GenNext Talks: how the youth have shaped SA's fashion evolution
Mzansi's fashion industry has shifted significantly to become more inclusive, diverse and deliberate about celebrating people of colour and local culture
Fashion has always been an integral form of social and cultural expression. The youth, in particular, use clothing and accessories to tell intimate stories about their identities, heritage, politics and background. As such, they've been at the forefront of shaping the evolution of the fashion industry in SA.
Promoting identity and pride
SA's fashion industry has undergone significant changes over the years, particularly since the end of apartheid in 1994. It's evolved to become more inclusive, diverse and deliberate about celebrating people of colour and African culture, thus promoting identity and pride among previously marginalised groups.
Take the first South African Fashion Week in 1997, for instance, when minimalist designs with references to local culture and realities, such as the patchwork of miners' clothes, hit the runways.
In the early 2000s, young designers were inspired by cultural influences and nature, with animal prints and Shweshwe fabric becoming more popular.
The rise of young black fashion designers and local luxury brands such as Sun Goddess, Loxion Kulca and Stoned Cherrie saw an emphasis on folklore and historical styles in a contemporary idiom. Designers were influenced by the traditional African attire they wore as children, the golden era of Sophiatown and life in townships, hip-hop, jazz and the 1990s Kwaito movement.
As the Stoned Cherrie website explains it: “In an effort to rewrite our history we raised the humble crochet to the catwalk, emblazoned our heroes on T-shirts with the [Steve] Biko campaign and sought to transform the way Africans feel about themselves in 21st century Africa.”
SA's fashion industry has continued to embrace intertextuality with designers fusing literal interpretations of local culture and heritage into their clothing designs.
Laduma Ngxokolo's label MaXhosa by Laduma is an example of a local designer successfully launching a global luxury knitwear and home décor brand inspired by Xhosa beadwork patterns, symbolism and colour. Other designers craft dresses from wax print cloth, shirts are made from Shweshwe and denim jeans are decorated with contrasting patches inspired by Umblaselo, the traditional Zulu outfit worn at celebratory events.
Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters such as Biko appear as iconography on skirts, shirts and T-shirts, reminding the country of its past while looking into the future. Isicholo (Zulu traditional hats) are presented as contemporary accessories and colourful beadwork is used as embellishments.
We're all fashion activists now
Today, fashion continues to be an integral part of the youth culture in the country and, according to the 2022 Sunday Times GenNext report, 41% of young South Africans choose to express themselves through fashion.
The youth have created unique fashion styles incorporating traditional African prints, fabrics and accessories. They've rejected Western fashion norms and leant closer towards creating fashion trends that intentionally celebrate their heritage and personal taste.
This is not just limited to the youth, but represents a larger movement towards decolonising fashion and promoting local fashion on a global scale.
Fashion activism - where fashion is used to raise awareness about meaningful issues — is something that resonates with SA's youth who, according to the Sunday Times GenNext report, are showing greater concern about technological, economic, environmental, political and legal issues.
The fashion activism trend is evident in the praise garnered by local designers such as Thebe Magugu for incorporating subtle, yet powerful references to social and political issues in their designs, without compromising on style or aesthetics. It can also be seen in the rise of brands that promote sustainability, body positivity and gender fluidity.
Did you know?
56% of millennials and 50% of zoomers agree that traditional gender roles and binary gender labels are outdated, according to the 2022 Sunday Times GenNext report.
Rich Mnisi's eponymous label, for instance, has been critically acclaimed for its unique, androgynous designs that fuse African heritage with contemporary style. While Palesa Mokubung, founder of Mantsho, has been applauded for creating designs that celebrate traditional African prints and diverse body shapes.
Social media platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook and TikTok have provided a platform for such young designers to showcase their creations and gain a loyal following. Many of them are becoming increasingly bold about posting their unvarnished opinions or actions online and, while their posts might offend some, it is their right and responsibility to voice their opinions.
It's no wonder then that the Sunday Times GenNext report states the rise of social media has played a significant role in shaping the perception of fashion by the youth in SA in recent years — especially when you consider that mobile phone penetration in this market is about 85%.
In conclusion, SA's youth have played and continue to play a significant role in shaping the fashion industry in the country. They have embraced fashion as a form of self-expression, activism and as an identity builder, thereby creating trends that celebrate African heritage and culture.
The future of fashion in SA looks bright, with the youth leading the way in promoting home-grown fashion brands to the world.
About Sunday Times GenNext
Now in it's 19th year, the Sunday Times GenNext report, produced in partnership with Yellowwood, is SA's leading annual youth brand preference and consumer behaviour research report.
Highlights of the 2023 edition of this report will be published in the annual Sunday Times GenNext supplement later this year.
The release of the results will coincide with an series of exciting events:
- Young people gather to engage with brands through displays, activations and competitions at the Sunday Times GenNext interactive showcase on September 7.
- SA’s coolest brands as voted for by the youth will be announced and celebrated at the annual Sunday Times GenNext Awards on September 20.
- Marketing gurus will give insight on how to crack into the youth market at the Sunday Times GenNext Youth Marketing Conference on September 28.
For more information, visit the Sunday Times GenNext website.
Does your brand want to partner with Sunday Times GenNext?
- To find out about sponsorship opportunities for Sunday Times GenNext events, email Cortney Hoyland at email@example.com
- For inquires about the Sunday Times GenNext Youth Marketing Conference, email Jade Searle at firstname.lastname@example.org
- To advertise in the Sunday Times GenNext supplement, email Debbie Montanari at email@example.com
- For inquires about the Sunday Times GenNext report, email Ntombi Mkhwanazi at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was sponsored by Yellowwood.