Summer 2004/2005

For Joburgers keen to be seen wearing fashionable ethnic designs and fabrics, the Fashion Shack in downtown fashion district will be opening soon, jam-packed with local designers styles.

Businessman Rees Mann, the mover and shaker behind the revitalisation of the fashion district over the past two years, says:” We’ll be promoting Pan-African designs and ideas. We don’t want to look continually to Europe for ideas.”

SEWAFRICA House was launched recently by Clr. Sol Cowan with several of the city’s up and coming designers showing off their designs, together with established designers like Clive Rundle, and a group including those from SA Fashion Week, ‘people who wouldn’t normally come into town.’

The Fashion Shack at 136 Pritchard Street (cnr Polly) due to open in September will showcase the products of a “creative hub of young designers”, on the ground floor of a six-storey building in a project referred to as the SEWAFRICA Fashion Hub, an incubator project to develop skills and relieve unemployment. The designers will be housed in the building and encouraged over a two-year period to develop a viable business plan with the help of Open for Business, an entrepreneurial and empowerment initiative, funded by the City of Johannesburg, Investec Bank and Technikon SA.

The idea is that customers, both local and tourists, can interact with the designers if they like the style but would like the garment in another size or fabric, they can go upstairs and consult with the designer, giving precise specifications for what they require.

The thinking behind the hub is simple but smart. These young designers, some graduates from the nearby Wits Technikon and some from the SEWAFRICA Training Centre in the fashion district rent a package deal in the hub, which will provide them with space for creating their designs, access to pooled machinery and equipment that they would not otherwise be able to purchase, changing rooms, a display area and administration facilities such as fax and boardroom facilities.

The project is expected to cost R614 000, of which the City will provide R250 000. The Johannesburg Development Agency is supporting the project. Once up and running, the rental from each designer will sustain the project.

The equipment and machinery would normally cost around R90 000, way out of the reach of these young designers. This way they get access to the machinery and work together with a pool of other creative people.” says Mann.

The building was recently bought by Mann and has been made into a creative space using the primary colours of the South African flag as the basis for its colour scheme.

Some floors have blue industrial rubberised flooring, others black or red with bright matching walls and window frames. The whole west side of the building consists of industrial windows, flooding the room with light. Each floor will accommodate different levels of expertise as students from the SewAfrica Training Centre become more qualified they’ll move up in the building, eventually having their own space on the sixth floor.

The idea is to encourage the designers not to do mass production. We want them to market themselves and their designs,” says Mann. They’re also encouraged to tie up with a micro CMT (cut, make and trim) business in the district, thus developing all aspects of the clothing chain.

Mann’s sister and partner, Traci Mann, says they’re keen to help these hardworking people by giving them some basic training and helping them to diversify their skills.

She says: “These are hardworking people. We want to develop their potential and give them a sense of dignity.”

Last year money was pumped into the district in an effort to revive it and to demarcate it as having a particular identity. Colourful mosaic stitches now run up the pavement of 20 blocks. Some 48 large steel garment patterns are to be erected on steel poles; and 11 metre tall threaded colour gateways are to demarcate the district.

The eventual aim is to encourage the clothing chain stores and boutiques to come to the district, interact with the designers, and order garments to display in their shops.

The fashion district has been in the eastern part of the CBD for over half a century. The fashion district takes up 20 blocks: End Street in the east, von Wielligh Street in the west, Market in the south and Kerk Street in the north.

Article courtesy of the Johannesburg News Agency operated by BIG Media at 011-484-1400

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