H&M announces collaboration with Cape Town illustrator

‘Where I’ve seen massive improvement in the textile industry over the last two years within South Africa is that there is still a big opportunity to be able to do clothing production in a sustainable way’: Caroline Nelson – country manager, H&M SA.

FIFI PETERS: Let’s shift the focus from the mining industry and look at the retail industry, the textile industry, quite an important one for South Africa. It hasn’t been in the best shape and it is a key focus area for the government right now in terms of turnaround and seeing how things can be improved to manufacture a lot more clothing and shoes and textiles here in the country, as well as creating a lot more jobs. Foreign participation is obviously quite important in that regard, which is why this particular story is quite interesting regarding H&M, the foreign retailer.

I think many of us have a bought one or two items from H&M since they came into the country. They’ve announced an interesting partnership in which they will be collaborating with a local illustration studio called Yay Abe, and [there are] some interesting fashion pieces that they will be creating through this collaboration, which I believe starts as soon as next month in terms of being able to buy the clothing.

We’ve got Caroline Nelson, who’s country manager for H&M South Africa, joining us for more on the story. Caroline, thanks so much for your time. Talk to us about this collaboration – why it is happening now and what it means for local companies, particularly this local illustration studio that you’ve partnered with.

CAROLINE NELSON: Absolutely. Thank you so much for that great introduction, and I’m very happy to hear that you’ve bought a few things from us. Hopefully you can also buy something from this collection. So yeah, this is a very cool collaboration, actually, and it’s a project that we initiated to support small business owners and promote local design industry within South Africa.

This is our third local collaboration, but our first print-design collaboration.

It’s been such an exciting project for us to work on. It’s of course, as I mentioned, just to support small business owners, but what we’ve really seen with this particular collaboration is it’s just so inspiring. It really speaks to the local South African customer. It’s been so cool to collaborate with a ‘Cape Town boy’ as he describes himself, Russell [Abrahams]. The work between us enables us both to have a creative design that’s done here in South Africa, but also to be able to print with a local design printer has been just amazing, and we’re so excited to bring it.

[The opening] will be on June 2 in in select stores. Really, this collaboration is about [gratitude] and reciprocating appreciation. So it very much is in line with the South African ethos and how people are so thankful for what they have and thankful towards each other too.

FIFI PETERS: For sure. It’s also about supporting small businesses, as you said. Our government is really looking to reverse some of the wrongs that were done to the textile industry, perhaps self-inflicted wrongs and perhaps some that were beyond its control in terms of other countries, China mainly, developing their manufacturing industries a lot more, such that they were able to produce [at] a lot cheaper cost and thus bring a lot of those clothes, and have many retailers using their facilities as opposed to manufacturing locally.

I’d like to understand from H&M’s point of view, as you look at our textile and clothing industry compared to what you are seeing everywhere else in the world, where the areas are in which we can improve to perhaps allow for further collaborations like the one we’re talking about right now between yourselves and Yay Abe, and also perhaps allow our textile and clothing industry to grow a lot more.

CAROLINE NELSON: It’s a great question. I could probably talk for hours about this, actually. We’ve spent a lot of time looking into this in the last time.

There is a big plan for the country, like you mentioned, in terms of bringing the textile industry back to the forefront, but there is a lot of work to do from your point.

This is why for us it’s important to do some small collaborations that we can focus on in giving really great quality, price and fashion in a sustainable way. And so I think where I’ve seen massive improvement in the textile industry over the last two years within South Africa is that there is still a big opportunity to be able to do clothing production in a sustainable way. So, using reusable fabrics or organic cotton, for example, making sure that everything can be recycled and used again. This is the biggest growth area I think in the industry.

And if the textile industry can embrace that more future-thinking way of producing in South Africa, then the sky is the limit. That’s one of the bigger gaps. There are a lot of people out there who are doing amazing work to try and improve on that, and this is where for us it’s important, as we are in this space, to do things small, to try and support the industry as it grows in the right direction.

FIFI PETERS: All right. Caroline, I’m looking forward to further conversations with you regarding sustainable fashion. I think every industry has its role to play in doing things more sustainably and ensuring that we still have a planet Earth to live on.

We’ll leave it there for now, ma’am. Caroline Nelson, country manager of H&M South Africa, has been talking about their collaboration with a local illustration studio, their third collaboration with a local company. Hopefully more such collaborations are to come.

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