Dedicated to empowering fashion designers and models from South Africa’s oldest township, Soweto, Stephen Manzini founded the Soweto Fashion Week (SFW) as a platform for budding designers and models to show their talents.
While Manzini does not have formal fashion design qualifications, he has a business management diploma from the University of Johannesburg.
Through a stint as a model, walking the ramp for major retailers and designers, Manzini got the idea for SFW after meeting designers who struggled to get a chance to showcase their garments, as the same designers were picked for the same fashion shows year in and year out.
“There was no room for young designers to get exposure and I wanted to change that,” says Manzini.
Now in its fourth year, SFW, in partnership with South Africa’s leading manufacturer and distributor of hair extensions, Darling Hair, has come a long way – but the journey has not been easy.
“It took a while for people to understand what a concept such as a fashion week was about because people from the township always thought such events were attended by the rich and famous. But SFW’s popularity grew when designers from Soweto brought their following to the event. By word of mouth, people started coming through to support their friends and family,” said Manzini.
After a preparation period that included researching international fashion week models, SFW was pre-launched in 2011 at the Soweto Hotel. However, only 10 people attended, with Manzini struggling to get people to buy into the SFW idea.
“Some of the major stumbling blocks included struggling to convince sponsors to believe in the event, as they did not understand the concept behind SFW. The other challenge was trying to create enough interest among the media to cover the event,” revealed Manzini, adding that the first question journalists would ask was who was coming and which designers were being showcased.
“If there were no big-name designers and celebrity guests, then they wouldn’t be interested. However, over time this changed, and now SFW makes front page news and graces magazine covers.”
SFW got a big boost in 2012, the year of its official launch, when local and international stakeholders became interested in the event. From here on, the event grew and today has become a major highlight on the fashion event calendar.
Manzini notes the seamless partnership between SFW and Darling Hair, which he says, in its fourth year, has grown from strength-to-strength.
“It is a fitting partnership because we have the same vision. We realised that we were going in the same direction in terms of empowering communities. Darling Hair also thrives in the townships and continues to keep women updated with the latest hair trends and styles, so this was a partnership destined to happen. As a result, this year 2 000 delegates are expected at the event – a big jump from the 10 attendees in 2011”.
Darling Hair will also be showing off their expertise with their highly-skilled hair stylists, who will be showcasing the latest hair trends on the beautiful models while designers showcase their garments. Darling Hair will also be and introducing their new Bold & Bright Yaki Braid Range, adding flair and flamboyance to the runway, while remaining true to its essence, which is, a passion for hair.
Most of the models that walk the runway at SFW come from the streets of Soweto. The event empowers them with professional grooming and self-management skills that they can use to further their progress, both in modelling and other areas of their lives.
Manzini said most of the basic training comes from him, with further training for those who are lucky enough to be picked up by big modelling agencies.
As further support for the budding designers, a SFW store is in the process of being established, which is to be used as a platform to showcase their garments, and increase their exposure.
Manzini said SFW’s growth in stature has seen the event become associated with many local celebrities, with the event also written into the storyline of local soapy, Rhythm City – which gave it significant exposure. In addition, some prominent South African DJs also regularly ask to play at the event, giving it even more exposure among the trendy and who’s-who of the entertainment world.
“We are very pleased with the growth of the Soweto Fashion Week. Our hard work is paying off. Certainly, one of our biggest successes is how many of our designers are making their mark in the fashion industry,” enthused Manzini.
This year SFW, in partnership with Darling Hair, takes place from 23 to 26 November at the Jabulani Hall in Soweto, with the theme: ‘Where Fashion Meets Theatre’. We are excited to see how the recently launched new Darling Bold & Bright Yaki Braid Range will bring boldness and fun to this seasons trends.
Entrance to the event is R80