Africa Fashion Guide
A social enterprise promoting sustainability within Africa's fashion and textile industry.


August 24th, 2012

Fashion Design Students in South Africa – The Institutions That Make Their Dreams A Reality

LISOF image

As we prepare to launch a very interesting design project with fashion schools in Africa we will highlight schools and institutions that offer fashion courses in Africa. To start with we will focus on the following two schools in South Africa:

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) and LISOF 

Fashion in Johannesburg, South Africa is an interesting topic. With the streets boasting of fashionistas, a wide range of retail stores located all around the city, not to mention the large amount of both local and international reality programs focused on fashion,  as well as the large range of competitions for young designers to show case their talent; it is understandable that Johannesburg is taking on the dynamic, fast paced vibrant industry by storm and presents many professional and student designers exhibiting their unique styles daily in the city. This article will focus on the Colleges and Universities that houses these designers.

The first institution we will be profiling was once an incorporation of different universities and technicons known as Raw University, but when founded in 2005 it name changed to the University of Johannesburg (UJ).  The University consists of four campuses and offers nine different faculties. In particular we will focus on the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture known as FADA.

The Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture is where all the fashion courses  and  design students are housed in one well designed modern looking campus known as the Auckland Park Bunting Road campus, located in Central  Johannesburg not too far from the CBD (Central Business District) of Johannesburg South Africa.

The faculty is located in a well designed modern building bursting with inspiration, to add to it is a gallery consisting of photographs, sculptures, art- pieces as well as beautifully decorated boxes covered in cultural fabrics.

On speaking to the Head of Department (HOD) of Fashion Ms Desree Smal, it is clear that the students are in great hands.  The faculty offers – the Fashion course and the Fashion Production Course which can be studied in the following programs:

> Diploma: Fashion Production

> National Diploma: Fashion

> Bachelor of Technology Degree: Clothing Management

> Bachelor of Technology Degree: Fashion

> Master of Technology Degree: Clothing Management

> Master of Technology Degree: Fashion

These will from next year be known as Clothing Management.

The Fashion course is focused on fashion design, and consists of a lot of innovation and creativity whilst the Fashion Production is retail based and deals with social issues. The program is geared towards the industry as well as design in relation to sustainability and ethics, which is very important in an industry as young as Africa’s fashion industry.

The average price range for the courses is around R20 000(2500$), making them quite reasonable in comparison to other institutions.

The contrast we will be profiling LISOF, which is a fashion school founded by Shana Rosenthal. LISOF opened it doors for the first time in 1993, and today consists of three campuses one in Pretoria, one in Cape Town and Johannesburg being the main campus. The school has come a long  way and has gained the reputation of being the most progressive fashion school in the continent and will this year be celebrating its 19th birthday.

LISOF image

LISOF image

LISOF image

LISOF image

The school offers full time, part –time and distance learning courses, with the distance learning courses being available beyond the South African borders to other African countries.  The school offers the following fashion based courses:

  • Full Time
  • Degree:
  • Bachelor of arts in fashion
  • Bachelor of arts honours in fashion
  • Diploma:
  • Diploma in Fashion
as well as part time and distance learning options in fashion design, patternmaking, garment construction and more.

LISOF directs and maintains its fashion courses by being in contact with the industry and by constantly changing their curriculum in order to keep up with the fast paced industry.  Their course price range begins at R57 000(7125$) to R60 000(7500$) per year for the full time courses and around R8 500(1062.5$) for the part time courses.

When entering the small main campus in Rosebank situated in the trendy part of northwestern Johannesburg, it is clear that you have entered a fashion school. The school is buzzing with design students exhibiting their unique styles varying, from vintage characters, trendy looks to the use of bright colors, warm colors, and different fabrics some with prints, patterns, stripes, plains and floral designs. Some had bows and head wraps bursting with colors whilst others had interesting hats and scarves to complement their outfit.  Anyone who loves fashion would delight in the scene. There seemed to be no limitations in their fashion choices.

When asked what their plans are job wise in an industry often seen as risky in Africa, many of the students have big dreams of one day starting their own clothing line.

Many shared their thoughts on the industry and the many challenges faced by young designers such as, Johannesburg being a mainly retail based city as opposed to a manufacturing based city, as well as the rise in popular international brands being present in the country and not to mention the large amounts of chain retail stores that mass produce items made available to the general public at reasonably low prices.

The students responses to the many challenges faced by the industry is to start small by starting off in a company and then one day opening their own business. 

LISOF prides itself in having recruitment sessions as well as putting their students in contact with major companies in the hope of placing as many students as possible in the industry.

These are some of the LISOF’s success stories, these two young designers have made it despite the many challenges faced by the fashion industry in South Africa and Africa as a whole.

The first one is Thula Sindi who show cased Vliscos fashion line at the South African Fashion week in 2005. Since then some of his accomplishments include a nomination for the Marie Claire emerging designer contest as well as a distribution deal with the Edgars store, which is huge because his clothes will now be recognized and be available to the general public at relatively affordable prices.

The other notorious LISOF graduate is Tiaan Nagel, who was a recipient of the London International School of Fashion scholarship. Some of Tiaan’s accomplishments include the Vukani Designer of the Year award, as well as the Elle New Talent award.  Tiaan’s shop is located in MilPark Johannesburg. For more information on this talented designer you can visit

It is clear that South African fashion has come a long way, with new designers and fashion students breaking down conventional norms and being exposed to a wide range of local and international influences which is often infused with their own unique sense of style and creativity. There are still so many challenges facing the young fashion industry in South Africa, some of these challenges include the ever changing fast paced world of fashion as well as the lack of funds to study further, lack of capital to open businesses, the lack of basic literacy and arithmetic skills. There is also the question of design in relation to sustainability as well as ethics which is exceptionally important for growth and I feel that such institutions are stepping in the right directions by covering such topics in their courses. Johannesburg despite its many challenges is coming a long way to break conventional norms and emerge as a force to be reckoned with.

Author: Mirna Kabwe – AFG Contributor – Johannesburg, South Africa 



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  1. I feel so inspired reading the success of other young designers in south africa.As a teenager in zimbabwe designing is something that i have always wanted and have dreamt about for a long as i can remember.The only fear i have is studying for 3 years and then end up having to study something else in the business industry due to fairlure to get employment in the fashion industry.My only question is will i be able to make it if i commit myself to fashion designing after high school?

    • Thanks for your comment Danielle

      Fashion Design is a very challenging career but it is possible to have success. But you have to ask yourself if you have the staying power and the financials to get you through. We would advise as you study to network as much as possible so when you leave you have already made contact in the industry. Fashion is a people business…its about who you know and who you make yourself known too.
      We wish you all the best
      Team AFG



  3. lysah

    Fashion design is one of the best things i have ever wanted to do in my life. I do admire what young designers are creating these days and i really want to be part of them. Can i Please know if i can find a place to study somewhere in Johannesburg.

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