level of menswear design in SA and could compete with what is seen during international fashion weeks and in-store in those countries.
SN: Do you believe there's enough independent local menswear out there for the consumer?
SL: There is definitely still a huge gap between independent menswear and women's brands in this country. I also feel that many of the brands emerging are not providing anything you can't access via let's say Country Road or now Zara with the latter often having lower price points, better quality and access to a higher level of manufacturing.
SN: What would you say are some of the problems that menswear designers in South Africa are faced with?
SL: Manufacturing is a huge challenge, as well as access to fabric. Often as an independent designer you are aware of what is needed to improve the quality of your product but can't access it due to the 'minimums' required by some suppliers.
SN: If there are any, what would you suggest be done to overcome this?
SL: I think it is important to seek out opportunities through which you can expand your knowledge and build relationships within the industry with larger manufacturers and suppliers. I have participated in mentorship programmes, for instance, which have given me the opportunity of improving the construction of the collars on my basic shirt range.
SN: Last year you showcased at AFI's Joburg Fashion Week, we did not however see Stiaan Louw at this year's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg. What drove your decision not to showcase this time around. Can we look forward to your return to the runway this year?
SL: I had the opportunity of showing a capsule collection during London Fashion Week in September last year which shifted my perception of local fashion weeks. I think it is important to ask what your motivation is for doing a show locally. If it is purely for marketing, there are more cost effective and innovative ways of launching your work on online platforms. It also makes sense for me to show in Cape Town next, as it is my base and I haven't shown here during fashion week since 2008.
SN: Where does Stiaan Louw retail?SL: We sell small commercial ranges via the studio in Cape Town and during periodic showrooms in Joburg. Most of our regular clients, which make up the core of our work, visit us for bespoke suits or after they've seen the more design driven collections we launch via online platforms.
SN: Do you see online retail as an alternative marketplace for SA designers?
SL: I think online retail is viewed as the holy grail by designers who struggle to find stores to stock. I think the market is still quite conservative in regards to this and it would be challenging specifically in relation to menswear. I also feel brands need to be accessible via traditional means first before moving online.
(PICS courtesy of Stiaan Louw)
This feature has also appeared on ifashion.co.za