“Discounts hurt the people who work with us”

“Who made my clothes?” — The question the team behind Fashion Revolution — a fashion activism movement — is urging consumers to ask on a daily basis, but especially for Fashion Revolution Week which took place from 23–29 April. This Week acknowledges the memory of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh where 1 138 people were killed and many more injured on 24 April 2013.

“Who made my clothes?” is also the question more South African consumers are starting to ask.

MERWE S.A.L.T is a brand produced by Deeva van der Merwe and Eva Ostermann. Their vision is to support the local market by sourcing and producing locally. They are also aiming to offer South African designers a platform to export their products to the international market.

Eva says their clientele do want to know who made their clothes, if it’s actually Eva and Deeva sitting at the sewing machines or seamstresses. “There’s an interest in the process now, and an interest in the people we work with. But in addition to being asked who sews the garments, we are also asked for discounts.”

Discounts hurt the people who are working with us. By buying a full price item, you are supporting someone in the background, someone else with a story. This is why consumers need to know what goes on behind the scenes when designers are creating a range,” says Deeva.

Their studio houses a group of fashion designers, pattern makers and skilled sewing personnel. All production and design are done in-house, from designing each look to altering each garment to ensure the perfect fit.

They have their own CMT for the following reasons:

- They are able to control the quality and being on site where the production happens allows for immediate action if required.

- The ladies they work with are well respected and knowledgeable.

- And because they are so knowledgeable, they give input on styling and production. “They educate us on certain processes and weigh in on tricky styles,” says Deeva.

The constant communication between the designers and their team builds respect in the MERWE S.A.L.T team. They believe this is visible in the garments they produce with their clientele being more appreciative and respectful of the quality of the final garments.

So they’re ticking the ethical fashion box and stress that their team will always be a priority for their business. In addition to respect for their team, they are putting plans in place to increase their respect for the environment and looking at sustainable/ eco-fashion.

When it comes to eco-fashion, South Africa is getting there,” says Eva. “There is definitely a need for locally produced items in terms of fabrics and design, and this is visible with the number of new brands/ entrepreneurs on the scene. We find that many of our clientele are asking about the fabrics we use. They want advice on how to care for their new garments, want to know what kind of fabrics we work with, and then want styling advice. Markets like Kamers | MAKERS and the Neighborhood Market at The Biscuit Mill are giving consumers access to the designers to ask these questions, it’s a win-win situation for everyone as we are able to ask them questions in return.

“We do believe that we will see more emphasis on eco-fashion as people are becoming more conscious of it. It will hopefully be the norm soon, and people will point at those who do not yet follow an eco-approach, or who are not trying to implement changes in the production of their ranges.”

The main challenge they — and most other designers — face is Fabric. Organic cottons are often impossible to find or very expensive which impacts the retail price. This challenge also means that they are often limited to working with the fabric they can find which may not be 100% organic. With this in mind, MERWE S.A.L.T is committed to keeping their prices reasonable, and have set out to produce more classic pieces in the best (and kindest) fabrics they can find that won’t date instead of high fashion garments.

South Africans do not want to pay R2000 for a jumpsuit, but the European market has a slightly different mindset — they want linen fabrics and interesting style lines. They want a quality garment that they can wear for longer,” says Eva.

Deeva adds, “South Africans are more inclined to wait for a cheaper version of something from the likes of Zara or H&M before investing in a quality product from the start. Our clientele is definitely more appreciative of quality fabrics and styling. We produce ‘Egoless’ ranges. We produce something we love first and the fashion element is almost secondary. But when our garments are tried on, they are amazing. It’s in the drape of the fabric, and the unexpected details and lines. The team of ladies we work with play a pivotal role in the final product.”

They not only believe in having good relationships with the team they work with, but with other designers too. “Designers are kind to each other, they help each other and share information whenever they can. Our fabric suppliers ensure that we all know who has bought what fabric when we are sourcing so there is limited duplication as both designers would be negatively affected. And often if we have fabric at our studios that doesn’t work for our styles, another designer will love it and we are all in contact sharing these opportunities,” says Eva.

The fashion industry can be hard and it can be cruel, but if we can treat our teams, and our fellow designers well, it’s a step toward ensuring an industry that thrives.”

One piece of advice from Eva and Deeva to aspiring designers: Never compromise on a design to drop the price. Stand true to what feels right for you and produce limited quantities if necessary. Discounting your specialised skill will affect more than just you, it has a knock on effect, and make it more difficult for you to come back after that. Value yourself upfront.

For more information or to shop MERWE S.A.L.T online, visit their website, https://merwesalt.com/ or follow them on Instagram @Merwe_Salt