When black people make black people look stupid.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

After last night's African Fashion Week Awards, I finally feel the need to say something about something I've kept quiet about and far away from. African Fashion International hosted an award ceremony last night, in which Michael Jackson, Yves Saint Laurant and Grace Jones were amongst the winners.

The categories: Style Influencer, Lifetime Achievement and Miriam Makeba Style Icon. AFI are the only ones that know why they decided on these categories and people (two of whom could obviously not pick up their awards, did they have reps? are their estates going to be told of this prestigious honour?)and I'm still keen to find out who the judges were, who would have agreed to be part of thinking of all the black people or "African" people in the international fashion industry, and making up awards to give them just because they are black or they are from Africa.

Cecily Lopez, Koto Bolofo, Albertus Swanepoel, Oswald Boateng and Pat McGrath won awards because they are good at what they do, but also because they are black or can be linked to Africa. Who were they up against? Was Albertus up against any other Milliners like for e.g. Phillip Treacy? Was Cecily Lopez compared to any other top models like Lara Stone perhaps? I wonder how they all felt when they got these awards seeing as though most of the people that would have made the whole thing credible were not involved. Who wants to win because they are black or African?

I really hate it when black people make black people look stupid. Those awards made our industry look as random as it has become. As if African fashion doesn't have enough struggles within our own continent and how the world receives us - we have these guys to thank for making fools of an industry they have played a major role in tearing apart.

The second week of August sees the start of Cape Town Fashion Week, yet another pie that AFI has its fingers in. Why are there so many fashion weeks and what good is this doing for the amelioration of South African Fashion? Exposure is no longer a good enough reason - people who have traveled overseas with their names in lights are still hungry, and dying of exposure. How many more fashion shows are there going to be in South Africa before anybody actually MAKES MONEY legitimately?

Some designers were already complaining about being part of the opportunistic Africa Fashion Week (I've heard some ask, "what's going to happen after this fashion week? What good is listening to the CEO of Woolworths to an emerging African designer?) but I just have one question: What do they hope to achieve by all of this?

I wonder if AFI or the designers actually made money from this. If they did, then I'll sew up my words and eat them along with a generous serving of humble pie.

When are people going to stop attending anything that says "fashion week" for the sake of being fabulous or supporting their friends or because it's the done thing? The whole concept of fashion week has been completely devalued in this country yet people continue to want to start more. It's no wonder that somebody in PE was threatening to start an Eastern Cape Fashion Week and a Mpumalanga Fashion Week - because the role and meaning of fashion week in South Africa has lost its meaning.

Three years ago, this was different - the ceiling for growth in this industry was very high and now, it's a matter of mentioning somebody on your blog or being a black star - and you've made it to "the top". Sadly, the joke is on all of us who actually want to see genuine growth in this industry. It's not nice when people's shows have to be cancelled because of lack of attendance when they have worked hard and spent money on making those collections. It also doesn't help that local designers don't have a guild or anything that protects them and their interests collectively as designers do all over the world.

I'm not the first and I wont' be the last person to complain about this - but what are we going to do? Is it okay to just let an industry that was once more exciting than all the overseas ones put together, dwindle at the hands of vague "visionaries" and their nebulous "visions"?

Fuck, I don't know the answers! If I did I would have pasted them on there for everybody to cut. What I do know is that I would much rather be writing an angry piece about people who have embezzled money and did clever things with it than people who have been given wads and wads of cash, and spend it on bullshit and parties.


Sandiso Ngubane said...

Those awards were such a joke and the question; what is the criteria, who are the judges is not being answered. Why did Stoned Cherrie pull out. AFI makes a joke of Lucilla Booyzen's hard work over the years and they need to be taken to task. Such can only be done, however, if the designers themselves will wake up, stand together and decide what is best for the industry rather than thinking very short term, which I think is the norm currently: get the most press you can. Of what use is it if you manage to sell two garments in an entire month.

Milisuthando Bongela said...

I was waiting for your opinion! I read @ctstyleguide's blog entry, she was one of the judges and there are no solid answers to the question of what was the criteria?

lillli said...

Hi Mili :(

I'm so incredibly saddened by your post...by the industry and by the wonderfully talented South Africans who miss the point completely.

Just like you I wish I had the answers. It feels like at the moment the industry doesnt really exist and that designers, manufacturers, media and then the fashion weeks are all spinning their own little webs of demise.

The sad reality is in South Africa designers make alrightish and sometimes wonderful product as a glamourisation exersize not to make a business out of it. Everyone wants to be 'fabulous' but no one is willing to work hard to gain the reputation, consumer satisfaction and real brand identity, to find the funding to make it work...

What worries me even more is that there are legendary South African designers that are barely getting by. Now if these are the flagbearers to our industry what lies ahead in our future as fashion professionals?

I think this whole idea of the National Fashion Council is wonderful...but can all the important and relevant parties forget about their own agendas and have a pure love for fashion as a motivation for partaking...I doubt it...

We have the brains in the industry to figure this out... These awards are just a symtom to a much bigger disease...

Milisuthando Bongela said...

AMEN Lilli. Dude you've just said it all. It's so upsetting because a disease is exactly what it is. It's sick sick sick but it's only a matter of time before these people with their own agendas get tired of being sinister. We'll make it work.

Milisuthando Bongela said...

Of course it's you Liza. You know what you're talking about! :-)

lillli said...

lol think we need to do coffee asap!

PS...AWESOME blog :)

Seloane said...


I become so emotional talking about this!

I can't utter a word, it is horrible to see what power can do to some people. The fact that we are watching the industry going down because of egos and people who do not really care about South African fashion industry but themselves is shocking. So, SA has money to spend for people outside but not their local designers - is that service delivery? How can you began to build relationships outside your country if you have not yet made it at home?????? SA CATCH A WAKE UP

Vuyo said...

I will say this again and again and again...you ladies have brains and an obvious LOVE for SA fashion and are pained by where it is going which is clearly downhill...Please get together and do something about it. I know money has to be made and mouths have to be fed BUT with the passion you have...some rich woman out there with a bottoxed face is bound to listen and want to settle some score with some mistress...get yourselves knowledgeble as to who wants to settle a score with who and who has the bank balance to match....and present to her your brilliant ideas and turn the industry around. I will be back to check on the progress. Much love...PS: I know nothing about fashion but your posts made me take note and want to listen so there must be a willing helper out there!

Milisuthando Bongela said...

I love you Vuyo

rage said...

But isnt Precious Motsepe at least putting her money where her mouth is? sure she needs help with the PR and marketing and those badly attended afternoon shows were a bad idea (an empty hall for xuly bet, horrid! the wonderful christie browns show postponed till 10pm, awful) and I was flabbergasted and disgusted when all those michael jacksons and grace jones and yves st laurent and sesillee lopez won awards when our own style icons like felipe mazibuko and beautiful african models were in the room - but SA and African designers also won awards. It's not Motsepe's fault SA fashion is fucked - dont we live in a country where people genuflect to overseas designers and shops stock made in china. Aint nothing wrong with showcasing african fashion at an african fashion week is there? I saw quite a few great things, fassler, xuly bet, bunmi koko rocked my world and i heard christie brown was fab - we'd never see them if it weren't for africa fashion week...they want to be stocked round africa whose job is it to make that happen, and expsure does count for something, at first...

Silver Spoon said...

the problem is - trying to be fab, to be seen in front row, to sip expensive drinks and chitter with the who's who and throwing money around on celebrities. This industry needs people who are interested in the business aspect of fashion, who would rather use their contacts to promote the designers who show instead of the people who attend the shows. I think SA has more fashion weeks than designers, its a f-in joke...

I like people who dont make promises, who just deliver.

Milisuthando Bongela said...

To Rage: "It's not Motsepe's fault SA fashion is fucked". I hate to break it to you but, it actually is now that AFI has been around for a couple of years. In the beginning, I couldn't say so because "the more the merrier they say", but AFI has done nothing but tear this industry apart and slung mud at the work of people who have sweated to make it into something respectable. It's cool to have fashion shows and parties, but they mask themselves as an organisation that aims to grow the S Afican fashion industry. You can't throw money at things and hope they will grow. Look at someone like Thula Sindi whose career has been at the same place it was when he started at AFI. David Tlale is different because you can see he's hussled on his own to get where he is. He can leave AFI and the guy will be fine because uyasebenza. I don't think the others can do that. They are excellent at putting on cut and paste shows but there need to be follow ups to that - mentorship programmes, consulting etc, which they only woke up to a minute ago. What was their initial business plan? The fact that things are the way they are is a clear indication that they had no plan or a really bad one. I have no qualms with people personally, but I refuse to sit back and not tell the truth because I may be considered rude or a hater. You can't tell me they have good intentions for African fashion when Michael Jackson and Grace Jones were given awards when incredibly talented and stylish Africans were there. It's good that people know who Laquan Smith and Xuly Bet are, but Xuly went home rather peeved about the whole thing (i know this for a fact) because at the end of the day, AFI can't answer this simple question:
Where can I get Xuly Bet clothes in South Africa? When you have the answer for that and for all those other designers, I'll be happy to be wrong.

Milisuthando Bongela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
iFashion said...

Mili, you are one of those few voices that I am grateful to hear. Thanks for having the balls to be honest. Thanks for being intelligent enough to express your views clearly. Thanks for being you.
<3 You inspire me.

ps I've republished this on iFashion in the blogs section.

Maque DeGorgeous said...

But Milli, isn't that the point of showing at Fashion Week? to try to source buyers?

That's primarily why some designers agree to showcase in different countries - to expose their brands to the market, to entice potential clients and to source buyers/stockists/etc. It's up to Lumine (Xuly Bet), following your example, to do something about getting his clothes to South Africa. Fashion Week conveners offer you the best platform to showcase your work, get the media hype, network with buyers and such (who are not difficult to spot because they have a tag that says "BUYER" around their necks) so one cannot say the problem lies with AFI (or any other convener with a solid guestlist and resources to assist designers) but with the designer not doin the necessary work to get what the want.

Allow me to disagree with you on the Thula Sindi story - Thula is actually doing exceptiobally well. He just took on two more stockists during Fashion week and the AFI onsite boutique proved to be a working model for him and many others too (details of this and more on Thula Sindi and his business acumen are on my blog). now we await the online boutique which also promises to house a lot of fashion designers, across the continent.
So whose to blame for a fashion house failing? The designer. NOT and RARELY the conveners.

Dini said...

Lets not Talk about the Awards.. lets talk about the actual shows.

Poor attendance by the public,Designers pulling out, programs starting two hours late!? that puts a whole new spin on fashionably late. not too mention the Ticketing errors, and the fact that on one day the program shifted from starting at 2 in the morning to starting at 6, and to top it off they didn't notify and some buyers! the shows were lackluster, the runway design was inefficient, and VIP meant EVERYONE and they're mother. I was very dissapointed, because i had come from far and wide. Why did the designers drop out at the last minute, and why oh why did they not do this in partnership with ARISE magazine? In my lowly opinion i think it lended them a certain credibility and ARISE would have definitely put a clamp on meaningless awards... or am i off base?

retail operations said...

Lack of proper distribution channels within the industry is also killing the industry.no point at all when bad distribution strategies are in place with buyers who have less intrest in the industry.The amount of space,exposure,budget,time and selling strategies given to SA DESIGNERS in store is apauling. The national fashion council is a good iniative but who will serve in it intresting to see how will turn out.

Monde Mtsi said...


Can't recall the last time I read a blog post and there was a meaty discussion thereafter about it.

Well done, Miss Mili on raising a topic subject for discussion. Found it interesting and knowledgeable. I agree to some extent with you on some of AFI's faults. Awarding titles to people seemingly undeserving and not necessarily doing enough in terms of ensuring proper judging criteria is set in place and sufficient disclosures being met with regards to who people in their categories are competing with/against.

I do believe, though, that AFI, has done something that Lucilla was not able to do, but was aiming at doing, and that is reaching the continent of Africa, w.r.t fashion, in a shorter time-frame on a wider scope. I'm a huge fan of Lucilla's, I know her personally and I'm friends with the family and I am a huge punter of SAFW because I strongly believe in its model and I believe it still has its place in SA and I strongly believe it's platform for launching designers is still more pivotal than AFI's.

I have to comment, though, that SA consumers are also to blame for a small portion of the problem African fashion as a whole suffers from. Consumers tend to exude a certain kind of persona, that we want certain things and that we will support certain people. The designers showcase, produce their collections and ship them to their boutiques. Consumers don't buy. Why? Best excuses I've heard are:

"Where do they expect me to wear a dress that to?"

"Why is it so expensive but it's a South African brand?"

"There's no allowance for my hips with this skirt."

And that's just the women. The men on the other hand, have a simple reason for seemingly not being avid supporters of fashion and that's pure lack of variety. There seems to be a variety of men's fashion, but it's all department store, and the guys I know what boutique items. But again, this is not about the lack of men's fashion designers in SA, but rather the chaos AFI, according to you, has caused in this country's fashion.

I think we also need to look at the buyers. How many currently exist in SA for SA retailers/manufacturers/boutique etc? How many of them are actually fascinated with fashion and think outside the box in relation to their jobs and their responsibilities? Also, once buyers have identified key designers of interest, what is the cycle currently looking like between seeing a show and getting the collection into stores? What are the costs and timings and expectations of all parties involved.

Surely, when a designer has 6 fashion weeks a year to prepare for, they don't have time to modify their show pieces for retail purposes. And then which designer is going to sell the rights to their outfits so some retailer makes a cheap mock of their couture?

Do we even have enough well established retailers to successfully move designers from fashion week into stores?

I mean there is an ocean of parameters that need to be researched, tested and compiled into bite size results for anybody to be able to identify problems. Picking one fault and going with it is not enough. Fashion is a holistic subject with holistic results therefore all its problems should be looked at holistically.

I do agree, there needs to be a forum/guild for fashion designers. If PR practitioners can have an institution that governs most of their processes and advises on how things should be happening, surely fashion designers deserve the same.

AFI should go into discussions with SAFW and work out a path to creating a guild for Fashion in SA.

other than that, good blog Miss Mili.


Anonymous said...

I love this article and the points you have raised! I am a Nigerian fashion stylist and writer and live between London and Berlin. However, I try as much as possible to keep on the pulse of African fashion as I love to reflect it in projects when I can. Recently, I couldn't help but notice just how many fashion weeks Lagos was having there was- Lagos Fashion Week, Arise Fashion Week, a fashion week held by SHF- what all this does is devalue the whole point of fashion week.
It's almost as if we want to latch on to the more experienced fashion industry's but instead of building up from the foundation- i.e becoming more commercial/business savvy, making sure the designers are well versed in the business of their trade- we want to jump the gun and relish in the more fickle parts- the parties, what people wore etc. Its total bullshit and I weep when I see the catwalk images of some of this 'shows'.
I don't know if this exists but in Nigeria there needs to be 1 governing fashion council and one of their many jobs should be to organise a fashion calender, and shows should be based on budget etc, maybe this would lessen the amount of shows that pop up willy de nilly...

Onix said...

You know after reading all the comments, started to make me think. To be honest i have already finished a proposal on hosting a fashion week, i wont say where.

We run an event company and we usually write propals and look for sponsors to support the proposals to make them come to life. I dont know much about fashion and I think i was fortunate enough to stumble across this Blog.

Now I am thinking of going back to the drawing board and write a proposal that I think will benefit designers in SA, than benefiting only us as an Eventing company.

I am just hoping that Designers in SA will support the idea of hosting a Symposium where they can come face to face with these individuals that are in control of the market of fashion in SA and Africa.

The Symposium will bring all parties together from SAFW, AFI,Retailers etc. at one venue and all issues will be put up-front and everyone will be taken to task on that day.

The proposal is still in my head and hopefully by the end of the next month i will have finished it and have started getting the necessary support.

If any one is willing to help bring this to life, feel free to contact me on:

043 721 2602 (office hours only)

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