Unpacking fashion design

HARARE - “Fashion design is the art of the application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories. Fashion design is influenced by cultural and social latitudes, and has varied over time and place.”

Taking the above definition into consideration we believe that a fashion designer is someone who can shape the future of fashion and define trends. A fashion designer is an individual capable of telling a compelling story through their clothing, to captivate the consumer. Finally, a fashion designer is someone who stands out from the crowd by creatively executing their collection.

Types of fashion

The most recognised types of fashion are haute couture, ready-to- wear and mass market. A couture garment is a made-to-order garment for a single customer and is usually made with hand-executed techniques.

The term haute couture is protected by law in France (Paris is the only place in the world that has fashion protection laws) and is defined by the Paris Chamber of Commerce.

In order for a fashion house or designer to define their collection or garment as haute couture rules such as presentation of a collection to Paris press twice a year must be adhered to. With no consideration of the laws that are applied in the France fashion industry, haute couture is used to define high-quality, detailed garments.

Ready-to-wear collections comprise of garments that are made in small quantities to ensure exclusivity while the mass market caters for a wide range of customers, producing ready- to-wear garments using trends set by the famous names in fashion. They often wait around a season to make sure a style is going to catch on before producing their own versions of the original look.

Fashion in an African context

Last year, I came across an article in the Daily News by Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri that discussed the Africa-inspired fashion industry. One of the issues or points of discussion that caught my eye was on copycat designers. Samasuwo-Nyawiri highlighted the lack of authenticity that is widespread within the African fashion industry.

“While Africa is a hub of inspiration, it seems we have too-many designers and too little design thinking,” she said.

Samasuwo-Nyawiri makes very valid points. There are copycat tendencies within the African fashion industry. Industry; a copy and paste mentality whereby designers copy what designers in the ‘West’ create and then add some print to it. Although the print fabrics create some vibrancy and a pop of colour to the design, it does not make one a designer nor does it apply as a form of design. It is merely having the ability to sew and piece together a garment already constructed by somebody else. The definition of a designer is someone who translates an idea into clothing to create a collection.

An example of a designer who has managed to fuse print fabrics but still construct something that is unique to the fashion industry and true to their brand image is Stella Jean. If we look around at the leading designers internationally, their work is always different. We will never see Michael Kors and Yves Saint Laurent producing or showcasing similar designs.

What has led to the leading international designers to be in the position that they are is the power of authenticity. and the way they have gone about differentiating their brand from other designers. In the fashion industry there are designers that create valuable items sold in high fashion streets then they are mass produced items that end up in Kmart or Target. Where you see your items being sold begins with how you create a collection, either your collection is different and creatively executed or it closely follows trends and recycles the work that has been previously done by others.

In recent years there has been an outcry for authenticity in the fashion industry. If we look closely at the thrift shopping trend, it is one that was driven by consumers wanting something different. When asked why I thrift shop I always say it is because I want something different from what the other person is wearing. If we look at popular culture, authenticity has also been a leading trend, celebrities and influencers in different industries have conducted themselves in a manner that allows them to stand out from the crowd.

The trend of authenticity is about removing the sense of mass production and telling a story that creates a personal touch, connection and is an experience for consumers. In an interview with Mindfood Stefan Siegal the Founder of Not Just Another Label highlighted the fact that consumers are now sick of being sold the same story. Consumers have returned to the idea of wanting items that nobody else has especially when it comes to fashion.

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