Once upon a time playwright, poet and performer Jessica Hagedorn said coolly, concisely and very precisely, “Adaptability is the simple secret to survival”. After the year we’ve all just had and are, in fact, still very much having, I think we can all agree that we’ve had no choice but to do just that: adapt… or die.
Whether it’s music, hospitality, education, tourism or fashion, every single industry has taken blows to the chin, gut and groin and somehow still had to dust itself off and claw its way back to some semblance of its former self. But, out of some seemingly impossible problems also came forward-thinking solutions: remote working, remote learning and, because of international trade restrictions, a massively significant shift towards and adoption of a “local is lekker” mentality.
James Barrett-Poulson, acting Head of Department at Stadio School of Fashion (SSOF) confesses of the fashion industry pre-COVID, “My realisation was that [fashion] was a bit of a stagnant industry. The way things had always been done, that’s just how it was done”. He appreciates the change, saying, “I think it forced myself and people, not only on the education side, but also in the working world, to reconsider how everything is done, via distance”.
SSOF has had to take into consideration which of the classes have to be held on campus, but they’ve been pretty meticulous about shifting everything possible online, “We’ve had to develop videos and guides for the students to follow. Also, some students don’t necessarily have the same resources — internet and devices and stuff — so we’ve had to really consider how we present the content to make sure that every student can access it.”
Currently the only internationally accredited fashion school in South Africa (accredited through the British Accreditation Counsel), investment company Stadio Holdings acquired the fashion institution, adding them to their growing portfolio of higher education institutions. Barrett-Poulson is excited about how the merger influences the future of South Africa’s fashion industry.
In shaping the future minds of fashion, SSOF has taken what they’ve learnt from the pandemic. Barrett-Poulsen explains, “It’s taught us to be flexible and adaptable, but also forced us to reconsider how we do things to ensure that we are being responsible, environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
By educating their students to understand that they are part of an ecosystem, SSOF are genuinely pushing an ethically responsible agenda. They have adopted technology, among other things, as a practical solution to really reduce waste, “The rise in 3D design software is very apparent so going forward as an institution, will instil that 3D component into our curriculum. It also speaks to sustainability – not wasting resources by physically testing out ideas and rather working those ideas in a virtual environment first, making sure they are viable and only then producing them”.
But, fashion students make up a small percentage of the world’s population and it isn’t only up to them to keep the fashion industry alive and moving forward. As consumers, we need to educate ourselves about sustainability and support local design. This requires a shift in mindset, but before we can solve the problems, we need to understand them independently, and how they affect each other.
For instance, according to an article recently published by European Parliament, textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of the world’s clean water pollution because of dyeing and finishing products. The fashion industry is also responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, which shockingly is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
There is the argument that supporting local can get expensive. Fair enough, because shopping on a PEP budget isn’t going to afford you a fresh wardrobe by Judith Atelier, but there are less expensive solutions: have your clothes repaired instead of thrown out, donate to hospices where customers can shop quality garments at a fraction of the price, recycle garments by organising clothes swaps with friends, and promote a second-hand or vintage shopping culture. It’s about adopting a future-forward mentality, staying informed and staying fashionable in the process. It’s up to all of us.