The Experience


11 November 2013


“The main fear is that these local e-tailers will fail to hit the twenty year mark. That they’ll never reach a point where they employ over 1000 individuals.”

Johannesburg, South Africa – Perhaps purchasing fashion goods online just isn’t the same? Perhaps it’s the fact that you can’t reach the till of the particular store to have your Zara, Topshop or Tiger of Sweden bag handed to you (crisp clothing inside), which you can then carry around before meeting a friend that may or may not mock your choices over coffee?
We’re just not willing to do new things with our money either. We’re quick to criticize these foreign systems that make us feel financially vulnerable, that open us up to online tricks and scams. Some people just aren’t comfortable with the idea of having a credit card so they can’t use the paypal system trusted by most legitimate e-tailers.

The consumer is gaining more and more leverage over businesses. They/we expect a top service experience. They/we tell businesses how, when and where we want it, or we’ll take our money elsewhere.
Little online activity has existed amongst the smaller street-wear brands in South Africa. Mainly because the culture of purchasing fashion items from mass production retail outlets in residential malls and suburbs has not yet been shaken 19 years into our democracy. This is slowly beginning to change however.Regional (online) fashion stores have begun to get buzz from local youths and adults.

Still, consumers have provided little demand or support to the local designer. The main fear is that these local e-tailers will fail to hit the ten year mark, that they’ll never reach the point where they can employ over 100 individuals. For now what we have instead is the local consumer forced to browse a website made up of print t-shirts and bucket hats in 4 color palettes – if they’re lucky, monochromatic colors if they are not. Perhaps these local e-tailers are simply naive? They fail to do anything truly unique. The longevity of these start-up projects in an international fashion market brimful of competition (most of which also print on t-shirts) is still very much in question. Do these brands have the necessary drive that will enable them to celebrate 80 year anniversaries or do their visions stretch no further than the first 2 million rand made.

Most local fashion e-tailers don’t do enough to provide the consumer with a unique shopping experience, offering ranges of t-shirts and snap backs instead of truly alluring (or at the very least complete) collections. Again, owing to a lack of money being spent on online stores’ goods. The few top local online brands and sub-standard international online brands manage to give the customer variety. From personal experience, I couldn’t find product measurements, fabric information or supplier information of any of the products on the websites of the leading and most trendy local online fashion stores, information which is wisely provided to the consumer ny e-tailers from other parts of the world. Sitting in my living room, browsing these local online stores, I have no one to ask.  I’ve lost interest long before I think of sending a single email. In a 4 wall retail store, I could ask the manager or the sales persons, but I’d probably still not get an answer.

It’s good that these businesses are convincing the local consumer that what they’re making is fashion. I just hope that for their sake these brands develop into influential fashion houses.
All that is still to be seen. For now, I can’t find a decent pair of formal sandals or harem pants in any local store. Just print t-shirts and bucket hats.