A new fashion academy places Afrocentric design at the forefront, and it is set to compete with others like it in Braamfontein 

Fezile Fashion Skills Academy, a township concept institute founded in KwaMashu, Durban, is opening its doors in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on May 8 2021.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzelathe academy’s founder and CEO, Fezile Mdletshe, said at first they were just testing the waters in Johannesburg. “We initially wanted to open in Soweto,” she said.

The Johannesburg academy first opened in 2020. It started operating from the premises of KwaMageba Clothing, a manufacturer in Randburg. The academy’s head office in Durban is comprised of staff members and mentors who studied or worked as lecturers at Durban University of Technology and Vaal University of Technology.

Mdletshe said there was a lack of understanding about the industry: “People do not know that they can become more than just a designer.” The fashion industry was a tough space, where being a designer required innovation and an understanding that income was inconsistent. Mdletshe added, however, that “with skills, you will never go hungry”.

The academy focuses on teaching design as well as skills. It teaches students all about the industry, from business management to production, with skills courses such as pattern making, being a grader and more.

Students during a lecture with Johannesburg based mentor and facilitator Nhlosenhle Zwane, who is a fashion design alumnus from Vaal University of Technology. Photo: Provided

Braamfontein seemed a fitting place to Mdletshe, who said it is the benchmark as it is notably surrounded by competition in a fashion-forward suburb where fashion is celebrated, enjoyed and studied. “It made sense to commit to this location. It is looking very promising,” she said.

Mdletshe is of the view that students cannot learn and base their academia only on western fashion houses. There should also be a focus on what is relevant to the South African market, from the method of instruction down to textiles history. This, the founder says, is what sets them apart.

“We have a responsibility to teach who we are as black people. When we teach, we want it to reflect who we are,” said Mdletshe. “Our aim is to uplift youth who do not have access to quality fashion education in townships. We want to equip them and women to celebrate black excellence.”

The academy’s new space will offer more room for the growing number of students, as well as larger work areas. It is set to welcome back to its new campus students from the 2020 academic year, and also new and potential students for 2022. The academy’s move came after just four months of full operation in Johannesburg, which started in 2020 but was disrupted by the onset of covid-19 and the ensuing nationwide lockdown.

Students welcomed the change: “I am excited to be moving to Braamfontein,’’ said Fezile Fashion Skills Academy student Khanyisa Mthethwa. ‘‘We will have a bigger space.” With an eager eye on the future, Khanyisa says, “I do not see myself being the next Gert [Gert-Johan Coetzee], but the next Khanyisa Mthethwa!”

FEATURED IMAGE: Students of Fezile Fashion Skills Academy during class. Photo: Provided