SA Fashion Week and Italian Embassy create Fashion Bridges to develop the global fashion community

by | Oct 4, 2021

Fashion week season is not just about celebrity front rows and showcasing new collections. A new format of contemporary fashion weeks, which has already popped up in New York and Berlin, and kicking off in Milan, presents the opportunity for the world to look at the ways in which the global fashion community is developing.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, increased discussion around the impact of fast fashion and the galvanising of sustainability initiatives around the world, SA Fashion Week partners with the Italian Embassy of South Africa to present the “Ponti della Moda” (Fashion Bridges) project. Italian designers were paired with South African designers in a programme of learning, exchange and creativity, and culminated in a showcase at Milan on 23 September. It will be presented at the SA Fashion Week later this month.

Developed and run by top international fashion college Polimoda, the project is specifically aimed at laying the foundations for a sustainable, inclusive, strategic, long-term cooperation between the Italian and South African fashion industries. And those qualities are present in each designer chosen. The cross-continental exchange included South African designers Jacques Bam (The Bam Collective), Fikile Zamagcino Sokhulu, Michael Reid of Xavier Sadan and Sipho Mbuto; and the Italian designers Julian Cerro, llaria Bellomo and Domenico Orefice.

Not only was there a wonderful exchange of skills and ideas, the Camera Buyer Italie award was given to young designers Michael Reid and Domenico Orefice, with a special mention to Alessia Dovero and Sipho Mbuto.

For Lucilla Booyzen, director of South African Fashion week, the project illustrates the power of collaboration.

“I believe that the designers have grown enormously on all levels.  New thinking processes have been stimulated, new skills and processes have been acquired.  They now know what it takes to develop a world class collection and more importantly, how to execute it with perfection which is the most important element of fashion design,” she says.

North-South collaboration has long had a hand in building the future of African fashion. Streetwear label Daily Paper is a Dutch, Amsterdam-based brand which drew on the African heritage of its three founders, whose Somali and sub-Saharan influences changed what high fashion streetwear could look like. More recently, Beyonce’s Black is King documentary drew on the African continent for inspiration, with the production drawing its art and costume direction from creatives like Kwasi Ford Jour and South Africa’s Trevor Stuurman.

Buyers, retailers and critics attended the designer showcase at Milan Fashion Week, including Suzy Menkes,  Galeries Lafayette, Grigio Greece, Bergdorf Goodman…

So, what was the collaboration experience like for these young designers?

Amongst the Italian cohort, Bellamo says, “Thanks to Fikile Sokhulu, the designer I am working with, I started to get a first connection with South African culture and fashion and what fascinated me the most and what I find especially in line with my ideas and values is a deep connection and respect for Our Planet: I’ve noticed this on several levels, for example through the use of organic materials, in terms of the manufacturing of the garments and also on a creative level.”

For Fikile, the project was equally resonant, both in terms of the designers’ connections to each other, and to the broader industry. Fikile, whose work is self-described as “poetic and gentle fashion” has been given a new audience, as the collaboration and direction from Polimoda has exposed the young designer to industry experts, designers, and potential new buyers.

“We’ve learnt new design approaches and been exposed to opportunities. From individuals and companies in the fashion industry who have shared their experience and views we have gained a new perspective on what it means to be a designer.”

It’s both the creative and commercial imperative that allows the designers to be both inspired and function as fashion practitioners. As SAFW’s Lucilla illuminates, the two elements are viewed as interdependent, and important for making sustainable design and fashion practices more mainstream.

“If a huge effort like this does not translate into business and job creation for both parties it is a futile exercise and a complete waste of time. This project is about creating business and giving the designers from both countries the opportunity to build their brands so that they can play a meaningful role in the GDP of both countries.  On the other hand, we are connecting the industries so that we can stimulate trade between the two countries, and we are tapping into the colleges to inspire, stimulate and create more possibilities for those star students who want to connect with the rest of the world,” she says.

For Jacques, the creative director behind the beloved Bam Collective, the countries were equally matched, and a pair made in heaven in terms of harnessing the best of both countries, as well as their skill sets.

He says, “We are able to tap into the best resources that both countries have to offer, Italy’s exceptional craftsmanship, education, and design quality, together with South Africa’s rich, virtually untouched resources (like mohair and merino yarns), artisans and ingenuity. This gives both countries’ industries a chance to not only grow, but explore creatively and expand markets in a much easier way. Another benefit is the creative growth that each designer experiences when being exposed to another country’s unique way of doing things – personally I feel like I have grown exponentially during this programme.”


  • Items from the Fashion Bridges collaboration will be showcased at Milan Fashion Week which takes place from 21 – 27 September, and at SA Fashion Week in October 
  • Images supplied b SyA Fashion Week 
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