Masterclass unpacks ethics of sustainability within African fashion

Articles, News
18 Mar 2020

May introduced the theme by posing a multifaceted question to the audience and panellists: What does the ideal future of fashion look like?Erica De Greef, the co-director of the African Fashion Research Institute (AFRI), kicked off the panel by sharing a story about the world-famous South African designer, Thebe Magugu. When Magugu was still a design student at Lisof, he wrote an essay evaluating Africa’s contribution to global fashion. His essay was awarded a 100% mark, an almost unheard of achievement in his Design Theory class, according to De Greef who was the lecturer at the time. Eight years later, Magugu was showcasing at Paris Fashion Week, exporting his African design aesthetic and perceptive sensibility to the world. 

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The value of cultural sustainablity

Sustainability is succinctly defined as: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. There are three pillars of sustainability that are widely recognised, namely: economic, social and environmental. But in Africa there is an addition to these pillars – cultural sustainability – where our ability to preserve our cultural heritage in the present is said to impact our African identities and global contributions in the future. 

De Greef used the example of South African shopping malls to further drive home the point of decolonisation. Our malls host a variety of international brands, which serve as stark reminders of a colonial era where western philosophies were sold to us as better than our own institutional knowledge and capabilities. The impact is far-reaching, affecting our economic gains and our social cohesion, and the only visible solution in the short-term is to buy and support locally-made and owned brands.