Old ties and saris re-purposed as garments by designer Shamyra Moodley, 41, have made their mark on the fashion industry, winning the AFI Fastrack Designer of the Year 2021 award this week.
Moodley, who is based in Cape Town but grew up in Durban, said sustainable fashion was forging the path ahead as the industry tries to reduce its carbon footprint and conserve the planet.
Judges of the prestigious competition were impressed with her Coat Tie Dress, which was inspired by the brief to create a pandemic-relevant collection by re-purposing items from the closet.
Moodley gathered up vintage neck ties from the men in her family, who had all been teachers and whose family history was embedded in academia in Durban.
It was a challenge which excited this craft mama.
“I see the future of sustainable fashion as DIY fashion meeting art. This was food for my soul. So charging ahead with more than 150 neck ties donated by my granddad, dad and father-in-law, who are all retired teachers, I embarked on a journey using fashion in a novel way to tell my story,” she said.
Using quilting, free-hand stitching and appliqué and bright neon thread – which, she added, “was an ode to doodling at school with highlighters, no blank pages or colouring in the lines here” – she also included some handwoven statement pieces.
These included earrings, clutch bags and a pair of gold veldskoens “which were hand crafted by a local female shoemaker using our leftover fabric scraps.
“With zero waste always in front of my mind, every part of the neck tie was used,” she said.
"My family has three generation of teachers from Durban and all the ties have lovely stories, from cricket ties to ties made in Italy.”
Six years ago, Moodley returned from Ireland with her husband and daughter. The family settled in Cape Town and after falling pregnant with her son, Moodley, she stayed at home for 18 months.
She had every intention of returning to her career as an accountant, but while at home, started a fashion blog @Laaniraani, which has since become her fashion label.
“I was fortunate enough to stay at home, but also wanted to do something. I love writing and fashion and so started writing a fashion blog.
“My blog did well and I was invited to a lot of fashion events,” she said. At one of these, she met Vogue International editor Suzy Menkes, who loved her sustainable skirt made from waste fabric.
From that chance meeting, she went on to the AFI (African Fashion International) Fastrack programme and was selected as a finalist in March 2020. The Covid pandemic hit, which Moodley said was an opportunity for her.
“My journey with AFI started with the pandemic and lockdown and the programme lasted for more than 20 months. But that gave me time to reassess and look at sustainability in fashion. The pandemic has also changed how we look at fashion and what we wear,” she said.
On changing career as she headed towards 40, Moodley said her previous work experience had given her a solid footing.
Moodley had been taught to sew at an early age by her grandmother, when “we would use whatever material we had”.
With her own designs, she not only upcycles and re-imagines garments, but also focuses on a garment being multi-functional.
“I like pieces which are not only affordable, but also clever, such as having a garment which is reversible. I like to use what I have. Fashion is an outlet for creativity, but it is now also about making a difference for the planet. When it comes to sustainable fashion, we have no other choice because of the climate crisis.
“This award comes with responsibility and I want to use the winnings to the best of my ability to share my skills. I hope my journey will inspire other women. At 40, your dreams are still valid,” she said.
AFI Fastrack is a year-long programme for emerging designers who are paired with industry mentors, as well as gaining access to marketing, sales and showcasing opportunities.
AFI CEO Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe said despite the Covid lockdown, the programme had continued, adding: “We will continue to support a pipeline of exceptional talent in the industry.”
The Independent on Saturday