Opening Up Industry One Stitch At A Time

With a global population of ± 7.6 billion; youths between the ages of 15 and 29 currently constitute the largest group in the world, accounting for a third of the world’s population. In turn, contributing to a phenomenon called the ‘youth bulge’. The positive in this lies in the fact that youths from the ages 18 to 29 have the ability to participate actively in the job market and become economic players. However, like anything in life, within the positive lies an almost unsurmountable negative, this negative comes in the form of a number of societal challenges and limitations such as; failing education systems; low to unequal levels of access to resources; opportunities, health as well as language and culture. So, with all these limitations, how do these youths get absorbed into the job market?

With governments the world over scrambling for quick-fix solutions to create employment opportunities to absorb these youths, the current saviour to this phenomenon seems to be entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship is not without its challenges and research into the topic is filled with negative results that all speak of the many barriers and obstacles, highlighting stats around failure, and how really difficult it is to succeed. I mean it’s a known fact that most entrepreneurs don’t make it past their third year. Whatever the cause, entrepreneurs themselves readily tell you that the biggest reason for their failure lies in governments and various stakeholders’ failure to cultivate the spirit of entrepreneurship by providing the necessary framework to open-up industries for all.

The red-tape, legislation, taxes and regulation, monopolisation as well as the lack of funding and mentorship from a support perspective, all limit and subdue the progress and creativity of young entrepreneurs. These factors ultimately form barriers of entry that force these entrepreneurs to remain spectators and almost certainly deny them access. One industry that is doing its fair share to lessen the barriers for would be entrants is the fashion industry, don’t get me wrong this industry is not without its challenges, like all industries, it has its own challenges. The lack of funding, access, exposure, mentorship and the guidance especially needed to establish brands are pivotal issues.

At the SAFW 2018 MINI Scouting Menswear competition I bumped into one of South Africa’s rising stars, Sipho Mbuto of the brand SiphoMbuto; which is a locally produced high-end label. Sipho studied fashion design at The Durban University of Technology and he some serious gongs to his name, having won the Best Menswear Range Award and The Gideon Merit Award. In 2017, he was a finalist at student SA Fashion Week. At the age of 25 he was one of the youngest finalists at this year’s MINI Scouting competition. Our meeting provided a platform to ask some questions about the plight of young entrepreneurs in the fashion industry. Sipho was all too eager to offer his thoughts and this is what he had to say, “The private sector can always do more. It is difficult to establish a brand and finance can be hard to come by, but I also feel that a lot is being done to open up our industry and support us as young designers.” Sipho continued to state, “I truly thank companies like MINI, GQ and SAFW for providing us with platforms like these. That give us a view of how the industry operates as young designers. To establish a brand is not easy, it takes a lot of experience, also in terms of finance you must be stable. Competitions like these offer one exposure. The ability to mix with amazing experienced creatives and designers is also great.”

The solution to creating employment and the current saviour to this phenomenon seems to be youth entrepreneurship. Creating employment opportunities, boosting economic participation, economic competitiveness and development. The call for various stakeholders – to open up the industry for new players, with new ways of thinking and new philosophies; and diversity not just in culture and background but diversity of ideas – is a universal one. This diversity in ideas has been dubbed the new creative economy and can only be achieved through diverse minds. This can only be unlocked when these industries open up to allow for new and young entrants


Writer: Mthobisi Dladla