By KACIE CLARK
When we think of fashion meccas, the Midwest doesn’t typically come to mind — and South Africa likely doesn’t either. And yet, both regions are brimming with talent and untapped economic pathways that are under-explored and under-appreciated. On Sept. 25, local fashion production company Midwest Fashion Week ended its runway show hiatus with an exclusive event in Johannesburg, South Africa, to change these views. The goal? To bring awareness to the culture and talents of the people, expand international tourism and bridge the gap between the Midwest and South African economies so that both may prosper.
Like many countries, South Africa was significantly affected by the pandemic, especially its tourism sector which boosts local business and industry. To dispel misconceptions and show that the region is safe for visitors looking to explore the beautiful lands, vibrant city life and many historical and wildlife sites of Gauteng Province, Midwest Fashion Week partnered with Gauteng Tourism Authority to produce the event. Aptly named “CONNEXIONS,” the event featured a runway presentation, live entertainment and special guests, including actor Dom Desroches and Black Excellence Brunch founder Trell Thomas. Further adding to the star-studded guest list was the show’s host, ABC news anchor and Emmy award-winning journalist Lionel Moise who found the trip eye-opening and inspiring.
“Gauteng is home to some of the most dynamic people. There’s the luxury and adventure, but also history and educational experiences that I feel every person should have the chance to witness. I made so many great connections, and I hope to continue doing my part to bridge the gap between the U.S. and Gauteng. This was a reminder of how we are stronger together and can use that power to change the world,” Moise said.
“CONNEXIONS,” which was inspired by Catou fashion designer and Midwest Fashion Week director Berny Martin, is one event among many that aims to grow the already established fashion community beyond the Midwest and open up markets for designers based in other parts of the world. Over the years, Midwest Fashion Week has held runway shows in New York, Paris, Munich, Dubai, Kuwait City, Hargeisa, Bulawayo, Arusha, Port au Prince and Hong Kong. Now, they aim to do more.
“I am always encouraged by how we can work together to make new connections and use them to help others across the globe. ‘CONNEXIONS’ was inspired by my trips to South Africa and that idea that the culture there could become an asset to the Midwest and beyond with fashion quickly becoming a source of global economic development. South Africa and the rest of the continent, have a lot of potential and we are thrilled to help share it with the world and hopefully spark new conversations around economic growth between the two regions,” Martin said.
The event took place on the heels of Heritage Day, a public South African holiday celebrating their unique culture and diversity and featured the works of eight designers — six from South Africa and two with roots in Indiana; handbag designers Carol Bouwer of Carol Bouwer Bags and Inga Gubeka of Inga Atelier; clothing designers Nicole Ncube of Ascend, Odysseus Shirindza of Arnreuby, Nokwanda Wandah Ngcobo of 8th Wanda Designs, Berny Martin of Catou, footwear designer Reggi Xaba of Ifele, and hat designer Heather Marie of Heather Marie Designs. In addition to the runway show, participating designers were able to sell their garments to attendees and gain exposure for their brand, potentially opening lasting pathways for future commerce.
Midwest Fashion Week also appreciates the support it receives at home, as it expands and explores initiatives such as “CONNEXIONS.”
“We are grateful to Karrah Herring, Indiana’s chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer, and the governor’s office for their support. Gov. Eric Holcomb has been a champion of positioning Indiana as a destination for international trade and we look forward to continuing our work with them. The International Marketplace Coalition is another great organization that is dedicated to highlighting Indiana’s local talent globally and their support has been a great asset,” Martin said.
“CONNEXIONS” gained attention from various media outlets ranging from newspaper and magazine to radio and television coverage. Despite being invitation-only, the runway show was also livestreamed, sharing the one-of-a-kind lifestyle of a place rich in beauty and tradition with those who may not otherwise have the chance to experience it in person. Even so, Gauteng Tourism Authority hopes this event will inspire international travelers to visit their many attractions such as the homes of Nelson Mandela, the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and the Dinokeng Game Reserve for an authentic South African experience.
As for Midwest Fashion Week, their work doesn’t stop here. They are planning to include skills training workshops to their “CONNEXIONS” initiative, building an ecosystem for sustainable luxury fashion in other parts of the world. They believe that the industry can contribute to further economic growth and look forward to being a part of Indiana’s development into a global fashion destination.