One of the best brains in the business, Suzy Menkes, came to South Africa as
a guest of AFI and hosted a fashion talk shop about the local industry. She reported on what was happening here in the International Herald Tribune, where she was fashion editor. Menkes is now International Editor of Vogue Online. The late Franca Sozzani of Italian Vogue realised that designers from Africa had a lot to contribute and, through AFI, the magazine showcased local designers alongside the best in the world. Fern Mallis, who created New York Fashion Week, was another guest of AFI, and left saying she had been amazed to find African fashion was about so much more than beautiful prints, and that our designers could stand on their own.
A lot of Moloi Motsepe’s efforts were aimed at changing perceptions about South African fashion: “I was most proud when I heard people talking about
‘a designer from Africa’, rather than ‘an African designer’,” she says.
While AFI offers designers the opportunity to retail their designs at its shows, Moloi Motsepe regrets that no AFI designer has yet enjoyed commercial success on the global stage. However, one of her protégés, David Tlale, has shown in New York, and several others are starting to connect with the big department-store buyers through opportunities created by AFI. “But this is
a tough business. No one takes a designer seriously until you’ve proved you’re in it for the long haul,” Moloi Motsepe says.
And the long haul is what AFI is all about. Reflecting on the growth of the industry, Moloi Motsepe says the South African fashion and accessories world is now a €2-billion business. But there’s still a lot of work to do: the fashion industry has shed 120 000 jobs due to Chinese imports and there’s still plenty of room for government to introduce tariffs and rebates to turn the situation around. If anyone has the ear of those who can make these changes, it’s Moloi Motsepe — and she’s working those contacts.
But for now, it’s time to celebrate: a few years back, Moloi Motsepe bought an entire collection of international fashion in gold at a charity auction, and the clothes have never been shown. Later this March, a retrospective of AFI designers, all in silver, will be showcased alongside the best the world has to offer. It’s a picture Moloi Motsepe hopes is here to stay.