Around September 2018, I sat down for a briefing with Kelly Fung in the corner of a photo studio. She was shooting what would be one of her last covers as editor of Elle South Africa (only we didn't know that yet). We talked about a 10-page investigative feature chronicling the decline of South African contemporary designer fashion in recent years – how we'd lost the promise and success of Lalesso, Tiaan Nagel, Loin Cloth & Ashes, and more. Our timeline would have started with the first Elle x Mr Price New Talent competition, detailing how fewer work opportunities, limited and fractured infrastructure, shrinking manufacturing facilities, and a lack of global integration were failing local designers. Before I'd scheduled my first interview, their publisher's troubles began, and Elle was gone.
For a while before that, I'd found myself having the same conversation with people in the industry over and over. It followed me to Johannesburg when I moved here from Cape Town in 2019. We came at it from different perspectives and had different concerns, but we all agreed on one thing: We weren't having the right conversation about South African fashion in particular, and African fashion in general. We were revisiting the same issues with no solutions. Years were passing and we weren't saying anything new. The conversation we needed to be having was the one Kelly and I had hoped that article would start.
At the same time, I could see people making it work all around me: Small brands and young designers using careful, agile moves to fight their way through the tough market conditions we've always had and the pandemic that threw us all off course. From the staying power of the likes of Leigh Schubert and Rubicon Clothing to the thrill of Thebe's LVMH Prize win, things felt different.
The truth is, beneath this hopeful surface and for all the newly built resilience, we can't say if the landscape today is any healthier than it used to be, because we don't know anything about how healthy the businesses that make it up are until it's too late. I'm hoping to help us change that with this newsletter, African Fashion Weekly.
It will take on more structure over time, but at its core, this newsletter is about providing on the ground news and insight for and about Africa's fashion industry. It's a sometimes observational, sometimes analytical lens, focused on solutions and how people are making their businesses work, on the strategic decisions and various outcomes behind the headlines. African fashion deserves good business coverage, and I intend to give it a shot.
In between when the idea was first hatched and now, I collected a few career firsts, I started a different newsletter, I attempted to squash all uncertainty with surveys (and didn't trust the results), I curled up into a ball (literally and figuratively) when the world closed and kept closing, I began rebuilding my faith alongside my ambition, I froze with impostor syndrome in a way I almost never do, I procrastinated, I battled insecurity, I clawed back what I could of my money and myself from the pandemic's shrinkage and finally, I ran out of excuses.
The next few months will be a long test, so expect things to change and change again. To start, I'm committing to one original story a week, long or short, along with a handful of relevant links, and we'll take it from there. This took me forever to get around to, and while I'm determined to hold myself accountable, I welcome your help.
A disclaimer: For now, the stories will be mostly from South Africa. It's the market I'm in, and the one I know best after 8 years working here. Nigeria will follow as soon and as often as possible. Kenya's likely next, but I'll follow your lead.
So! Now what?
- Tell a friend, would you? A buyer, a retail executive, an indie designer, a fashion-tech founder, a fashion student. You can just copy this link above and send it to them. Please & thank you.
- After that, do me the favour of telling me what you need from this project in this survey, and asking the friends you've shared it with to do the same. Your details will only be used to contact you regarding your answers, if needed, and will not automatically add you to the subscriber list (you can opt in at the end if you'd like, or hit the green button in the lower right corner of this page).
That's everything, so I will see you all next Thursday morning. And the one after that.