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Sustainable Fashion Awards winner Mbali Mthethwa on the future of sustainable fashion in South Africa

There is more to sustainable fashion than merely thrift shopping.

Because there isn’t enough awareness generated around the matter, people assume that that is truly all sustainable fashion is about and the only way to make a change.

Twyg, a non-profit company dedicated to inspiring change and supporting more eco-conscious and forward-thinking future, has been at the forefront of sustainability in the South African fashion industry.

Using storytelling, bespoke experiences, workshops, and campaigns, as well as its annual Sustainable Fashion Awards, the company promotes a way of being that is sustainable, circular, regenerative, and ethical. “At Twyg we focus on what it means to transition to sustainability in a South African context,” says founder and editor Jackie May on why Twyg is an important platform for local designers and companies.

The Sustainable Fashion Awards, the Changemaker Award, was established in 2019 to highlight and celebrate companies and designers who not only uplift their communities but also significantly and positively impact the environment through their sustainable and ethical practices in design and manufacturing.

For the third consecutive year, Australian brand Country Road is once again a key partner for the 2022 awards.

“On every level, we look to drive positive impact so our customers can feel proud of every Country Road product they take home. With our level of commitment to sustainability, it is important that we collaborate with platforms in South Africa that are working towards the same vision to support and promote responsible fashion practices. Over the past two years, our partnership with Twyg has allowed us to support emerging designers that are driving innovation in the fashion industry. We look forward to seeing this year’s Changemaker Award nominees,” says Fabia Pryor, Country Road Brand Sustainability Manager.

At the 2021 Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards, the Changemaker Award was given to The Herd, a storytelling and accessories studio. The Herd founder, Mbali Mthethwa, and her team of artisans were recognised for reviving and elevating the age-old skill of free-hand beading, while shifting informal economic activity to the mainstream and promoting local craftswomen.

We caught up with Mthethwa and asked about her thoughts on sustainable fashion and what winning the award meant to her.

The Herd founder Mbali Mthethwa. Picture: Tiisetso Moreki

What do you believe is the future for sustainable fashion in South Africa?

Funny enough historically when you look at African traditional cultures, sustainability was a way of life. How people engaged with nature, how people made things and how they engaged with each other were extremely sustainable. So what I believe needs to be done in South Africa, is for us to look back and see how our ancestors lived sustainably. Mix this with a dash of innovation, we will have a winning formula for sustainability. This continent could be the pioneers or thought leaders in this sustainable discussion. In conclusion, the future of sustainable fashion for South Africa is to seek knowledge from the past within the diaspora, on how we can make the future of fashion sustainable.

What did winning the award mean to you?

What it meant to me to win, is that the work that I am doing is being seen and validated by other industry people whose opinions I value. When you are a small business player new to the creative space, self-doubt and talking yourself out of doing things is real. Therefore, wins such as these give a person a bit of a pat on the shoulder that you are on the right path. It gives you a little ego boost.

How did the award and prize money change your business?

I wouldn’t say it changed my business but thanks to the R100 000 prize money from Country Road, it helped me remain consistent, it helped me show up to work every day which contributes to the slow change, growth and development of a business/brand. Consistency in a small business is everything because it shows up in those daily engagements and commitments that keep the flame going. It also helped me buy time to create because you get caught up in admin, people management etc. Time for creativity goes out the window, and as a result, you start hating the work that you are doing because there’s no time to be creative.

Beaded neckpiece. Picture: Tiisetso Moreki

What advice do you have for those wanting to enter the competition?

Be authentic, stay true to yourself and the work that you are doing and be transparent. Do not try to be something you are not.

Entries to the 2022 Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards are now open. Twyg calls on every designer and company who is working to improve the environment and the well-being of the people living in it to enter and be a part of this year’s event.

“Each year the impact of the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards grows,” says May, “and this year will be our biggest event yet. And the recognition of the Changemaker Awards in partnership with Country Road has also grown,” she adds, “which makes it a prestigious and impactful award.”

The closing date for entries is 11 October 2022.