Men’s fashion gets a week of its own

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

It was inside a V&A Waterfront parking lot without air-conditioning last week that a relatively small and sweaty crowd gathered for the debut South African Menswear Week (SAMW).

Twenty-five fashion designers exhibited their work to an eager public by the close of the Cape Town-based event on Saturday night.

Overall, it would have been a hope-filled start on Thursday night to what SAMW organisers intend to run twice a year.

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

SAMW founder Ryan Beswick said his initiative aimed “to develop and grow the sector by providing a world-class platform for designers”.

“It also provides a sound business case with marketing and promotion opportunities for designers to grow their brands,” said Beswick.

He recognised an overlooked gap in the fashion sector and now wanted to capitalise onmenswear, “the biggest growth area in fashion”.

Participating local designers and their African counterparts within the continent’s borders at this week’s event included emerging talent Rich Mnisi and more established designers such as Shaldon Kopman.

Salt River-based CSquared, known for its quality suits, showed its summer range on the opening night.

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Its designer Wayne Govender put his best foot forward the night before he was meant to board a flight to Europe for a work-related trip.

Govender’s post-show interviews spoke of a menswear designer seeking a niche marketplace to target his audience.

“We need this platform so badly. It’s going to help the men’s fashion scene and the economy,” he said.

“People need to see models wearing our designs, and not just see it hanging in the stores. This is so they can relate to the clothes. Then they won’t think WTF but actually see how to wear it.”

Tanzanian menswear designer Mustafa Hassanali meanwhile lobbied for a united African fashion fraternity.

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Hassanali owns and runs Swahili Fashion Week at home and brought two labels to showcase at SAMW.

“This is the first event like this in Africa. We cannot think of our country as an individual. We need to think of it as part of one continent. We need to support each other,” said Hassanali.

He said African designers often looked to South Africa as a springboard because the country “gives a huge media platform for designers from other parts of the continent”.

Hassanali added: “We have a growing fashion industry. It’s high time that people come to appreciate that you don’t need to fly to Europe to buy fashion. You can buy it in Africa.”

Bryan Ramkilawan, head of the Cape Town Fashion Council, said they put money into SAMW because “men’s fashion has always been a neglected space in South Africa”.

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

A fashion show at the inaugural South African Menswear Week. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Most guys are happy with their chinos but this can change. We already have quite a lot of South African men who are stylish,” said Ramkilawan.

“We also want to grow the presence of young designers and make them stronger. We need to unite as Africa and look at ways that we can mobilise collectives, like the Japanese and Europeans have done, to go into spaces to start showing our fashion.”

“We need to mobilise together. We need to hunt in packs. That’s the way to grow business.”

Ramkilawan said the council would next month set up a pop-up shop in New York, selling South African fashion and “handmade products, including jewellery”.

“We hope to have a store in New York by September. The same will be done in London and Stockholm. We’re changing the strategies and the way we are looking at things,” he said.

“We want to position South African fashion in an international market where there is a bigger appetite for our fashion.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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