Local designers are making a strong case for the idea that less is more
In a time of fast, maximalist fashion, more and more South African designers are embracing minimalism. Here's why
Refined minimalism is in. We're talking clean lines, quality fabrication and silhouettes that draw attention with their simplicity and are undeniably wearable and versatile. What's not to love? In a time of fast, trend-driven and oftentimes maximalist fashion, slower, more refined minimal fashion is becoming ever more endearing.
Even in the South African fashion industry, this rings true. More and more designers are making their mark with designs that go beyond trends, seasons and even genders to create more timeless wears. Each designer may have their own signature, their own language, but they all breathe life into this idea of modern minimalism.
Established and young designers alike turn to minimalism for a number of reasons, including the importance of sustainability.
"Whilst fast fashion might still (unfortunately) be the norm, over the last few years there has definitely been an increased awareness and shift towards the importance of conscious fashion as well as simpler, understated and timeless styles. A minimalist aesthetic appeals to individuals who want to remove the superfluous and focus on less," says Nicole Luther, creative director of clothing brand Lunar.
Lunar has been creating minimalist, timeless, quality, natural clothing for South Africans for 21 years - proof that minimalism has always had a place on the South African fashion landscape and will only continue to grow and evolve as a younger crop of designers push this wave of design forward.
Brands like Selfi, Lukhanyo Mdingi and Zazü are part of this new generation making a case for minimalism and sustainability.
Selfi, designed by Celeste Arendse, is one of the noteworthy local brands that has become known for its minimal and clean aesthetic. Arendse creates clothing she describes as minimal, bespoke, clean and classic, using strictly natural fabrics including linen, cotton and denim.
"The name Selfi was taken from the word self and motivates self-empowerment and easy living.
Each collection taps into aspects of the self which reflect ethical living, self-empowerment, sustainability and identity," says Arendse.
For designer Lukhanyo Mdingi, luxury minimalism has become the hallmark of his eponymous brand. "Consideration", "discretion", "timelessness" and "modern refinement" are just some of the words he uses to describe his brand. For Mdingi this comes down to taking his time and slowing down to create considered, quality and beautiful products.
"I'm living in a space where I'm consumed with fast food, fast fashion, fast music, crap movies. You can see when there was a lack of consideration, you can see that it was rushed.
"The reason I'm trying to go in a slow manner is because I'm being very stringent about how I manage the production line of the quality of my products. If we have to go at eight miles per hour, then that's what we're going to do to make sure that by the end the result is very considered and the quality of it is beautiful," says Mdingi.
Young designer Zandile Makombe bucks the common menswear streetwear trend with her brand Zazü. " Zazü is a trans-seasonal minimalistic crossover brand that aims to propel consumers in the direction of slow fashion. The idea is to create wardrobe staples that transcend season and inspire the customer to slow down when purchasing products," says Makombe.
"Deep down inside us, we all crave a good staple garment in our closet that allows us to still carry our own aesthetic and that is the need Zazü intends to fulfil."
Minimalism goes hand in hand with this idea of slowing down and being conscious and sustainable, and this is something that really matters to a number of local designers.
"Lunar has always had an affinity to nature and it's where we draw our inspiration from. Perhaps because of this close connection we are more aware of the effects our actions and consequently, wherever possible, we try to lessen our impact on the earth.
This is the primary reason we choose to use natural fabrics as they're often less harmful to the earth. We also choose natural fabrics because of the way they look and feel and because they are better for the wearer," says Luther.
For Selfi, minimalism has always been at the brand's core but its focus on sustainability came later as an evolution of the brand's original values.
"I decided to start using 100% natural fabrics about three years ago when I saw a growing demand for natural and sustainable fabrics as my consumer was becoming more conscious about the fabric they were wearing.
"The core of my brand has always been about self-empowerment, wellbeing, culture and identity. Solidifying sustainability as one of our key objectives was just a natural progression in completing the brand's identity," says Arendse.
Mdingi's focus on sustainability is intrinsic to his own personality. "I think, at the end of the day, I am an artist and my medium is fabrics and if I'm going to be working with such mediums, I need to know the true heart of where they come from.
"I know they are made in a sustainable and healthy way, but I don't have that whole holistic point of view of how the raw materials are made. So I am constantly researching and constantly developing products that are as honest as we can make them be," says Mdingi.
Designer Amanda Laird Cherry, who has been in the industry for almost two decades, has a keen understanding of the market. With her self-titled brand as well as in her store, The Space, Laird Cherry has become a purveyor of quality locally produced clothing, with a strong focus on fabrics and wearable silhouettes.
"I like to think that we're designing for an aesthetically conscious customer and in some ways, they're a thinking person and not just a follower of fast-fashion trends. I feel like they are aware of our commitment to South African production and the sustainability around that," says Laird Cherry.
The South African fashion industry is not like the hyper-fast machine that is the behemoth global fashion system, and there is no need for it to be. Despite the challenges that these designers face with manufacturing and availability of fabrics, they strive to make quality clothing that we want to wear.
Brands that are taking a more minimalist, considered aesthetic in their stride reflect the tastes and needs of the South African consumer.
Yes, we all want statement prints, exaggerated silhouettes and playful takes on classics, but we also need clothes that are more pared down, ultra-wearable and versatile.
We need the designers who are making clothes that you want to wear every day just as much as the designers who are making clothes that tap into trends and make a statement. This allows us to mix the statement with the understated and refined, and this is the alchemy of style.