Fashion designers, fashion buyers and stylists often co-exist interdependently in a healthy fashion industry that is not monopolised by a select few.
Fashion designers are usually the ones who benefit from the relationship with the other two, because in most circumstances, fashion buyers and stylists chose from the collections of local designers. However the Namibian fashion market has conceived a new kind of fashion buyer/stylist, who only look out for themselves with no consideration for fashion designers.
These fashion buyers/stylists often visit foreign countries in search of fashion trends that have not yet reached the Namibian shores, buy them and sell them locally under the guise that they are their own. These garments are called ready-to-wear garments because they are mass produced and as the name says, they are ready-to-wear, unlike couture or custom made fabrics which are created with a specific customer in mind.
While some fashion designers chose to overlook the practices of this new breed of fashion designers (as they have dubbed themselves), others have not taken too kindly to them.
“Real stylist/fashion buyers refer stylists to us (fashion designers), however there are those who take bread from us,” fashion designer Tsadago Garoeb said.
The University of Namibia fashion graduate lamented former fashion buyers/stylists and now seamstresses who do not create original designs but replicate existing ones. People forget that fashion designers sometimes spend years and a small fortune studying their art, and this new type of fashion consumer tries to steal their profits indirectly.
“The fashion industry in Namibia is quiet a small one, we just recently got a fashion council. The fashion council is supposed to regulate these things, for example who are actual designers and who aren’t,” he explained.
However he added that it was pointless for him to bring up these issues and expose them in the media because local consumers are indoctrinated in the belief that fashion designers are expensive and therefore opt for ready-to-wear garments.
Taati Sibolile of Taati Sibolile Maison concurred with Garoeb, saying that in Namibia these fashion buyers/stylists are damaging to a designer’s career.
“One does not need to go to school to learn how to be a designer; however you need to do the work and the research to teach themselves how to be a designer as not everyone can if they aren’t fortunate enough to go to school. There are those who know what they are doing and try to push the local industry to a higher level,” she said, however she added that fake fashion designers (fashion buyers who pretend to be designers) are actually bringing the industry down.
The young designer made note of the likes of Victoria Beckham who did not have a formal education but studied on her own and now is considered a designer in her own right. Sibolile said that she was fortunate enough to cater to an international clientele, however she did sympathise with the designers who cater for a local client base.
Another young designer, Hendrina Shikalepo, felt that she was safe from the clutches of this new breed of so-called designers because her garments are unique. “These fly-by-night designers sell ready-to-wear garments and they do not create their own original works. I cannot compare myself to them because we are in a different line of work,” she said.
Shikalepo said that the reason people went to designers is because they wanted original, one-of-a-kind garments, which is something a fashion buyer/stylist cannot offer them.
Mathew Erastus and Meta Uushona, who are upcoming designers, differed with Shikalepo, both stating that the new breed of fashion buyers/stylists who pretend to be fashion designers have a negative impact on fashion designers because it takes the business away from them.
“Ready-to-wear garments might seem cheaper then garments from designers. Customers want to see what the garment looks like before it is done and ready-to-wear garments are available immediately, unlike garments from designers,” Uushona said, noting that these are the reasons why designers lose out to these fashion buyers/stylists.
However, Uushona said that she tried to maintain a client base through providing her clients with exclusivity and forging relationships with them. A trait that all the designers agreed on doing because that means they will always have someone who is in demand of their clothes.
The conclusion by general consensus is that the fashion industry in Namibia is still in its infancy and needs time to grow. Many designers hope that with this growth comes the distinction between designers and fashion buyers/stylists so that one does not steal from the other.