If there is one person who knows about the South African fashion industry, it’s Cyril Naicker. He has a deep-rooted love for clothing and textiles and has a long history of promoting and helping to shape the industry. It comes as no surprise then that he chose to get involved with Fashion Revolution in April 2014, from being part of the Cape Town team to eventually being the Cape Town representative for the organisation.

Fashion Revolution celebrates clothing, textiles and design not only because of how they make us feel, but also for the positive relationship they can have with the environment and community. The organisation seeks to raise awareness about the true cost of fashion; because although it may not always be very apparent, the cost can be incredibly high. By calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the industry, Fashion Revolution aims to bring about a global movement. Ahead of Fashion Revolution Week, I spoke to Cyril about sustainability, his vision for the fashion industry and why he joined Fashion Revolution.

You’ve always had a deep love of fashion, but your love stems from more than just aesthetics, you’re interested in the story behind clothing – why we wear certain things and how tradition and history filter into our fashion choices…

Having studied fashion design and having worked in the fashion industry for many years, there has certainly been a shift from the aesthetics of fashion to the story behind the clothing we wear. Specifically to the people who make our clothes and the working conditions they face. I am passionate about the ethical side of fashion. South Africa is uniquely positioned with our diverse cultures. We have a rich tapestry of traditions and these should continue to be celebrated.

Fashion is often overlooked when we talk about humans’ impact on the environment. Our discourse is heavily focused on the usual suspects, like fossil fuels. Why do you think this is? And do you believe people are truly starting to realise the impact of textile manufacturing and clothing production on our planet?

The lack of information plays a major role in this. This is where Fashion Revolution is making a difference in terms of being informative. For instance, speaking about the human impact on the environment. Did you know that the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil?

I think documentaries like Before The Flood, The True Cost, activations like the Green Carpet Challenge by Livia Firth and the Fashion Revolution movement play a vital role in getting people to realise the impact of the textile manufacturing sector and clothing production on our planet.

Cyril Naicker

Cyril Naicker

What are the challenges in creating a sustainable fashion industry? Do you think our fast fashion culture is standing in our way of adopting better choices and practices? 

These four areas have the biggest impact on the environment: the types of fabrics designers choose, the factories that dye and finish these fabrics, the way the goods are transported and the consumer care directions given to customers. Sustainability encompasses three main areas: environmental, social and economic. The goal is to create a system that can be supported indefinitely in terms of both environment and social responsibility and still maintain the current business models.

Fast fashion is less about fast production and more about sales, how much product can be shifted, and how quickly. Shifting product quickly means producing a lot of stuff at as low a price as possible, which puts pressure on suppliers to make huge volumes at a low price with tight deadlines. That pressure caused the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. Fast fashion is not going anywhere soon, we therefore need to unite the most creative minds in this industry towards positive solutions that bring about change in how we produce and consume fashion.

The terrible day at Rana Plaza that started the revolution

Do you think South Africa has unique challenges in creating a sustainable fashion industry?

A unique challenge would be transportation. There are also other factors; however South Africa is leaps ahead in terms of most countries when it comes to the working conditions of people who make our clothes. For instance, the bargaining council in South Africa have ensured minimum fair wage.

Why did you choose to get involved with Fashion Revolution? What about the company resonates with you as a lover of fashion and as a South African? 

The people who make our clothes matter to me. You see, they are the forgotten faces. It is never the seamstress sitting in the front row of a fashion show that covers the pages of our glossy magazines or one we see on our social media feeds – ever! Yet it is their very hard work, their very own hands that make the clothes we wear. It was those very people, all 1 134 of them that died in Rana Plaza.

I studied fashion, I have been involved in this industry for the past 19 years. I have been told that I work in a frivolous industry. While fashion can be frivolous, the work I do and the people I work with are far from frivolous.

I believe that change needs to happen in the fashion industry and I like that Fashion Revolution is doing something about it. It also has a global voice and this amplifies the message. It is easy to get involved and do something. [Through the cause] I was able to meet like-minded South Africans who share the same goals: we love fashion, but we don’t want our clothes to come at the cost of people or our planet.

Why have you always been so passionate about South African fashion? 

We have so much to offer globally. From my travels, I could see that South Africa has a lot of potential and it always seemed that others were coming to South Africa and leaving inspired. I was tired of us not appreciating what we have in this country. We are so much more than beads and curios.

When you think of the future of fashion in South Africa, what do you envisage? Do you see the country embracing sustainable options in the near future? 

The future of fashion in South Africa is bright. My vision is that every South African will re-evaluate their shopping habits and start supporting local designers or buying clothing made in South Africa.

We already have begun. Manufacturing companies like TCI Apparel, South Africa’s largest clothing manufacturing company already adopts sustainable options. I believe that more and more companies will do the same. The future of South African fashion never looked greener.

Fashion Revolution week will take place from 24 to 30 April.