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Designing clothing in an environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manner, to change the attitude and behaviour of people, is the aim of Bachelor of Technology Degree (BTech) fourth-year student, Alexandra Van Heerden. 

The environmentally-conscious student designer is creating fashion waves and recognition for her sustainable collection, recently winning the TWYG Student Award, which took place at Rewoven’s Recycling Textile Warehouse in Cape Town. 

TWYG is a non-profit organisation which promotes circular design and sustainability in Africa. The online magazine produces content about places, fashion and food that is thoughtful and sustainable, serving no harm to people or the environment. More specifically, the TWYG Sustainable Fashion Awards was introduced in 2019 and serves to recognise South African designers who have implemented a sustainable design approach and foster ethical practices in the fashion industry. 

When asked about her exciting win, she said that she was completely blown away when they announced her range, (VANKLAN), as the Student Award winner. 

“The competition was really strong and we (student designers) each possessed something unique which was great. I truly do feel honoured and I am beyond grateful for the amazing opportunity to have been a part of such an incredible initiative and something that is very close to my heart. Winning this award for my sustainable collection has given me the extra boost of confidence and determination to further explore what should be the core of every aspect of the fashion industry and sustainability,” she indicated proudly.  

Van Heerden stressed that it was imperative that students enter such competitions in order to network and grow themselves as sustainable fashion designers. 

“By entering such a competition, doors are opened for student designers as well as connections are made with individuals who possess the same interests and goals as you; to better the sustainability front of the fashion industry,” she said. 

She said that one can only gain from the experience and wisdom shared by those with years of knowledge in the sustainable fashion industry.  

Van Heerden explained more on her range, the theme behind it as well as the types of material she had used, saying that her designs were specifically inspired by the Durban Busker, the men and women who stand at the traffic lights and paint themselves white to entertain the people of Durban. 

“I have always wanted my designs to epitomise what I stand for as an individual and to portray my background and where I come from. These designs are therefore an appreciation for the mixing pot of cultures that we have in Durban. The eccentricities and playfulness that the buskers exude is what I wanted to portray in my designs,” she said. 

She further specified that she used bold and eccentric colours as a reflection of the rainbow nation, which is South Africa. With sustainability being a major factor that influences her designs, she made use of thrifted, second-hand and unconventional sustainable materials. 

“I made a long sleeve which was made of a patchwork of board shorts, granny button ups and pillow cases that I thrifted from the Kloof and Highway SPCA. I also used BunnyKat dolls from the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust to make a jacket which was a walking visual representation of the work of the non-profit organisation,” she said.  

Having a love for sustainable nature and fashion, she wanted to find a way to bring them together. “My interest in sustainable fashion also came from the desire to introduce a new perspective on sustainable fashion. To prove and show consumers, stakeholders and designers that there are different avenues to this complex industry. We cannot solely focus on the use of organic cotton as a means to better the fashion industry, it is insufficient and lacks creativity and innovation in my eyes, which is what I believe fashion should be about,” she said.  

Van Heerden also spoke on her choice of study, being the Durban University of Technology (DUT), saying that she studied at DUT because she had heard and seen the reputation the Fashion and Textiles Department had, knowing they are one of the best in terms of teaching and learning. 

She relayed further on her role models, passion of the environment and preserving this close to her heart. 

“Because of this my role model fashion designers are Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney. Their designs combine two passions; a passion for the environment and a passion for creation. This is what I want to achieve as a designer. I want my designs to make an impact in an unconventional way. Vivienne Westwood’s absurd, boundary pushing, draw dropping, sustainable aesthetic is something that inspires me to create garments that challenge the fashion industry and myself as an individual,” she said. 

Speaking more on Van Heerden’s achievement is Fashion and Textiles lecturer Helen Smith, who said that her third-year collection is a testament to her talent and dedication. 

“Her work explores and challenges ‘throw-away’ culture and sustainability in fashion. Alexandra has found a way to use her craft to address the environmental impact of the fashion industry. We are exceptionally proud of her achievements,” she said excitedly. 

Pictured: One of the models wearing a design by Alex van Heerden. (Photographer: Nicholas Murphy from Electric Media @electricmedia_sa @nic_electric). 

Waheeda Peters 

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