REVAMPING THE RAMP: A repositioned Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg is upon us

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg  starts today. After sending shockwaves with its changes to the fashion calendar, one of the continent’s industry giants, the force behind the show, African Fashion International (AFI) has reinvented itself. And as Kyle Boshoff reports for New African Woman MBFWJ Spring/Summer ’17,  anticipation for this event has been in overdrive. What will come out of the AFI arsenal this time round, and what does the future hold?

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According to industry insiders and experts, the global fashion industry is in a state of flux. The “See Now, Buy Now” revolution, led by brands like Burberry and Tom Ford, called into question the relevance of the current Fashion Week model. AFI saw this coming. The organisation, led by Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, has for at least the past five years, planned its schedule according to the consumer-cycle, rather than staging runways of clothes that are six months ahead of reaching the racks.

As a leader in its field, AFI enjoyed an early dominance. Unfortunately, this prime position always felt uneasy in the light of many other fashion events popping up all around the continent, making the jostling for designers, buyers and media that much harder, and as such diluting its supremacy. However, it can also be added that it was crippled by its own confusing structure: South African designers were eligible to showcase at MBFW Johannesburg, for Autumn/Winter collections and MBFW Cape Town, for Spring/Summer; the trans-seasonal pan-African MBFW Africa for designers outside of SA, was only held once a year between the months of October and November. Overtime, this structure had a knock down effect on AFI and inevitably the credibility of its fashion events.

To many fashion enthusiasts, AFI suffered from a slow puncture and, for a while, it seemed to many that the tyre might run flat.

Instead, AFI pulled up the handbrake. Although to outsiders it came as a shock, AFI carefully announced the cancellation of Africa Fashion Week 2015 for a period of introspection and to “realign its objectives” and streamline its activities with “global innovations, to usher in a new era for the African fashion industry.” The statement also promised answers. But nothing changed at the beginning of 2016. In March, the MBFW Johannesburg (Autumn/Winter) show carried on as normal almost as if nothing had happened to its big sister (MBFW Africa). Everyone expected MBFW Cape Town to proceed as always this August for Spring/Summer.

However, in a surprise move, the seemingly slow-moving goliath announced that having “re-examined its current offerings and company objectives as a response to the changing global fashion landscape,” this would not be the case.

Its first step was to permanently cancel the two-city split: Cape Town will no longer host Spring/Summer, as both seasons will be held in Johannesburg – the most commercial city – according to Sizwe Nzimande, AFI’s Spokesperson.

In a press statement AFI explained the rationale behind the new vision: “By placing the Spring/Summer Fashion Week in Johannesburg, AFI aims to lift retail activity and allow local designers to optimally align their collections to meet the demands of the local retail and climate cycles. Repositioning Fashion Week is crucial to the progression of African fashion designers, giving them an opportunity to increase and sustain their margins.”

The second move is to open the gates of the Johannesburg platform to international designers, quashing the need for a specific African platform. With this, MBFW Joburg becomes structurally similar to its counterparts in New York and the other capitals around the world. In a landscape that is always criticised for being over-saturated, this streamline strategy is welcome. The changes have no doubt rocked the boat, but they are a leap in the right direction: one platform, one city, two seasons, open to the whole continent.

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The revamped first cycle  is set to take place with this new framework in mind. The designer draw cards of Marianne Fassler, David Tlale, MaXhosa by Laduma and Rich Mnisi, (all South African) being the real highlights,means the jury is still out about its trajectory. The next season may be a totally different story. But if the repositioned MBFWJ can attract the attention and buy-in of Africa’s top brands, the event has the potential to become the African fashion central watering hole.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg Spring/Summer 17 is taking place at Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton City from 10 – 14 August 2016.




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