Durban will be donning its glad rags for the fifth Durban Fashion Fair (DFF) from Wednesday, August 31st to Saturday, September 3rd.

Forty designers – including big names in South African fashion – will show collections during 16 shows at the Durban Exhibition Centre.

The DFF is part of the eThekwini Municipality’s Fashion Development Programme and has cost the city around R25 million to date, previous deputy major, Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala, revealed in June at the DFF 2016 launch.

Even with this high price tag, the DFF is yet to get close to the status of its predecessor, the Durban Designer Collection (DDC) or national events such as Johannesburg Fashion Week and SA Fashion Week.

But, while SA Fashion Week markets itself as South Africa’s only business-to-business fashion platform  “with the intent on growing the creative fashion design industry in South Africa by connecting designers to buyers”, the DFF can lay claim to actually finding emerging designers, putting them on the ramp and giving them their first taste of mainstream fashion.

Think of it as empowerment in stiletto heels.

This year’s theme – Beyond Threads – talks to this deeper vision.

The DFF has been an investment in internships, industry related training programmes, networking sessions as well as and various lifestyle and modelling programmes.

“While we had just six shows with 12 designers in 2012, over the years the number of shows grew as did the number of days for the fair,” says Sindi Shangase, who manages Arts, Craft and Fashion within the eThekwini Municipality.

Known for her perseverance, Shangase says that the programme in general and the DFF, in particular, has already yielded positive results in the form of newly established businesses such as online shops and boutiques. Many of the totally inexperienced young designers who participated in the first DFFs, have set up mall business that have created jobs.

Shangase and her team have designs on far more and want to help create businesses, boost the clothing and textile sector and contribute to the city’s economy.

Whereas Durban was once the hub of South Africa’s clothing and textile industry, it is now only home to a few die hards after the bulk of the sector crumbled as a result of misguided government trade policies.

Right now, its recreation may seem over ambitious. Sadly, the DFF is yet to attract meaningful support from big retailers and other industry players in an industry that still shamelessly imports in a country desperately in need of localisation, development and employment.

But the DFF isn’t downing its scissors and needles just yet. So far, the mentorship programme has reached over 500 creatives. Forty-six have travelled to Italy for two-month long internships in the ultra-sophisticated European fashion hub, Milan.

“This started as a five day workshop with a few designers. It has grown and we have hosted between 15 and 20 designers this year. The quality of the programmes has been enriched so that designers are able to learn and understand their roles in the industry and comprehend the industry expectations, particularly when it comes to quality standards. The international internship programme also grew over the years. It started as a three week programme and was extended to eight weeks which provided an opportunity for designers to be exposed to and to experience more,” says Shangase.

Over the past five years, a day specifically dedicated to menswear has been added as well as an awards ceremony.

“This year, we have also incorporated a textile programme where young people have been trained on sewing or garment construction in response to designers’ concerns that they could not find skilled seamstresses. Now, the young can be trained in pattern making and professional garment construction in order to increase the number of skilled individuals,” she adds.

Shangase says there are plans to add a retail development programme and establish a manufacturing incubation facility to ensure more components of the industry’s value chain are developed.