Creating a brand on your own, with limited resources, amidst local and global challenges, with a steadfast commitment to sustainability, is a daunting task. But not impossible. It was equal parts risky and rewarding and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Establishing a sustainable fashion brand has been a journey of self-discovery and creative exploration, one which is an honour to share.
It was overwhelming trying to navigate the world during a global pandemic which was then made more difficult by our government-imposed lockdown. As COVID-19 began to engulf the world and our beloved country South Africa began its first of many stages of lockdown, the anxiety and panic started to set in. Around me, it seemed as though people were using this time wisely; to create, meditate and reconnect. As Peta Becker so aptly captured it,
“ All over the Internet accountants were painting watercolours, lawyers were weaving wall hangings, while their partners turned out perfect sourdough loaves.”
So where did this leave me?
One morning I sat down at my sewing machine, a treasured possession passed down to me from my mother. It was the perfect opportunity to explore my creative side. Not only did it give me a sense of freedom, but it allowed me to take risks without judgement. I was fortunate enough to acquire discontinued fabric sample books which had reached the end of their life span, yet still had so much joy and beauty to share.
With the economy at a standstill, shops closed, e-commerce forbidden, it was time to go back to basics.
I loved working with these beautiful fabrics, making napkins, bags, dresses and hats. During this incredible economic uncertainty, I became more aware of what I had and more drawn to creating products. It was a way to find comfort in an uncertain world.
Bucket hats are the breakout star of Spring/Summer 2020 throughout Europe; however, it is a trend which most South Africans have enjoyed for quite some time. With our subtropical climate and our abundance of beautiful beaches, it is no wonder we love a sun hat. Additionally, within the urban landscape, it has always been part of streetwear.
A sustainable fashion brand
Sustainability has burst into the fashion scene in recent years and continues to evolve. For many people, it is still about understanding the concept and providing them with platforms from which they can shop. Often shopping sustainably has a higher price tag attached.
I wanted to create a brand which is accessible to the majority of South Africans (and the world).
It is becoming increasingly noticeable that brands are launching on the basis of sustainability, proving that environmentally friendly clothing is a trend itself. The hats are made from either sustainably sourced or upcycled fabric.
There are a variety of sun hats available from linen sun hats to patterned bucket hats. In addition to that, each hat is packaged in its own unique drawstring bag. These bags are made from discarded fabric sample books.
Not only did I want to create a brand with sustainability as a key element, but I wanted to create fashion with a purpose, to use my platform as a way to give back.
Therefore, a portion of sales is donated to various charities which support women and children in need.
As I was building my brand, I began to notice other incredible fashion brands and initiatives appearing online. One, in particular, caught my attention. CORA is an NGO created by two South African sisters who have always been passionate about uplifting and empowering women.
During Lockdown Level 5, it was a very melancholic time for the country with regards to income insecurity, job loss and the overall amount of people in need. They decided they needed to do something and thus CORA was formed.
While period poverty refers to a lack of financial means to access sanitary products, the term is particularly poignant and relevant in South Africa where girls and women face stigma from menarche to menopause.
An estimated 30% of girls in South Africa miss school when menstruating due to limited or no access to hygiene products.
Knowledge is power. Therefore, CORA seeks to normalize periods and the rhetoric around them. As well as that, they support various NGOs by collecting menstrual hygiene products which are then donated. By the First of May 2020, they had already supported 345 women and girls with two months worth of menstrual hygiene products in underprivileged communities in Hout Bay in the Western Cape.
Fashion with a purpose
I reached out to them with a desire to connect and help. From this, we created The CORA Hat. A stylish and chic white linen sun hat with frayed edges which retails for R220 (£10). 100% of the profits from the sale of these hats are donated to CORA.
Currently, CORA is planning a virtual run, ‘Run For Her’ campaign, for National Women’s Day in August. This campaign aims to raise awareness of period poverty as well as raising funds needed to host workshops. These workshops will teach school girls from underprivileged communities about menstrual hygiene.
Then came the challenge of trying to market a hat while still in lockdown and with no photographers able to work. I connected with a magnetic young woman, Nkosazana, who was willing to do an “at home photoshoot” without any cost involved.
This pandemic has certainly shown me that there are incredible people in the world; people willing to help, work together and make a difference.
Through this all, I have seen the importance of creating and shopping locally. Small-scale production and local supply chains cut emissions from global shipping and reduce waste from mass over-production, whilst supporting local manufactures and boosting sub economies. The selection of local South African brands available to us is remarkable.
These brands showcase the abundance of talent in our country and prove that there is no need to shop fast fashion.
Writing for KeiSei Magazine over the past year, and connecting with interesting and dynamic people along the way, inspired me to create something with substance, something which is there to make a difference.
Freya Hats, which started as a passion project, has evolved into something much more. It is a brand with a purpose, a brand which is driven by a commitment to mindful and sustainable fashion.