Slow Fashion Made From Deadstock Fabric,
In Cape Town, South Africa.

First and foremost, we believe in the importance of brand accountability. Although it may seem to be a simple question, by asking where our clothes come from, we can hold businesses to higher ethical standards and continue building a community of care and support for workers the world over.

This is a particularly important question to ask in South Africa. Our violent and unjust Apartheid history still affects workers in our country every single day, including the thousands of garment workers who are predominantly black women. It is critical to us at Studio Candor to set an example to other businesses when it comes to workers’ rights.

Our production team, composed of BIPOC women, and others productions teams alike have been taken advantage of time and time again by big corporations who shamelessly exploit the skills and energy of garment workers. We want these women to work without fear, to enjoy their craft and to be respected by all. We want to go against the grain and prove that a successful business model does not have to be built on the dehumanisation of its workers.

I remember the first time I met these incredible women: In the heart of Woodstock, constantly defying the steady gentrification of the area by wealthy white property developers, Sabrina and her family have been making garments for over two decades. As I walk up the dimly lit stairwell, I smell the delicious aroma of frying samosas as our designer leads me to the production room.

Our designer has been working with Sabrina and her team for over two years now and the greeting I receive is a warm and welcoming one – “We have heard so much about you!”, Sabrina joyfully exclaims, while laying out fabric across a large table.

We are lucky that Sabrina and her team share our passion for upcycling – every leftover scrap of material is put aside and saved for us to turn into something beautiful for our customers. As for the pieces that we are unable to reuse, they are set aside for a passionate local artisan known as Lappies who makes a living by selling his wares from the Woodstock streets.

After taking a moment to meet everyone, I get chatting to Sabrina, who holds a matriarchal presence in the workroom. I hang onto every word as she tells me about her start in garment production.

“l worked for this lady for very long, for 20 years, I started young. Just out of school at 17. I was running the business, I had almost 50 or 60 people working for me. One day, all of a sudden, she started a new business, and we got closed down. I had just gotten married and we had just bought a house… but now we had no work. Then I thought, we have two machines at home. And that’s how we started our business,” Sabrina explains.

I am taken aback by this incredible and challenging start for this thriving family business. Sabrina continues on, explaining the slow and steady effort made to build up their workroom. “That machine standing there,” she motions to where Baby sits, “l have had that machine for 25 years. When we began our own production room, we only had two machines. We started simple, making t-shirts for fashion brands. Each month, when we started getting more work, we decided to buy a new machine – we would keep a little money aside each month and pay off the payment. And there is the machine, 25 years later.” I look at the strong, sturdy machine Sabrina is pointing to and feel the utmost respect for this hard-working businesswoman.

“It must have been difficult,” I respond to her, “I’m sure, especially during the times when there were not many work opportunities for black women in South Africa. That must have been tough.”” Yes!” Sabrina passionately exclaims, “We had to work hard. And everything had to be perfect. When we took garments to companies, in order to create a business relationship, nothing could be out of place. I had to be prepared and focused.”

Sabrina ends off our hearty conversation by explaining how her family has been working together for over 20 years. Although times have been hard, these women have used their tenacity, passion and drive to make their business flourish. “We are family,” Sabrina tells me, “We work together, we get into arguments together, but we sort it out, and we will always love each other.” My heart is warmed as I look around at this family of strong women; you can feel the understanding, care and comfort in the room as Sabrina and her kin work together.

“We love working with Studio Candor,” Baby confidently tells me as she works on her machine, “Candor is down to earth, and that is important to us. It is not always like that.” Estelle chimes in and explains to me, “We can get a feel for a person, when they want to work with us. We could tell, when Candor’s designer approached us, that this person is down-to-earth, met ‘n sagte hart.” I smile and look across the room, where our designer and Sabrina are exchanging news, chatting about the upcoming designs and laughing together.

When I say my goodbyes, the team waves us off with warm smiles, and Sabrina tells me, “You must come visit again.” We leave the workroom (with our bag of carefully kept fabric offcuts) and I am filled with hope, as well as a sense of awe of our amazing team. We want to amplify the voices of the POC women we work with, who have suffered, fought and stood strong together. We need to build a culture of asking, “Who makes my clothes?”

We must be cautious of blindly trusting fast fashion companies, whose workers are made invisible in the massive money-hungry mainstream fashion industry. Empathy, care and compassion should always take priority over profit.

As we drive away from the Woodstock workroom, the smell of samosas and Sabrina’s warm smile, I feel happy knowing that I know exactly who makes my clothes. A family of strong women, who we can help continue their clothing production journey – but with proper compensation, communication and, most importantly, respect.

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