PORT Elizabeth graduate Ruth McNaughton is the first young fashion designer from this province to have made it to the African Fashion International (AFI) Fastrack ramp at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which starts tomorrow in Johannesburg.
The stylish event, which runs until Saturday at the Sandton Convention Centre, is presenting the work of 34 top South African designers in Johannesburg as well as 10 new kids on the block in its AFI Fastrack programme, which is running for the fourth year.
McNaughton will be showing her eco-fashion experiment with traditional felt.
“It’s going to be amazing to learn about the big fashion world. In our course we learnt the theory, so now this outside criticism will help to fill in the practical side,” said McNaughton this week.
The NMMU BTech fashion design graduate calls her wool and mohair range, Milk, due to the “purity” of the milky pastels she works with. Her materials are also “nourished by nature in a sustainable way. Wool and mohair are taken from animals but we don’t hurt the sheep or the goats, just as you don’t hurt the cow to get milk,” she says.
McNaughton also featured her range of handmade felt garments at Cape Town Design Indaba earlier this month. She said she took cleaned and combed mohair and wool fibres and then added water and handmade olive oil soap before “felting” the fibres by hand to make a warm, pale fabric.
Only after making the fabric does she construct the actual garment, so it is a time-intensive creative process.
“It was my first year at Design Indaba but I’ve had such a good response and it is as much about awareness of the product so I am not only focussed on sales.”
She said one prospective customer, for example, asked for 20 garments by the end of the month, but the handmade way she creates precluded her from taking this order.
“I don’t ever even make two of the same, so I can’t go the wholesale route but Design Indaba showed me that there is a market,” she said – and this was further cemented by the invite to AFI Fastrack.
The eco-conscious designer considers the environmental impact that fashion can have as well as its power to motivate positive change in the protection and preservation of the natural world.
Although modern, the range comprises natural motifs of clean, pure colours and forms in a range of flowing jerseys, shawls and accessories that recall primitive man’s use of nomadic felt as a second skin.
AFI Fastrack is a national fashion design acceleration platform to nurture and develop young design talent, offering an opportunity to launch careers through mentorship and business development coaching.
“This year’s 10 AFI Fastrack finalists are testament to the fact that the design talent coming out of South Africa is of the highest calibre. African Fashion International is proud to provide a platform for these young designers to make themselves known and acquire the crucial skills for sustainability in the industry,” says AFI spokesman Nicholas Maweni, himself a former Port Elizabethan.
At the end of the showcase, three winners will each receive a cash prize from AFI and an internship in the studio of an established designer as well as an opportunity to launch a capsule collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa 2014.