All dressed up for the occasion

Fashion Week promises to be bigger and bolder, writes Gillian McAinsh

Saneliswe ‘Max’ Mdashe, left, and Llewellyn Williams
Saneliswe ‘Max’ Mdashe, left, and Llewellyn Williams
Image: Gillian McAinsh

First there was Paris, Milan, New York and London. Then came South African Fashion Week and the bigger cities. One or two attempted a Port Elizabeth Fashion Week but there were more fails than wins.

Finally – after fashion followers were starting to believe this city was just so last season – along came a fresh young crew to launch Nelson Mandela Bay Fashion Week (NMBFW) in September 2016.

Now in its third year and proving that creativity, hard work and a willingness to learn are always in style, Project Runway for the Bay is bigger and bolder than before.

Co-founder Llewellyn Williams, 28, is the only one of the original quartet who started the fashion ball rolling at the Tramways Building two years ago. Today he and Saneliswe “Max” Mdashe, 25, and internationally known designer Laduma Ngxokolo, 31, are the three directors of a flourishing local brand.

So far several Bay designers have had national and international exposure thanks to NMBFW: In 2016, Nozuko Nozuko Ngcizela not only won the prize of having her designs stocked in The Space, she also was invited to show at the Vukani Fashion Awards in Johannesburg which led to a sponsored trade visit to China.

This year there will be similar prizes for designers.

“Sonwabile Ndamase of Vukani will normally select three to four designers from us who will get to showcase at the Vukani Fashion Awards in Johannesburg later this year. Whoever wins there gets selected to go to Turin in Italy,” explained Williams.

This year, the NMBFW team is also going to be producing the Vukani show in Johannesburg.

Fashion retailer The Space is also onboard again, giving one designer the chance to place a range at the Baywest store.

“From last year it is Koli Seti, who is only going in September because she did a spring/summer range,” said Williams.

NMBFW is scheduled for October, he said, although dates still need to be confirmed. It is also partnering with Nelson Mandela University fashion design department to present a show replacing the former annual Collective exhibitions.

They will be exhibiting on the same platform as well-established Bay designers, as well as emerging designers and, hopes Williams, perhaps one or two designers from elsewhere in Africa or the US.

“Then there is still the partnership with East London, their designers also come through” Williams said, referring to how the event has grown.
In tandem with NMBFW, he and Mdashe also started to present monthly pre-event fashion shows last year which have generated new audiences for young and emerging designers.

This year, the Amarula Bay Fashion Sundays have the theme “Made from Africa”, which ties in with the sponsor’s motto and gives designers a theme to work to.

The monthly shows will highlight the work of one designer featured at the I Do! Bridal Expo in March, as well as other new and emerging talents.

“It’s fair for us to give them a different platform to show their designs as the audience is quite different,” says Mdashe, and it also gives these designers the chance to show non-bridal garments.

Last month, for example, I Do! exhibitor Ati Qina kicked off the 2018 series with her womenswear and Sillybeans range of children’s clothing.

“The Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture is also giving us designers from Port Elizabeth on their database that they want us to feature,” Williams said.

The next event on June 15 will be in partnership with the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) and will see Amanda Knots – another bridal fair exhibitor – lead the show.

Their initiative has borne fruit for other creatives. Several models have launched budding careers via NMBFW, with Lwethu Tenge, for example, setting up a new model agency called the Wolf Pack.

Williams is a textile design graduate but is now studying for a BCom in marketing. Mdashe, who has a marketing background, is now studying interior design and construction.

“We want to do everything – from the sound, lighting, design, everything we need to grow fashion week as a whole,” Mdashe said.

“We are emerging – we are not total beginners any more but we are not yet national.”

Not yet, gents, but soon ...

Festival of fashion

There will not be a Bay Fashion Sunday this month due to NMBFW teaming up with the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) for a week-long festival at various sites in the inner city of Port Elizabeth.

“After much planning, we have joined forces for the #NMB_KultureKapital festival,” NMBFW director Llewellyn Williams said.

He said to synchronise with this cultural week, the next Bay Fashion Sunday would move to Friday June 15 and be dubbed #BayFashionFriday, returning to the original Bay Fashion Sunday routine in July.

“Bay Fashion Friday will take place outdoors under the starlight, using the juxtaposition of Nelson Mandela Bay’s timeless derelict buildings as our backdrop and theme,” Williams said.

What’s more, as it is an outdoors event it will be free to the public.
As well as the fashion line-up, the festival also will feature food vendors and performing artists.

Bay Fashion Friday will be held on the corner of Strand and James streets.

For more information, visit the Nelson Mandela Bay Fashion Week Facebook page.