Buy local because it’s tops

This article was originally published on Independent Media’s World of Work website

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Buying and wearing locally designed and manufactured fashion should not be a “pity party”, or an attempt to force consumers to buy garments just because they are “local”.The purchase of a local fashion product should be an almost unconscious decision that occurs when customers see merchandise that they love, and feel a strong urge to buy.

Yes, we have had many international retail brands and stores finding a home in local retail space; but as an industry, we have the advantage of intimate knowledge of local consumers and markets.

We should be delighting shoppers with on-trend products, at the right price, in the correct fabric, with trims and quality to match these amazing designs.

The vast majority of consumers in South Africa cannot afford to make a conscious decision to buy local products, or are unable to consider the importance of the origin of the garments they purchase. Decisions for these LSM rankings are based purely on affordability and functionality.

For the few who can actively choose, the decision tends to be focused far more on aesthetic appeal than on price alone. These consumers will look at the visual attraction of fashion items as a first criterion.

For this reason, South African fashion design and retail should be in a position to regain market share from international branded products, by capitalising on their first-hand knowledge and understanding of the consumers, and the market.

The South African clothing sector employment peaked at 149 000 jobs in 1996. In 2016, we struggle to confirm 80 000 formal jobs in this sector. Total retail sales were quantified by Statistics SA at R868 billion in January 2016, of which 22 percent (R191bn) was attributed to clothing, textile, footwear and leather goods (CTFL) retail sales.

This is where the opportunity lies for us as a country. If the CTFL sector retail space consists of 50 percent local retailers, and 50 percent international branded retailers, then the local retail “pie” is worth at least R95bn. We know that South African retailers procure at least 25 percent (R24bn) of their product from the local value chain.

The increased international retailer competition is forcing South African retailers to make better use of their local suppliers, to ensure a quicker turnaround time on fashionable products.

This methodology is linked to quick response and fast fashion models, based on the concept that 60 percent of a clothing retailer’s product can be sourced from anywhere globally, to ensure the lowest price, at the best quality, using a six- to nine-month lead time, from design concept to consumer purchase.

The other 40 percent requires a much faster lead time (four to eight weeks) from design concept to consumer purchase.

This portion of the retail buy is not basic commodity items, but rather fashionable, trendy and innovatively designed products that attract customers into the retail store.

These “fashionable” products can be sold at higher price points due to the uniqueness of the items, and the limited quantities of goods.

Once in the specific retail environment, it is hoped that the customer will purchase other basic commodity items to wear with the alluring fashion pieces.

The shift in South African retail procurement practices from 25 to 40 percent locally designed and manufactured product will not only assist retailers to regain and sustain market share; but result in the doubling of local manufacturing jobs to over 155 000.

With women making up 71 percent of all CTFL workers, and each person supporting up to seven people at home, this shift in retail procurement practices, and consumer buying trends, could see more than a million South Africans benefiting.

The call is thus not for patriotism on the part of individuals who cannot afford to be such; but rather a call for South African designers to come to grips with understanding the South African consumer.

Know what drives demand in your particular market.

Whether you design for independent retail, online retail, or formal retail,you must be able to read global trends, and understand point-of-sales data, to ensure customers are attracted and delighted by South African designs.

Buy local, not because it is local – but because it is amazing!
* Anita Stanbury is SA Fashion Council chief executive