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Will local fashion survive the pandemic?

We look to sustainable-design fashion brand Selfi for answers and inspiration.

In a time of uncertainty for local businesses, they must be able to adapt to change and become agile to the current fluctuation in market behaviour. We chatted to Celeste Arendse of Selfi about the impact the pandemic has had on her business, and how she’s re- strategised to overcome the current challenges facing all South African designers.

Glamour: How’s the pandemic affected brands?

Celeste Arendse: As online sales have increased, so too has the demand for content. As a brand, we’ll invest more into online, not only from a content creation point of view but also from a functionality perspective.

G: Have you changed the way you market and produce your products?

CA: I think the main takeaway here is the shift in focus to brand storytelling in the context of selling a product. These days, people want to know who you are, what the bones of your business are, and why they should invest in your brand. In terms of production, we’re focusing on direct sales or orders. We’ve stopped over-producing, pulling out of stockists who themselves have had to close. Interestingly, we’ve seen an increase in the demand for international whole sale orders during the height of the pandemic – from places such as Hamburg, Dubai and New York. We’ve also seen consumers participating on platforms such as Mercedes- Benz in Russia and panel discussions at ZEITZ MOCAA.

G: Is this the way things will be from now on?

CA: The face of retail has changed. We have fewer overheads, and we’ve closed our flagship store as it wasn’t feasible to keep it open anymore. I think the less-is-more approach has been a long time coming for most businesses. This industry, and many others, still produce a lot of waste. In some ways, the pandemic has allowed businesses to fast-track their solutions to the problem of industry- wide excess. Our priority is to invest in better image quality (photographers) and content creation, as well as online brand awareness. We don’t need a physical store presence to run our business.

G: What can we expect from Selfi in the future?

CA: We’re looking at creating a stronger brand story, perpetually reinforced by a lifestyle that complements it. Our pillars have, and always will be, self-empowerment, self-care and sustainability, points we want to reinforce more thoroughly. As I mentioned, aspects of that will include brand story – that’s what sets apart many brands who’re strengthening their position online. The other one is designing. We have to be that much more selective with fabrications and availability. There are still shortages of fabric, specifically new fabric, on the market. While that’s easing up, we have to be resourceful by finding ways to marry conceptual items and fabrications that’ll draw consumers to our brand. We must also ensure that we, as a brand, can continue selling online without compromising our access to fabric.

G: What did you have to let go?

CA: The entire structure we knew, but that was was probably not the worst thing that could’ve happened. Many brands, including ours, are focusing on one collection a year that’s season-less, as opposed to two, four or even six. It’s the idea of slow fashion, which is ironic as these are the ideals the industry has been toying with for years now. Essentially, we have to accept this as our new reality. The normal functioning of several internal systems is also bound to change. Due to the pandemic, customs operations are slower, meaning there’s a constant shortage of supplies. So, we’ve become agile, able to think on our feet. Who knows what could happen next. You have to be ready and willing to shake a leg, creatively and authentically. For example, we’ve resorted to making more fabrics ourselves and collaborating with weavers and fabric dyers. In a way, that’s been fantastic. We, as designers, have to realise that we now can reset the industry, and create a new system that’s been much-needed for a while. It’s exciting to be a part of it.

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