Africa Travel and Life

SA Menswear Fashion Week Co-Founder and Creative Director Simon Deiner Talks Africa Designers, Fashion Weeks and More with AT&L

As we launch the all new Africa Travel and Life print and online magazines with a focus on lifestyle and travel, we take a deeper look at Africa fashion industry by getting insight on where Africa fashion is, where it’s going,  who the key players are, and SA Menswear Fashion Week.

Simon Deiner is the co-founder and creative director of SA Menswear Fashion week and a leader in the burgeoning Africa fashion industry. 

I’m from Cape Town, South Africa where I grew up, and am probably going to die (laughs). I’m a Cape Town person through and through. When you are young you want to see the world, and the more you spend around in other places you realize how lucky you are to be here.

I’m not a fashionista. I’ve been called Elle Magazine Worst Dressed Person twice.  It was a joke award, but I always say it is my crowning achievement in fashion (laugh).  I am an outsider.  I didn’t study anything creative.  I’ve been involved in fashion weeks for 21 years.  My mother distributed swimwear, and every year we would do a big a trade show for buyers. While I was in school, I always helped with that. It was so long ago that I remember loading music on cassette tapes from a brand, new Michael Jackson album. That’s how far I go back. It was crazy.  

It was 2003 and we were working brand management.  I am a brand strategist. We were focusing on Cape town fashion week and I was sitting there and thinking it was so boring. I was trying to get out of the corporate space, in meetings all day, in a button up shirt. I saw photographers at the end of the catwalk laughing and having fun.  I had a camera in my car because I was shooting fashion as a hobby then and one ticket for that one show. I went to the car, got my camera and hung out at fashion week for a few days. The security did not ask me for my accreditation.  After that show, I was asked the following year to shoot for that fashion week.

Then it took off from there.  We started shooting and I focused on fashion weeks.  It was the beginning of digital and we built a library system for one of our corporate projects.  I thought I should bring this into fashion and put all the clients we were doing online. I began to put content online and it grew from there.  I was shooting at the shows and noticed that the lighting was so bad, so I started spending time with lighting directors, learning. I started doing technical direction of the lighting for shows.  Then I noticed the set was bad.  We started working on the set and then began fixing the choreography.  My ex- wife Jen Deiner, who is our head show producer and I launched our production company 12 years ago.  We now produce all the biggest fashion weeks – Lagos, Swahili, London, and are in 13 countries.

We started to bring technology in and now have an app that runs and manages fashion weeks which we licensed to production companies globally.  So, there are a lot of big shows that people are watching using our technology.  We’re in the background saying wow our software is running these fashion weeks.  SA Menswear Week was a great test bed.  If we are clients and are producing, we can test new things. 

As budgets have reduced in the last 10-12 years, we have been able to streamline the (fashion) teams for fashion weeks.  Through technology, show producers can now focus on what they do better and be more efficient with everything across the board, for example model usages.  You can pulldown from 60 to 35 models because you’re using them more efficiently.  The software is flagging where you need to turn models around.  The name of the app is Show Pro; however, we do not sell it to the public.  It is licensed only and utilizes an iPad because is not an app.  It is being modified now for music and award shows. Hopefully it can continue to help fund the SA Menswear Fashion Week.

A lot of sponsors jumped into fashion because it has the mystique of glamour and celebrity around it, which it is not…a super high-end audience.  A true fashion week really doesn’t have just any members of the public in it.  It would be the industry buyers, media or designers’ guests.  Whereas many of the fashion weeks in Africa, except for the SA Menswear Fashion Week, sell tickets to attendees.  I think it is good as it is where social media is going. Before one would wait for weeks before seeing photos from a show.  Today it is instant, with blogs and other social media platforms. 

A lot of fashion weeks have sprung up and lots of those sponsors have gotten poor return on investments. Some sponsors have been burned in fashion weeks, so they’ve turned away.  The return or treatment has caused some sponsors to block sponsorships.  Examples would be Mercedes Benz and Lexus who have pulled back. I photographed and put together the first Mercedes Benz fashion week for AFI, but AFI and Mercedes Benz’s relationship declined, so they pulled back.  Some just have not seen the returns from fashion week. 

I think it’s quite good to be an African designer and platform now.  The people are getting it right and understand where Africa is doing well. 

A lot of fashion weeks have sprung up and lots of those sponsors have gotten poor return on investments. Some sponsors have been burned in fashion weeks, so they’ve turned away.  The return or treatment has caused some sponsors to block sponsorships.  Examples would be Mercedes Benz and Lexus who have pulled back. I photographed and put together the first Mercedes Benz fashion week for AFI, but AFI and Mercedes Benz’s relationship declined, so they pulled back.  Some just have not seen the returns from fashion week. 

We are introducing The Week of Fashion concept, a rebranding of the SA Menswear Week.  It now has womenswear with the highest quality.  The most crucial thing (at a fashion week) is to have the best designers.  They don’t need to show but do so for the press and know when a platform is rubbish.  Fashion week is a channel for their business. Our shows are the best in terms of production.  The best productions have sets that are clean, start on time, and take place at venues with incredible designs.  I’m hands off.  It is my team of four that do it, while at the same time building Lagos Fashion Week, Durban Fashion Fair or any of the other ones.  Those are the jobs that pay. 

SA Menswear Week is a passion.  We need to put away the rubbish fashion weeks. Nigeria has 24 fashion weeks, yet if you ask, the only one that makes sense is Lagos Fashion Week.  Omoyemi Akerele, founder of Lagos Fashion Week and Style House Files drive and understanding of fashion as a business works.  This is what we agree on.  It’s not a fashion show for a night out.  We do not believe it is entertainment but is to grow business. 

There are very few fashion weeks in Africa that are good.  There is Lagos, SA Menswear Week and SA Fashion Week, which are really the only true fashion weeks.  Why everyone comes back to our platform is because we are a family that comes together and have a good time.  We don’t do paper contracts.  It is one of the ultimate social experiments.  Can we do business with a handshake and keep your word?  It is productive in my mind. 

A lot of global brands are looking at Africa and looking at the next generation of designers.  When most people think of Africa fashion, they think wax prints, but it is no longer block prints.  The designers making waves globally have taken a unique signature globally, not just colorful, block prints… Iniye Tokyo James, Thebe Magugu, Maxhosa designs.  Thebe Magugu and Orange Culture from Nigeria are so far ahead and are being picked up in department stores and being worn by celebrities.  It is leaps and bounds ahead of those doing colorful prints. It is the print and not design anymore.  A lot of the brands are starting to look at brands like Tokyo James.  At Menswear Fashion Week, fifty percent of our push is abroad, and we are starting to really get there.  I was in New York and we were discussing what African designers could bring to New York. 

At Menswear Week fifty percent of our push is abroad. It is great, because they are amazing fashion and the quality of the garments and fabric are on par with everything else in the rest of the world, for half the price.  It is s unique and has a story.  The reach is picking up also.  UK GQ is covering Menswear Week. 

What it looks like and what its cost are what buyers look for.  We have put African designers into stores, and they meet all the requirements, but then become complacent.  We might miss the deadlines.  There is a lot of education needed and we are working with partners like the International Trade Center to educate designers on processes for when you start exporting.  You’ve got to be able to deliver.

There are so many platforms in South Africa, so at Cape Town Fashion House we came up with the Week of Fashion.  It is a broad two weeks of fashion weeks and events. Cape Town Fashion House brings in people who have studied fashion designs, but have no business ideas, which is always a challenge.  The successful fashion designers all studied business.  The best gave up the corporate life and know how to run the business; therefore, you should study maybe a year of business before going into creative.  Grad Week, which is part of the week of fashion, puts designers into retailers where they get employed as designers. It is a week-long program of everything fashion.  Designers brand the windows of their businesses saying its fashion week, which gets everyone excited. 

One thing we’ve been proud of with Menswear Week is that it has been a feeder from other fashion weeks in Africa.  For example, we’ve gotten two Nigerians, one Kenyan, and others.  The criteria are the same no matter where you are from.  New designers must have a three years track record.  You must tell us how you sell, even if its online.  We then send your information to our 12-member panel who makes the decisions whether this person should show or not.  If turned down, we want to know why, so we can provide feedback to the designer.  The panel consists of journalists, print and graphic people, our fashion week team, and buyers.  It is not everyone sitting around the table and deciding. Each panelist decides by themselves.  If at least ten say yes, we then put you in the lineup of those wanting to show.  We look at where there are gaps and we can fit the designers into the schedule. Otherwise, we put you on the waiting list. Menswear week is completely free. Most others fashion weeks require an entry fee.  If you are well received during fashion week, you are automatically brought back. 

When we launched SA Menswear Fashion Week, it was exclusively menswear.  My team was the first to champion gender fluid collections, so some designers showed that.  At least nine menswear to one women’s wear.  With the demise of Cape Town Fashion Week, we had women requested so we added women’s collections, and now have two days dedicated to womenswear at fashion week.  We are integrating the schedule. 

Thebe Magugu and Kenneth Ize winners of the LVMH Prize, Tokyo James, Rick Dusi, Orange Culture and S.P.C.C – Sergeant Pepper Clothing Co which moved into retail.  There are many women’s wears, and men’s wears are slightly less competitive and have more demand.

In real terms absolute zero, compared to global fashion weeks. 

New York, London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks have been around for a long time, with the oldest platform in Africa being about twenty-four years old.  By the time Lagos Fashion Week takes off buyers have already been on the road for about a month.  There is a fatigue.  Even if they’ve only done London Fashion Week, they are fatigued by the time Africa fashion weeks take off.  Getting into Africa is also a bit more difficult.  We must negotiate three months in advance for visas to Africa.  One or two buyers come out to Lagos Fashion Week. 

There have not been a culture of boutiques and department stores around Africa.  Alara, a chic lifestyle store in Nigeria, filled with top local and international brands, was launched by Omoyemi Akerele and stocks brands like Dior and carries Nigerian and South African designers.  We have some big online fashion sites in South Africa. There is an online store owned by Hanneli Rupert, the daughter of the South African mogul Johann Rupert who is the Richemont Chairman.  Richemont’s global brands include A. Lange & Söhne, Azzedine Alaïa, Baume & Mercier, Buccellati, Cartier, Chloé, Dunhill, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Van Cleef & Arpels and others.  Hanneli Rupert opened Merchants pn Long & Okapi a concept store stocking ethically produced African designs, art and fashion, as well as her own handbag line. We have two to three of our designers in her store.

Paradise Garage carries a lot of African designers who produce everything in Africa, including South African and Nigerian designs.

You couldn’t pay for the public relations you get out of fashion week. With your own public relations you have this exponential coverage.  Leverage that and post campaigns with your own advertising while also being responsive. 

We have brought a lot of manufacturing into South Africa with the pandemic making it easier, because logistics was difficult. 

The only glossy fashion magazine now in South Africa is Glamour.  GQ is a partner.  Vogue carries our galleries.  Franca Sozzani, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia had an insane passion for Africa fashion, but she passed away.  We have great coverage from SA Menswear week with online sites that resonate with audience that suits the designers.  Bella Niaja and Fashion Ghana also provide great coverage.

Scroll to Top