Factory workers ready for their Spring Queen

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Endless snipping scissors and sewing machines churning out garments will be out of sight tonight (SATURDAY) when Cape Town’s factory workers gather to crown their Spring Queen at an annual fashion pageant.

For the last four decades the Southern African Clothing and Textile Worker’s Union (Sactwu) has organised the pageant. The event venue has shifted though, from the traditional Good Hope Centre to Athlone Stadium for the first time.

Sixty-four finalists each representing a different factory are set to compete for the Spring Queen title in a competition that seeks to also encourage support for the local clothing industry.

Sactwu general secretary Andre Kriel believes their campaign has seen successes in a market that over the last few years has seen a negative impact due to clothing imports.

Kriel says they have worked with the government to push back and create jobs.

“We believe deeply in the importance of promoting and growing our local manufacturing industry. Local production means more jobs,” says Kriel.

“National government has declared that all clothing, textile, footwear and leather products bought by all spheres and departments of government must be locally manufactured.

“The impact of it all is that after many years of job losses our industry has stabilised.”

At factories this week, workers have been finalising dresses for their contestants who have meanwhile been rehearsing for their big night.

An inaugural Junior Spring Queen Pageant has also been introduced this year, with ten girls aged 13 to 16 participating.

Talented performers drawn from factories are scheduled to entertain an audience that usually amounts to thousands of factory workers and their families and friends.

Shiehaam Green, who does hand sewing at a women’s clothing factory, will compete in the finals for the third time. The Hanover Park single mother of three children says she was “having fun” going up against “girls much younger than me”.

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Shiehaam Green

“My oldest son is 21 and he can’t believe that I’m doing this. His friends asked him if I’m his sister when they saw my pictures from the last pageant on Facebook,” says Green.

“I live alone with my children and this keeps me busy. It could not have come at a better time.”

Green says she searched the Internet for inspiration for her dress for the finale. Factories sponsor the manufacture of the main dress but each participant needs to cover related expenses, such as hair and make-up.

Candice Caswell, a factory clerk from Manenberg who is entering the pageant for the first time, says this is where support from co-workers was vital.

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Candice Caswell

“The factory sponsors the dress but you have to get your own jewellery and make-up. The other girls help with fundraising for the stuff we need,” says Caswell.

She found that after starting her factory job earlier this year the pageant was a way for her to meet new friends at work.

“When I started in this job I knew nobody. The pageant gave me confidence to speak to them (colleagues). I met a few girls and we became friends,” says Caswell.

“I’m getting a lot of support from the people I work with, especially my manager. They are all excited for me. I’m having fun.”

Caswell says the part she enjoys most about entering the pageant is the “steps that you learn, especially the dancing sequence”.

Alisha McNeil, a quality controller from Mitchell’s Plain, is entering the pageant for the second time.

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Alisha McNeil

As she rushed off to rehearsals in the week to “practise how to walk and dance” she said she was “super excited”.

A heartfelt moment during the last preparation week for packer Kerr Facolyn from Bonteheuwel was when her machinist mother Pearl Facolyn offered her advice.

Two decades ago Pearl entered the Spring Queen pageant. Mother and daughter now work at the same factory in Observatory.

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Kerr Facolyn and her mom Pearl Facolyn (seated)

“She said I mustn’t stop smiling, no matter what happens,” says Kerr of her mother’s words.

“I knew she also entered before. That made me curious to see what it’s all about.”

Kerr was named Miss Personality in last year’s finals and as she walks through the factory she talks about what makes her nervous about entering the contest.

“I’m nervous because I want to make them (co-workers) proud. I don’t want to disappoint them. They worked hard to make my dress for the event. I want to give my best to thank them,” says Kerr.

“I am very excited. All of the people in my factory are with me 100%. The support from my company is motivating me.”

Kerr says in the end the event is meant for everyone to “come together and just have fun”.

“It’s all about factory workers and bosses trying to come together. Usually, it’s just work, work, work. Now you don’t have to worry about production. It’s just a fun day,” she says.

“We are with each other more than we are with our families at home. To just celebrate and be together for something other than work is nice.”

Sactwu’s Spring Queen pageant will be held at Athlone Stadium today from 3pm. The day’s events include a junior pageant before the main event.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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