A programme to help shine a light on sustainability in… – Daily Maverick

Getting dressed is a part of our daily routine; it is, in fact, something we do without much thought. Similarly, when we purchase clothes, we rarely — if ever — think of the journey the garments have been through to reach the store. 
And yet, in recent years, there has been a growing focus and concern on the cost of fast fashion on our planet, moving our attention to how our clothes were made, and their provenance.  
Ocean Clean Wash, a campaign launched in 2016 by the Plastic Soup Foundation, notes that 35% of microplastics (such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon) that contaminate the ocean come from clothing; in 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency noted that about “85% of all textiles thrown away in the US — roughly 13 million tonnes in 2017 — are either dumped into landfill or burned”; in addition, fast fashion, whose main characteristic is often its ability to mass-produce clothing at a relatively low cost, has been criticised for its questionable — and, at times, downright inhumane — working conditions. 
In this context, the True Green fashion initiative, a joint project of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and the Goethe-Institut, made sense; the project, which was launched in 2019, called upon young aspiring fashion designers to apply for a mentorship programme to redefine the fashion industry through sustainable and ethical textile production. 
Those who were successful would receive the guidance and mentoring of German-Nigerian Berlin-based designer Buki Akomolafe; founder of the innovative Casa93 fashion design school in Montreuil, Paris, Nadine Gonzalez; South Africa designer and winner of the Karl Lagerfeld LVMH prize in 2021, Lukhanyo Mdingi; as well as artist, fashion designer and alternative activist, Olga Pham
Five talented young designers were selected — some with no specific background in fashion but all with an interest and curiosity for creating fashion pieces that focus on ethical and sustainable clothing that can lead us into the future.

In a video shot as a conclusion to the programme, one of the selected mentees for the project, Xola Makoba explains that sustainability, to her, means “care, consideration, and learning and unlearning systems that we need to change in the fashion industry.” Makoba graduated from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology with a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design. Her first exposure to sustainable methods of design was through witnessing her grandmother, who made bags woven from recycled clothing as well as woven carpets made from dried grass. This legacy has been passed on and now lives within her own creations.
In fact, Makoba studies the vegetable dying method. Her creation for the project was a dress made of linen and raw silk, complemented with beaded trims dyed using Tumeric. She believes that the way in which to stand out is through longevity and consistency; she emphasises the importance of trusting oneself in the process of creating.
Fashion is something that should know no limitations, with no place for binaries, and for Burton Miles, another mentee, the future of fashion starts with the removal of gender-specific clothing, and to hold no boundaries for people to express themselves.  
Miles, who has recently completed their second year in fashion design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, explains that they have been creating since the early age of seven, where they would design outfits for their favourite cartoon characters. Miles is an avid creator who is morphing their dreams into reality, planning to start their own brand in the near future. On the programme, Miles explains that, “to be a True Green fashion mentee means to grow in every sense of the word. I realised things about myself that I didn’t even know.” Miles focused on weaving gender-nonconformity into the pieces they created; they produced a kimono and dress inspired by South Korean culture, made from recycled material and dyed using vegetable extracts.
Nkosazana – Zaza – Hlalethwa uses crocheting as a means to escape from the productivity constraints that come from inhabiting spaces that value ceaseless output over sustainable, ethical, and kind production. In the video, she says that it is important to pause and be process-focused. “So often we’re focused on the output. So this is an opportunity to take my time, and to focus on the process.”
For Hlalethwa, the future of fashion looks ‘kind and inclusive.’ And most importantly, it listens. “It’s collaborative, not only between practitioners and the industry, but also between them and the wearers, the consumers.” The young designer owns a small business named Kabini, where she sells her handmade crochet pieces and accessories through Instagram. “No two pieces that are crocheted are the same,” she says. “They could be made by me, with the same pattern. But the hands that I had five minutes ago are not the same hands that I have right now.”
For the project, Hlalethwa created a hand-crocheted bomber jacket and matching dress, bringing an ultra-modern perspective to knitwear.
Zovuyo Mputa is also one of the five chosen mentees. Her interest in fashion began from a very young age. She was inspired by the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, but also by her grandmother, who made clothes for their community. Mputa alternated between careers, but found her way back into fashion when her father gifted her a sewing machine, with which she started making clothes. She then enrolled at Unisa for a BConSci in Fashion Small Business.
Mputa stresses the importance of the nature of empathy that comes with sustainability, defining it as “keeping the earth the way that we found it, but at the same time sustaining ourselves as human beings and sustaining others around us.” Her talent lies within the detail: she believes that this is the way through which she will stand out, and it is evident in the work she produced for the project, where she created deconstructed and reinvented, consciously designed suits.
Fashion, at its core, should strive to reflect and to be in touch with humanity. This is at the core of Khumo Morojele’s vision for tomorrow’s fashion, which is to “be a part of young, black talented artists, who drive the narrative of inclusivity.”
Morojele was born in Johannesburg, where he was encouraged to follow opportunities in fashion, especially thanks to his mother, the owner of a womenswear brand that imports clothing. For Morojele , being a True Green fashion mentee means to be resilient in your work, to own your craft, and to enjoy the beauty that comes with the process of creating. He defines sustainability as long-lasting and consistent, especially in the South African context where our focus should be one that is non-exploitive, and to provide opportunities to marginalised groups. He designed a cutting-edge five-piece ensemble, a prime example of upcycling and using fabrics with minimal impact on the environment.
Through each of their pieces, the selected group of young South African designers has imagined a more compassionate, kind, artistic and inventive future for fashion. DM/ ML
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Nicely done everyone!
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