It is an honour to address some of the best creatives in the fashion industry from our country, our continent, and those who are visiting the Kingdom of the Zulus from across the seas. In its second year, the Africa Fashion Exchange is already boldly asserting a confident African identity through African designs and fashion.

It is already defining an era where African fashion designers are claiming their space and creativity to define the Africa of their future. They are leading an identity, fashion, and beauty revolution that says in the global village of nations, there is a family of Africans who do not only take from their neighbours, but also contribute to world culture and human civilisation. And as the province of KwaZulu-Natal, events like this one are at the heart of our ongoing efforts to position KZN as a mecca of fashion. Understanding the challenges of accessing markets by African designers, we are saying that this is Africa’s gateway where fashion meets business. The Africa Fashion Exchange can be seen as market intelligence, thought-leadership, business exchange and market access platform programme driven by the KwaZulu-Natal Fashion Council (KZNFC). The purpose of the event is to drive fashion and design in the province, ensuring a national and continental competitive and sustainable fashion business for the fashion and design sector. This event is an important step in addressing the challenge of a lack of sustained exposure to their designs to markets. This has resulted in African designers being less competitive than designers from Europe and Asia – and hence contributing to the decline of such an important industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen, KwaZulu-Natal constitutes a variety of young fashion design talent, innovation, and business acumen. It is pleasing to note that this sub-sector of our economy embraces young fashion design expertise which is in line with our government’s commitment to actively draw young people into the core of our country’s economy. By harnessing and developing this talent through the funding of developmental and skilling programmes, our department seeks to reposition the fashion design business in the province as one of the major contributors to the gross domestic product of KwaZulu-Natal. The KZN Fashion Council has already undertaken numerous capacity building programmes around the province of KwaZulu-Natal. We must succeed because our success will mean the growth and success of locally manufactured fabrics and textiles that provide the inputs to the local fashion industry.

As EDTEA, we are invested in supporting new talent and innovators who will also lead in revolutionising the industry by utilising environmentally sustainable materials to create products that have a truly KZN and African signature. Africa Fashion Exchange also seeks to celebrate and recognise emerging and established entrepreneurs in the business of fashion.

We are happy to learn that the “Emerging Youth and Plus Size” designers are showcasing their designs after having been trained in technical skills and business skills. We are therefore truly at a design marketplace to contribute our diverse and rich African dreams about how the future of global fashion should look like. And embedded in the event are the Knowledge Sharing Sessions. This is the unique feature of AFX as these are bringing to Durban various speakers who possess a wealth of expertise and experience in this cut-throat industry and its value chains.

And we applaud the organisers for making these sessions open to members of the public. To all the designers, we wish you well in your endeavours. Keep dreaming. Keep imagining. Keep designing. And keep unlocking the markets. By all accounts, Africa is the next growth frontier. In our continent alone, we have a market of more than a billion people. And the globe is paying attention to the potential of Africa, its dreams, its beauty, its designs, and its fashion. In the world of digitisation, knowledge economy, and the 4th Industrial Revolution, we look to African designers like yourselves to shape the new agenda of inclusive growth, industrialisation, and justice for the people of Africa. Africa must again be known as a global leader in manufacturing, not just a continent is known for conspicuous consumption.

Our government is ready and willing to work with you to sell the unique African story and open world markets for your designs. We look to your inspiration. We look to your designs that will create an Africa at peace with itself and the world. Through arts, culture, and fashion design we can create the images that unite people. And South Africans yearns for this unity which can be better led by creatives like yourselves. History always shows that without a cultural revolution in fashion, the arts, music, and literature, it is difficult for any society to achieve an economic revolution. We, therefore, look to you – through your designs – to lead the path to define a South African identity that is at peace with its African identity. We look to you to bring onboard our crafters and mothers in rural areas who still possess unique indigenous design skills to inspire your works and for them to access income-generating opportunities.

It is you, through your special talents and enterprising spirit that must be the warriors that will defeat the scourges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Allow me to leave you with the words of the 1st President of Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré who said: “We should go down to the grassroots of our culture, not to remain there, not to be isolated there, but to draw strength and substance therefrom, and with whatever additional sources of strength and material we acquire, proceed to set up a new form of society raised to the level of human progress.”

Let me again welcome you to a province that is a continental hub of creativity and which synonymous with beauty, warmth, and courage. Please make time to visit many of our historical sites, meet our people, and be inspired in your designs of our rainbow nation. I thank you.