Young designer Tamsyn Johannisen is a fashion industry visionary and activist in her own right.
Passionate about issues relating to sustainable design as well as ethical sourcing and manufacturing processes, her mission to make a difference is spear-headed by the two brands for which she designs – Wear South Africa (WearSA) and Democracy of Denim.
In celebration and support of locally designed and made fashion, Tamsyn will be showcasing her designs for both these brands at the Wear SA Fashion Forward People’s Runway on 7th April at Canal Walk Shopping Centre in Cape Town. Her collections, sporting utilitarian elements and chunky denims, pay homage to all those at grassroots level who play an essential role in bringing the glamour of a finished fashion item to life.
We caught up with Tamsyn for a few quick-fire questions about her brand, what we can expect to see and her hopes and dreams for the South African fashion industry.
In light of your support for ethically manufactured local fashion, what is the message you are trying to send through your brand Democracy of Denim?
It says it in the name Democracy of Denim that the power of choice belongs to the people and these choices also relate to purchasing patterns. At the end of the day nobody can be told what to do but with the correct information and product offering, South Africans can choose to support local products.
What can we look forward to see from D.O.D at the People’s Runway event?
Everybody is accustomed to the Jean and I constantly try to rethink denims whilst trying to maintain a level of accessibility for a broader appeal. You can look forward to new versions of familiar wardrobe staples.
Why is denim your medium of choice, as opposed to another material?
Denim is a classic fabric and can be found in almost every wardrobe, it is durable and provides so many options making it a fabric that can be completely transformed. It tells a story of the wearer over years.
The theme for the Wear SA 2018 collection is Utilitarian Femme, how would you describe this aesthetic and what made you go in this direction?
Design details that are associated with functionality tend to come across as masculine, heavy and often drab where function comes before form. These elements still resonate with my more technical approach to design and with this range I wanted to soften that approach.
How would you describe your signature design aesthetic?
This question is always difficult to answer because I design for two brands that come from two very different aesthetics. For DOD I would say that my aesthetic is rough around the edges and almost patched together. WSA can be identified by elements of utility and very intentional style lines.
What inspires you when designing a collection?
It can be anything from the mood of a song, to a fictional character to a childhood memory. With a very clear design handwriting it often just takes a small spark to guide the whole story or theme of a range.
How has the movement for ethically and locally manufactured clothing impacted your production process, in terms of the fabrics you use, to the size of the team you work with?
I can honestly say that it is not an easy task because there isn’t power of scale. Fabrics and trims are more costly due to smaller production runs and the women who have put together the samples have had to change and adapt to less conventional garments. They’ve also helped me make some of my ideas feasible. The buying and merchandising members of the team are also incredibly dynamic due to figuring how we can maximize efficiency in production as well as in the use of raw materials. Our team is small but highly proficient.
Do you have a particular style/design icon that you look up to?
Vivienne Westwood. Not for her design sensibility but for her courage to stay true to herself.
What do you think is the best way to make South Africans conscious of where they buy their clothing and shift their mindset regarding locally made fashion?
I think retailers can actively participate in this but making retail stores a shopping space as well as an informative spaces. Merchandising the stores with signs and other markers expressing that the product is locally made. Consumers are more likely to become conscious of what’s gone in their baskets before they’ve even made the purchase.
Finally, what are your hopes/dreams for the future of the South African fashion industry?
I could wish for more glamour and recognition of South African designers on a global scale but right now, having worked alongside the people who actually manufacture the clothing with their very hands, all I wish for is for the complete revival of the textile and clothing manufacturing sector. 95% percent of those little labels should say MADE IN SOUTH AFRICA.
AUTHOR: Farah Khalfe