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


June 8th, 2012

South African retail – A diverse, vibrant blend of African, Western and Modern Culture

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Written by: Jacqueline Shaw
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Retail in Africa is a very interesting topic. Many international retailers like GAP, Zara, Mango, Converse and more have stepped into the continent to sell their product but we ask what does Africa itself have to offer. Our newest contributor, Mirna Kabwe based in Johannesburg, this month, tells us what the fashion districts in South Africa popular city. We will be looking at this topic throughout the continent to answer the topic if Africa’s own retail market can compete with international retailers.

A topic that we are interested to delve into.

Jacqueline Shaw


African countries and designers are now getting in the fashion spotlight, thanks to the emergence of well known African designers such as David Tlale and many others who have had the opportunity to showcase their work internationally, while putting the spot light on African fashion across the globe. Other contributing factors are globalization, the internet, television as well as organizations and websites aimed at promoting African fashion, textiles and designs such as our site, Africa Fashion Guide.

There also seems to be a rise in the amount of ‘fashionistas’ particularly in South Africa, predominately amongst the youth. Whilst gathering information and insight about South African fashion in Johannesburg, a couple of young consumers were asked to define South African fashion. The definitions were as follows:

diverse, unique, vibrant, a mix of many things, collaboration of cultures, textiles and designs, and most importantly breaking down boundaries

This is all evident when on the streets in Johannesburg, South Africa. What makes South African fashion so diverse is the availability of different textiles, textures and designs that often break contemporary norms. Contributing factors to the diversity and the rise in the amount of fashion conscious consumers and  trendsetters is due to the easy accessibility of clothing, accessories and textiles. These are available at a range of different prices depending on the brand, quality and most importantly where you buy them. Clothing, accessories, shoes and textiles are available and can be found at many places such as flea markets, malls, street vendors, factory shops, boutiques, clothing stores, wholesaling markets, second-hand clothing stores and people walking around and selling items usually at  robots and in the streets of the CBD(Central Business District) in downtown Johannesburg.

In Johannesburg there are many places that offer not just clothing but inspiration as well, such a Fashion Kapitol which is located in the inner city CBD. Often defined as the heart beat of the fashion district. Fashion Kapitol has a range of different shops, offering beautiful clothing and pieces of accessories by different designers. It was also the chosen venue to kick of the 2011 Joburg Fashion week. 

Fashion Kapitol: Located in the inner city of Johannesburg

This easy accessibility to clothing at a range of different prices enable young shoppers to dress their best and to fully express themselves regardless of the cost because there is something for almost every income group.

Known as the “go to place” to find the latest fashion trends at affordable prices, Mr Price a retailer we will be profiling. Mr Price is the fastest growing retailer in South Africa employing more than 10 000 people in Southern Africa.  It has stores in ten African countries as well as around 950 outlets.

It all began in Durban in 1985 when the first store was opened by Laurie Chiappini and Stewart Cohen whose aim was to create fashionable clothing at affordable prices. Over the years they bought Milady’s and expanded their brand by introducing Mr Price Sport and Mr Price Home, thereby offering their clients a range of different products from sportswear to casual wear as well as home products at affordable prices. Their prices range from as little as R20 (2.85$) for a T-shirt depending on the cut, fabric and whether it is on sale or not.

The Mr Price clothing stores offers a range of clothing at affordable prices for almost every income group as well as for every age group. From toddlers, children, teenagers and adults Mr Price has something for everyone.

On the flip side is Chisomo Fashions.

Chisomo Fashions is a South African based retail Shop located in Johannesburg within the Fashion Kapitol. Its’ name Chisomo is a Malawian name meaning grace, and when entering the shop you feel just that. The shop depicts a place where African cultures come together by in cooperating bold colors with bamboo giving the small boutique the perfect African feel. The nature inspired décor is visually appealing and is well complemented by the lovely clothing collection.

Chisomo  fashions is tailor made for women and consists of mainly traditional wear and shoes. The shoes are brought and then covered with a range of different textiles. The clothing line in cooperates the many cultures in South Africa such as the Zulu and Xhosa culture, by using a range of different textiles and designs which best embody the various cultures.

The collections include beautiful fabrics embellished with beads and this shows from their clientele type and their pricing. Their clientele consists mainly of brides and politicians amd Chisomo’s price range begins at R500 (71.42$) upwards.

Then you have a clothing retailer called Dare to Differ located in the Fashion Kapitol. The store sells women’s clothing with an intention of bringing back vintage looks by in cooperating vintage pieces and designs in their casual and formal clothing.

The store is elegantly decorated and beautifully painted in bright red, black and white, it is spacious and uncluttered allowing the client to view and appreciate what the store has to offer. Dare to Differ specializes in vintage dresses and sells beautiful accessories as well as belts and bags available in a range of bright colors to suit women from all walks of life, their prices range from R100 (14.28$) to R400 (57.14$) making them quite affordable.

Fashion in South Africa has become a form of identity and self expression amongst the youth, consisting of a combination of fun, fresh, stylish looks as well as versatile fabrics with shades of different colors, patterns, cuts and designs. South African youth are in fact reflecting the rich diversity in the country by the unique blend of African, Western and Modern culture. South African fashionistas could be the new trendsetters to inspire and uplift not only African fashion but also to uplift the development of the African continent too.

Africa’s Fashion Kapitol is part of a broader initiative by the Fashion District Institute to inject new life into the historical 26 block Fashion District in the East end of downtown Johannesburg.

For more info contact the Fashion District Intitute on 011 333 7372 or

This is a small snippet of what Johannesburg has to offer. We will be bringing you more from this buzzing city as the months go on so do keep reading.

Author: Mirna Kabwe 

Johannesburg based, South African Contributor



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