South African Fashion Expands into Eurasian, Russian Markets

Stephen Manzini Soweto Fashion Week South African Fashion

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

Organized by the Fashion Foundation with the support of the Moscow Government, the second Moscow Fashion Week was held from March 2 to 7, 2024. As part of the bilateral cooperation agreements signed at the BRICS+ Fashion Summit, directors of fashion weeks and councils from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and new members, including Ethiopia, Egypt and UAE, were represented.

Generally, most designers are keen on creating routes for new business and focusing on cultural exchanges a step forward in exporting brands beyond the United States and Europe.

The Moscow Fashion Week attracted designers from Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Serbia, South Africa and other foreign countries, who had an excellent opportunity to showcase world-class brands with premium quality and long history to a wide audience and attract new buyers and customers. Designers and brand specialists used the chance to gain exposure and network with industry professionals.

The South African designers participated and presented their unique collections at the Manege Central Exhibition Hall.

Stephen Manzini, the organizer of the South African group’s participation in this spectacular grandest business event, is the founder and CEO of Soweto Fashion Week.

In this interview, Stephen Manzini offers his assessment and the importance of the Moscow Fashion Week and further emphasizes diverse fashion trends in the global markets. Here are the interview excerpts.

As the founder of Soweto Fashion Week, is it interesting to know the common sentiments among fellow Russian participants and other foreign designers during the recently held Moscow Fashion Week?

The current Moscow Fashion Week has been rebranded due to cities becoming global trendsetters. You will notice that all the big fashion weeks around the world are named after cities or towns (Soweto Fashion Week), hence, the rebranding from the Russian Fashion Week to Moscow Fashion Week.

It is my understanding that the sentiments are similar, and these include production challenges, costs of production, understanding and cracking foreign markets and differentiating between cultural and propriety in materials, as well as meeting business overheads at the end of each month.

What are your corporate views about potentials in South Africa for Russia, and in Russia for the South African designer industry?

Russia and South Africa have an excellent relations. Based on the existing cordial relations, I truly believe there’s great potential for both countries. The potential for South Africa in Russia includes access to an open and curious market. We bring our rich cultural background to the table, cultural materials, design, print and overall make which is very colourful based on tribal colours and inspiration. It’s something different for the curious fashions in Russia. It may be a niche market today B2C until with time it is tapped into the B2B economy.

Russia for the South African designer industry. I truly view it as a much easier transition. Our mainstream wear in retail stores is very much inspired by European apparel, if they can match the final price tags in the market, they should be able to make way in a short space of time B2B.

Have you anything to say about setbacks, challenges and policy blocs in penetrating the Russian and Eurasian markets? What are the popular complaints in the fashion industry?

One of the most popular setbacks, challenges and policy blocs include financial backing for South African design houses to expand into Eurasian and Russian markets. It is not only that; if you pay attention to the import-export index, it is mostly about importing to South Africa rather than exporting. Sometimes, little or too much leads to product dumping and fast fashion. The BRICS bilateral political agreements have made it easier and simpler for the removal or reduction of policy blocs to Russia and Eurasia.

Do you consider market competition and the changing corporate realities as challenges?

Of course, every business has to consider these factors. There are always bigger and international brands with advanced access to information or sometimes absorbing a traditional South African designer to get inside trade secrets on cultural propriety. This squeezes the emerging designer’s niche marking and forces them to close or better yet adapt and reinvent themselves. I reckon it is the same in Russia and Eurasian markets.

Do you think the media as part of a decisive factor in building effective cultural ties, including the fashion business, with Russia and South Africa?

Media is one of the decisive factors in my point of view. The media drives the narrative and paints a picture that makes ties desirable, it carries a message that will attract newer ties and build stronger current ones. Even more so in the fashion business which is driven by visuals that the media projects across the globe giving evidence and a track record of the ties.

From the above narratives, what measures or steps do South African designers together with Russian counterparts suggest for unlocking and tapping for cooperation?

The necessity to establish continual exchange until tangible results are realized. The goals we seek to achieve will not happen after a once-off attempt of continual media coverage, exchange, learning and adapting to each country and consumer needs. South African designers are all emerging in Russia and Russian designers are emerging in South Africa, this narrative alone suggests that there is a lot of work to be done and we look to achieve solid cooperation.

What other areas have you already identified, besides fashion, to engage in as part of fostering the scope of people-to-people gathering (public outreach) between Russia and South Africa?

I have identified a unique water purification process that caters for self-service or an intimate community which could work well in South Africa. The business of purified water is the future gold business in my viewpoint as we already have a shortage of healthy clean water in certain parts of South Africa. That’s another industry that needs to engage as a matter of urgent necessity.

Any wider possibilities such as the BRICS platform, both Russia and South Africa are members of this association?

As you may be aware BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) platform is expanding. That is the main focus at the moment, and emerging global markets are coming together to build for each other industries outside of Western Europe and the United States. It doesn’t get wider than that, in my point of view, as that is the future of the world.

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