The name Amanda Laird Cherry is synonymous with the promise and possibility of South African fashion. Whether we’re talking about the nearly 25 year old label, or its founder by the same name, ALC, as it is affectionately known, has come to reflect the best, most expansive vision of a fashion house which supports its natural environment, its people and its wearers. By premising the use of sustainable materials, equitable business practices and a whole heap of style, its inclusion as the winner of our Changemaker Award 2019 did not come by surprise. This award recognises a designer whose career has embraced sustainable and circular design practices. The judging panel strongly believed that Amanda Laird Cherry’s collections have helped raise awareness of environmental, and especially social issues, so important in South Africa.
The label is something of a quiet icon of South African fashion. After working at Instinct Sportswear for several years, Amanda established the brand in 1996. Since then, the Durban-based brand has shown at more than twenty South African Fashion Weeks, six South African Menswear weeks, in addition to Amanda’s award as “Fashion Designer of the Year” at the World Fashion Awards in London in 2019. Though the brand is now designed by Brendan Sturrock, who has spearheaded some of the label’s latest collections, Amanda’s vision remains at the core of the creative direction.
“Those who think of clothing exclusively in terms of this and the next season in fashion are missing the point a little.The fabrics and the cuts we wear tell our story,” she says in the design house’s official brand statement.
So what story has ALC been telling? Well, firstly, one which argues that newer, more and bigger do not necessarily mean better or more significant. Through the use of recycled and upcycled materials, the brand knows that change for the future in fashion has a lot to do with what we would ordinarily discard from the past. In addition to their own earth-friendly collections over the years, Amanda Laird Cherry collaborated with second hand specialists Gumtree, to introduce second hand, sometimes ‘ugly’ discarded elements into the world of high fashion through careful design and creativity. Ultimately, as Amanda reflected in iFashion, it comes down to the integrity of the fabrics and not their ‘fashion’ status in a given year.
“I have always loved cottons, linen and fine wool. I do use synthetics but the handle has to be good, supple and soft. So I am very particular about fabric, I always have been. My father used to tease me that I’d say ‘hello’ to people and I’d be rubbing the top of their arm and feeling the fabric of whatever they were wearing.”
It’s an important departure from the norm. Despite the immense care taken to produce local and global high fashion collections, many houses find themselves slipping into the habit of ‘perceived obsolescence’. The concept, which refers to a perception that something is dated, out of style and needs to be replaced is the backbone of fast fashion and has seeped its way into designer fashion as well. Instead, Amanda Laird Cherry continues to refashion old stock, practice waste minimisation tactics and lean towards local fabrics. It has been important too, to ensure workers are treated and cared for equitably, and that local artisans can find a home doing what they know best.
Only since the emergence of the COVID-19 have the world’s most powerful commercial houses turned away from multiple showings throughout the year, and decided on a more austere, less ostentatious approach to producing collections. But this is a temptation that the Amanda Laird Cherry brand has managed to steer away from. Premising the abundance of what we have locally, both in terms of resources and people, the brand has had a quiet but important leading role in showing that a successful sustainable label is possible – and it will stand the test of time.
Spring Summer 2021
- This feature first appeared in the Twyg Awards 2020 zine
- Visit the new Amanda Lair Cherry store at the Watershed in Cape Town
- Gallery images by @eunicedriverphotography supplied by @safashionweek
- Feature image and stories embedded in story by @lrphotographysa supplied by @safashionweek