Notes on the Health of the Fashion Industry

by South Africa 2 years ago
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Notes on the health of the fashion industry, and some ideas of what I would like to highlight in my next collection…

by Isabelle Lotter

One of the key elements of the creation process is the talented machinists and other crafters that help to construct the garments we design. It is a symbiotic partnership where one cannot function without the other. The exploitation of workers in the garment industry has been a hot topic in social media generating massive momentum with the hashtags #whomademyclothes and #fashrev along with the proudly South African #lovezabuyza. Documentaries made after the Rana Plaza collapse, such as The True Cost have also highlighted the plight of workers in the garment manufacturing industry

In a recently published paper concerning transparency in the fashion industry titled It’s Time for a Fashion Revolution the following interesting points were made.

– The current fashion business model is broken and operates in a fundamentally unsustainable way…we cannot keep chasing the cheapest labour and natural resources. Eventually, they will run out.

– 36 million people are working as modern day slaves, many of them producing clothing for western brands.

– They touch on the topic of paying a living wage rather than the bare minimum wage which in many eastern countries covers only 60% of the cost of living in a slum. Waste is also an intricate part of how the fashion industry currently operates with huge amounts of fabric and clothing ending up in landfills. Clothing donated to charities in Western countries end up being dumped on or sold in third world countries killing any chance of developing sustainable fashion industries in these countries.





Our main focus is to change the narrative surrounding fashion; to transform it into a force for good. We believe that it is everybody’s responsibility; not just the fashion designers, buyers and big retailer, but also the end consumer, who allows this state of affairs to continue by purchasing the “poly-blend T-shirts and runway rip offs”

​Highlighting WHERE and by WHOM clothing is made is an integral part of the Fashion revolution’s mantra, telling the stories behind the clothing. Transparently is key to insure that consumers don’t unknowingly aid and abet dubious practices “and contribute to a future that is bad for people and the planet”


As a fairly well established designer in the South African fashion industry I feel that it is my duty and privilege to help spread the message. I have always believed in creating sustainable jobs especially in the labour intensive clothing industry and thus I’ve kind of approached the topic back to front.

In a recent “Eureka!” moment I realised that being an ethical designer does not end with paying a fair wage, crediting all input in design and well as production and insuring that as little as possible waste that we generate ends up in landfills. I need to tell people; consumers, fellow designers and other members of this huge industry, what I’m up to.

The main reasoning behind it is so that my loyal and amazing customers know what they are buying and why they are paying more for my clothing than mass produced runway-ripoffs. I want them to share in the feel good glow; contributing, in whatever manner, to creating more a sustainable industry. I want this ethos to rub off on my fellow designers, most of who are already ticking all the #fashrev boxes, and inspire them to talk about what they are doing.

By adding more voices to the movement and using any available platform to broadcast it the Fashion Revolution will happen. We have committed 30 years of fast fashion atrocities and created an unsustainable monstrous industry that generates trillions of dollars annually yet fails to honour its most key member.



South Africa sits at the tip of a culturally rich continent with access to a huge pool of talented craftsmen and -women. Before the rise of the industrial Far East we used to boast many successful fabric mills and production houses. Our bodies do not fit the Chinese, European or American mould and we have been forced to feel shame rather than celebrate being healthy human beings. Our sense of style and ethnic signatures has been appropriated the world over, yet we still flock to support cheap, badly made Western fast fashion.

We need to change our own narrative and stop allowing ourselves to be exploited. We have the power to unite the local fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way we think about clothing.


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