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Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe talks to Emilie Gambade about her African Fashion International fashion week, taking risks, and the timeless elegance of great style.

Precious Moloi-Motsepe launched the first African Fashion International (AFI) fashion week in Cape Town in 2003, an event that was met with mixed feelings.

Directly competing with the more established South African Fashion Week and forcing local designers into a schizophrenic split, the designs presented lacked refinement and the standards set didn’t seem to reach the international level. But after a few adjustments, Moloi-Motsepe’s empire might give to South African fashion the global hint it so desperately seeks.

Passionate about “creating African brands that can serve the local market and become global players”, she is building a multiplatform event focused on retail and development.

In November 2012, she was invited to the International Herald Tribune’s 12th Luxury Conference in Rome to talk about “the Africa growth story”, highlighting the scope of possibilities, “the hope of prosperity and pride in being African”.

Since 2011, the AFI fashion weeks have been sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa.

The prestige factor of such a sponsor is invaluable, but the ambition to become a world-class event will ultimately be judged by the designs displayed and the quality of the shows.

You are the wife of one of the richest South Africans. Does it make it easier to run AFI International or more complicated?

AFI has to be run like any other business. It is one of the businesses under the family group of companies. It has a role to play in contributing to the development of the creative industry, and by being a business itself.

The AFI calendar includes three fashion weeks. What prompted this format?

Most global fashion weeks [are] organised around the city and because we have two cities in South Africa that speak strongly to the fashion industry, we host autumn-winter national collections in Jo’burg and spring-summer national collections in Cape Town. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa, our pan-African platform, is trans-seasonal.

Do you feel it is necessary to have so many fashion weeks in one country?

Varying countries have different platforms and it was necessary to satisfy the local market. With the strengthening of fashion councils in the country, we may begin to see a process of consolidation taking place.

How do you rest during the fashion week?

I try to get enough sleep and often doze off while getting my make-up done.

Which local younger designers do you think are really exciting right now?

Our AFI Fastrack designers are really exciting. This year’s winners [Eleni Labrou, Hugo Flear and Alexa Liss] are not scared to take risks and are all innovative.

How does AFI go about supporting the designers in the long run?

Understanding that fashion must be strongly linked to commercial activities, we invite designers into various commercial ventures. The Africa Fashion Trade is a meeting place for designers with consumers, buyers and media on a more one-on-one level.

What makes a great fashion brand?

Soul, relevance, authenticity, consistency and clear promise.

What are the biggest opportunities for a fashion designer in South Africa?

Selling products that are unique and [of] good quality to a market that is hungry for locally produced products.

What are the biggest challenges?

Managing the value chain from production to distribution, finding the raw material and surviving alongside competition with cheap imports. Most designers are good creatively, but fall short in business management principles.

What is great style for you?

Timeless elegance with a personality. An understanding of who you are and being confident to communicate that through dress.

What trend never dies?

Trends never really die, they get reincarnated.

What is your favourite scent?

Chanel No 5.

Cheese or chocolate?

Red cherries.

via Mail & Guardian