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.