The fashion roadshow

11 April 2013 - 02:36 By Andrea Nagel

South African Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2013 starts tonight in Johannesburg but two up-and-coming labels in the city have side-stepped the usual young designer business model that relies on getting press and buyers to come to them. They have enterprising ideas for getting their designs to their public while keeping their work edgy and unconventional, and on the fringe.

PUNK & IVY: Bianca Miles and Khaya Bhubesii Sibiya

"The terms 'punk' and 'ivy' were used to describe two different kinds of hipsters in Soweto when we were kids," says Bianca Miles. '''Ivy' referred to the dandy, the dapper urban gentleman, and 'punk' was the edgier, more daring, stove-pipe jeans-wearing sort."

Miles and Sibiya are resurrecting the terms in their new business-driven model of fashion design. And "driven" is the operative word for the duo. To showcase their collection of menswear, which ranges from ready-to-wear to bespoke suits, they've bought a 9.3m-long Dodge Georgie Boy that they've converted into a mobile boutique, "a motique", Miles calls it.

''It's been fitted with light wooden floors, silver aluminium walls, smart rails and shelves, and a point of sale, and there's ample space for change rooms and an office."

The best part of the taking-fashion-to-the-people idea, she says, is that there are no regulations in South Africa for park-and-trade, so they can sell anywhere from Sutherland to Soweto.

''We love that the streets are our offices, our shop and our business," says Miles, who admits to having got the idea on a trip to Bangkok she took with Sibiya last year.

''Everyone is an entrepreneur there, unconfined to the mentality of nine-to-five shopping mall hours. You can buy everything on the street, everything is mobile."

The two plan to take their motique around the country, stopping in small towns.

''We'll create a party atmosphere, pulling in different kinds of people wherever we go, with a DJ playing music, tables outside and drinks sponsorships," says Miles. ''We love that we don't have to rely on anyone else to make our business work."

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AMEN COUTURE: Abiah Mahlase and Bradley Muttitt

''If it doesn't make you say 'hallelujah' it belongs at the back of the closet or on the floor, but definitely not next to his bed," say Mahlase and Muttitt, graduates of fashion college Lisof.

Already talked about on the underground Joburg fashion scene as ''fashion royalty", the two got noticed by creating a range, doing a professional shoot, putting it on their blog and then using social media to get their designs out there.

''Then the orders started coming in," says Mahlase. ''Our aesthetic is playful haute and our business model is playful too."

Mahlase studied for a BCom before entering the world of fashion and said this background has been great for his business.

"Pop-up shops also work for our brand," he says. "Maybe one day we'll have a regular shop and regular fashion-week shows, which are great for credibility in this industry, but at the moment the smartest thing we can do is use free social media to make our style, fashion and vision into a brand."

Mahlase says that international chain stores have taken business away from young designers but labels such as his allow consumers to be individualistic.

''I'm a free spirit, but learning to harness that in a commercial world, combining my creative and business forces to make our label work."

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