Modern, sustainable living

Pending: Khayelitsha Fashion Week celebrates African fashion heritage

by | Apr 6, 2020

Zola Booi, fashion designer, founder of the Fashion Entrepreneur Training Programme and an ambassador of National Youth Development Agency writes about plans for Khayelitsha Fashion Week during the year of Covid-19.

Although Khayelitsha Fashion Week has been postponed, Covid-19 has not crushed the team’s creative spirit. The event, a highlight on the calendar of many community-based designers and fashion-lovers, was scheduled for May but will more likely take place in September.

Khayelitsha is one of the biggest townships in Cape Town and accommodates a wide range of living standards. Most residents have come from the Eastern Cape to settle in shacks, RDP houses and bond houses. The well-known township is regarded as one of South Africa’s high-crime areas and is a dry soil for establishing a brand. Success is highly dependent on community engagement. We have seen businesses and many projects, both governmental and private, fail. Yet, the sewing business in the township is booming. Many of the commercial fashion designers are self-taught or have inherited the skills from their elders. They are keen to educate themselves further.

These designers have embraced the fashion week brand and look forward to sharing their creativity with their audience.

“Khayelitsha Fashion Week builds confidence and should be commended for giving a platform which allows the designers to showcase their collections and add a positive impact to the dark cloud of crime and violence in the townships,’’ says designer Cingiwe Ngoxoza, who showcased in 2019.

Khayelitsha Fashion Week celebrates African fashion heritage and this year we will focus on the Ndebele culture. We are hoping to visit the Esther Mahlangu Foundation in Mpumalanga, the home of the Ndebele culture where designers will experience the culture and its fashion heritage. For too long the Ndebele culture has been left out of politics and education. The language is not extensively spoken, the food is not popular… it’s a neglected culture. We want to inspire our designers to draw attention to it, to be inspired by and to learn from it.

We are taught western culture as if African fashion heritage doesn’t exist

Each year we’ll focus on a different culture in South Africa. Fashion college syllabi have been Euro-centric. We are taught western culture as if African fashion heritage doesn’t exist. We want our training programme and our fashion week to represent something meaningful.

Our designers are encouraged to use this lockdown to research Ndebele culture and prepare their fashion illustrations for the spring and summer season collections. We continue to digitally communicate with designers with updates on the Ndebele culture. We constantly share information on fashion heritage.

Khayelitsha Fashion Week was founded by former Mr SA finalist, Zuko Langeni, and former radio show host, Bongani Matenjwa.  The first event was held in September of 2016, at Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha Park with 10 fashion designers and 35 models. “One of the primary stakeholders was the ward councillor at the time, councillor Khatshwa who donated an undisclosed amount,” Bongani says.

The brand hosts two events per year: Khayelitsha Fashion Show which covers the first two seasons of the year (winter and autumn) and Khayelitsha Fashion Week which covers the last seasons of the year (spring and summer). The platform has grown in capacity to accommodate more fashion designers, collaborated with brands and been invited to talks, business seminars and conferences. It has received national media attention.

The platform gives recognition to first-time fashion designers. This has been done through a collaboration with my organisation the Fashion Entrepreneurship Training Programme. Four designers won the Portfolio Building competition in 2019.

“As it was my first time showcasing at the platform, it was very challenging for me especially in deciding what to include in my collection. I had many ideas but eventually through the mentorship provided I was able to complete my 2019 spring/summer women’s wear collection,” says Xabisa September, one of the four winners of the Portfolio Building Competition winner.

One of the most hard-hitting facts about the township economy is the lack of financial and non-financial support from institutions, companies and organisations to help entrepreneurs acquire much-needed resources to establish local businesses. The other issue is convincing customers to support these local brands using low quality resources rather than established brands with good quality resources and experienced labour.

“The biggest challenge for township brands is shifting the consumer perception and focusing on brand positioning while also making their values and principles such as colour choices, fabrics, and quality control measures known to the consumers. This includes explaining the narrative on each product for effective brand positioning. These narratives can then be shared in the media creating new opportunities to reach audiences,” says  Erica de Greef, academic and co-founder of African Fashion Research Institute.

Khayelitsha Fashion Week has partnered with various organisations and companies and is still looking to engage more stakeholders. Some of the suggested solutions for 2020 include organised transportation, sandwiches for the administrative and production stuff for all activities. We are looking to offer incentives through competitions and to offer stipends to fashion designers who showcase on the platform.

  • Image credits: Feature image supplied by Khayelitsha Fashion Week. Image of Zola Booi via African Fashion International 
  • Zola’s organisation Fashion Entrepreneur Training Programme has partnered with the fashion week and supports its events with backstage volunteering. 


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