LOCAL versus EXPORT The dilemma of an emerging clothing brand in South Africa


Basotho coat back Basotho coat back

With the growing awareness of the inequity brought about by globalization, “The Fashion Revolution” advocates Fair Trade, ethical, sustainable fashion, made and distributed at a local level. The question being asked now is “WHO MADE YOUR CLOTHES?”


Cheap imports from Asia cause small local brands to face continual stress about competing with ‘fast fashion’. Are we heading towards the Australian problem? “Landfill becomes the latest fashion victim in Australia's throwaway clothes culture” writes the Australian Guardian.

The controversial British designer, Vivienne Westwood, in her latest campaign, urges the consumer to “Buy less, Buy quality”.

“Slow fashion produced by local designers is the way to go”, agrees Debbie Morris Bunzek, owner of WEISS Cape Town. Debbie has extensive experience in America and South Africa in the retail and manufacture of slow fashion.

The Retail market has been swamped by cheap imports and the government is unwilling or unable to stem the flow. Is exporting our brands the answer to competing with cheap fast fashion? “Easier said than done” says Debbie. “There is next to no support or funding for small business to grow or pursue a future in export”.

Cape Town was once the hub of the fashion industry. Since the tsunami of cheap imports large factories have been forced to close and the number of skilled machinists have been decimated from around 250,000 machinists down to about 50,000 over the past 20 years. Examples of these being Rex Trueform, Polo SA and Seardel to name a few.

The future of the garment industry looks pretty bleak. According to Paul Van Der Spuy , of bluecollarwhitecollar fame. “There is no question that cheap imports have affected the local industry. We have to become niche designers/manufactures. It's not about price but rather about your point of difference. The only way to get back into the international market is to up our skills and training from school level. Very few kids enter the clothing industry today because it does not offer a promise or future.”

In spite of the obstacles, this local designer has forged her way forward and consistently grown locally and globally. Debbie’s brand of timeless, classic clothing, WEISS Cape Town, was launched in South Africa in 2012. This range, primarily aimed at the local retail market, has become increasingly popular with the International tourist, leading to collaboration with Creative Dezigns in London.

Debbie‘s African inspired range under the label Dumela Clothing Co. is a range of coats and jackets made from the vibrantly colourful Basotho blanket. The Basotho blanket has gained fame through being featured in the 'Black Panther' movie. The blankets are manufactured in Randfontein in Gauteng, making this a truly ethical, proudly South African item of clothing. These coats are individually hand cut and made in the Weiss design studio in Woodstock, Cape Town by a team of dedicated skilled machinists.

"We've taken up the challenge", says Debbie. "We know that the only way we can compete and succeed is by providing what mass-produced Asian fast clothing cannot - meticulous attention to detail, superb craftsmanship, and design that incorporates classic style with something subtly but essentially African."

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