The TCI Apparel Design Centre opened its doors in Cape Town on 9 June, and it’s a huge moment for local fashion. TCI manufactures clothing locally, which means big retailers can buy clothing from a local producer (and not China). TCI promises to breathe new life into the local fashion economy, and set a new standard of ethical and sustainable fashion in the country. Marie Claire was invited to the launch of the new clothing-manufacturing facility.
We were welcomed with drinks and the atmosphere was exciting, and although we didn’t know what to expect in the Cape’s industrial hub, we were in for a surprise. ‘The Babylonstoren of Epping’ was heard throughout the day. And it’s true: the factory is surrounded by lush, landscaped gardens and an unmistakable sense of peace and tranquility.
The large rooms of the design centre were transformed into beautifully curated spaces. Models draped in TCI Apparel designs were carefully placed in beautiful light, and a soothing soundtrack created a warm and intimate atmosphere. We got to see the state-of-the-art machinery and interactive design rooms which will be used during the design process. All the while, nibbling on treats created by Jacques Erasmus from Hemelhuijs.
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Natural light poured in through the skylights as we walked through the rooms. Every detail of the building was carefully constructed to complement nature, rather than disrupt it. Using solar power, eco vinyl tiles, living walls and borehole water, this centre is the future of green fashion, and will hopefully set the standard for manufacturers in fashion and other sectors, too.
Speaking at the event, Zyda Rylands, the CEO of Woolworths South Africa, applauded the work done by TCI Apparel. She shared the stage with the CEO of Truworths, in a real demonstration that even competitors in the retail industry have one common goal: to ensure a local fashion industry that is ethical, sustainable and contributes to the economy.
Most retailers are pushing out clothes faster than ever, and we’ve truly entered a fast-fashion culture. ‘The production of fast fashion is highly detrimental to our environment,’ said the TCI Apparel team. ‘To produce a single cotton T-shirt, thousands of litres of water is needed. Then the T-shirt is transported thousands of kilometres, which creates massive amounts of carbon dioxide. This process is destroying our planet and promoting unethical trade, which is brought about by cost-reducing suppliers that disregard their environmental impact to turn a profit,’ said Herman Pillay, the CEO of TCI Apparel.
Few people are as passionate about sustainable fashion as Cyril Naicker, the South African fashion fundi who’s also the Cape Town representative for Fashion Revolution. We had a conversation with him a while back about the immense impact of fashion on the environment. ‘The goal is to create a system that can be supported indefinitely in terms of both environment and social responsibility and still maintain the current business models,’ he told us and went on to highlight a very scary fact: ‘Did you know that the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil?’ Every stakeholder in the fashion industry, from the textile manufacturer down to the consumer, needs to actively make their contribution in keeping our planet clean and wearing our clothes with pride, knowing that it was created in a sustainable and ethical way.
Read more about ethical and sustainable fashion in our June issue of Marie Claire, where Lynette Botha investigates the local and international sustainable fashion industry.
Using industry practices to lower its carbon footprint, the building will be a production centre for local retailers such as Woolworths, Truworths, Edcon Group and Queenspark, as well as international retailers such as Top Shop, River Island, Superdry and Urban Outfitters.
Upending fast fashion
The production of fast fashion is highly detrimental to our environment; fashion is the second largest polluting industry in the world. TCI Apparel has made it their mission to maintain the high production volumes while vastly decreasing the harmful effects thereof. The cotton required to make a simple t-shirt requires thousands of litres of water to produce. The cotton is then processed into fabric before being shipped halfway around the world to be cut and assembled. This t-shirt is then exported thousands of kilometres to reach stores. This convoluted process creates massive amounts of carbon dioxide due to transport which is incredibly bad for the environment.
“This process is destroying our planet and promoting unethical trade which is brought about by cost-reducing suppliers that disregard their environmental impact to turn a profit. This is not sustainable and threatens our very survival. Consumers are becoming more conscious of where and how their clothes are being made and this trend has now grown exponentially,” says CEO of TCI Apparel, Herman Pillay.
The company is upending this process, as a response to consumer concerns, with its new design centre. This is achieved through lessening local retailers’ dependency on international suppliers and lowering the carbon footprint of their operations through innovative green practices while also creating opportunities for South African designers, seamstresses, artisans and factory workers.
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Reducing carbon emissions
“The garment industry has, in recent years, been one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions. For this reason, we found it to be important to reduce the environmental impact of our operations – from operations and processes to architecture and furniture choices,” says Pillay. “We are delighted that we are able to position South Africa as a leader in green manufacturing.”
Sustainability and sensitivity to the environment formed part of the design ethos from the beginning. The Design Centre is environmentally sensitive through green building practices, including:
• Use of eco vinyl tiles
• LED lighting
• Solar power
• Indoor plants
• Strategically tinted windows, which retains heat in winter and expels it in summer
• Environmentally sensitive ceiling boards
• Living walls
• Vegetable garden utilised by the canteen providing meals for employees
• Furniture is locally produced and made of recycled plastic, wood and steel, thereby supporting local industry as well as greatly lowering the carbon footprint
• Utilising borehole water for ablutions and redirecting rainwater that would otherwise have gone unused into 40,000 litre storage tanks, TCI Apparel is saving municipal water and cutting the costs of producing some of the world’s top brands without cannibalising quality
TCI Apparel has been able to provide thousands with employment and job security. This is a boon, given the current economic climate and is largely due to its close working relationship with its customers. As opposed to buyers coming in and merely selecting items or sending a prototype to be replicated for mass production, the company aims to work closer together from the design phase to collaborate in product development.
Pillay adds, “We pride ourselves on the relationships we hold with our customers, creating garments alongside them, as opposed to just selling to them ensures they always get precisely what their consumers want.
“With advocacy for sustainable fashion and the goal of securing jobs in the local sector, we have created a world-class clothing and textile value chain within Africa. I feel that, as business owners and entrepreneurs, if we put our focus on our homeland and our own people the results will be a sustainable and stable economy. We need to be doing more to empower and improve our society,” concludes Pillay.