Since we are celebrating Women’s Month, it is befitting to share a story of one of the women doing big things in South African menswear.
Yours suitably has always narrated stories that are relative to menswear fashion and gentlemen’s living. However, that doesn’t mean the readers of the blog are men only. We have seen a great interest from women in our readership wanting to learn more about sartorialsm and dandyism at large. We even had a special edition of Suitable Saturday for ladies in August 2018. All of that, to show gratitude to them and this year I dedicated an article to one young woman who is doing great in menswear.
Shaylene Morris is the founder and head designer of the brand Bi Parel. A graduate in the University of Johannesburg with a diploma in fashion designing. Shaylene graduated in 2016 and already showcased four times on the SA Fashion Week ramp. With that said, she is the 2019 winner of South African Fashion Week Menswear Scout Competition.
Her latest and winning collection was also featured in the review article of South African Fashion Week S/S “19/20. Now we get an opportunity to ask her 21 questions about herself; career; business; the industry; the country and more.
- Why fashion?
I grew up with my mother and granny always sewing to earn some extra cash. I just never thought of doing it as a career. I always knew I had a creative mind set. I was never academically inclined. I thought I’d end up going to graphics. Until I took a gap year after high school and couldn’t afford new clothes, I started mending my old ones and then it just kind of clicked into place from there.
- Why menswear?
For me menswear in this day and age is an untapped area that has the potential to be explored to the max. For a long time ladieswear has always led in the fashion industry. Today men are more willing and more inclined to try something new so there’s more to explore. However, menswear can be very versatile for ladies to wear if designed in the correct manner which allows me to cater to both genders.
- Did you do ladies wear before?
In varsity we were taught fashion through ladieswear. I also do bespoke work for ladies on the side.
- The name Bi Parel, how did it come about?
By complete mistake. I’m so bad with names that I was under pressure to make one for the 21 Steps programme. I little said to myself I want a unisex brand, so I’ll call it Bi and Parel being short for apparel. It sounds really dumb but I’m actually quite happy with it. It’s unique in the sense that it’s the first thing that comes onto Google search, so I won’t need to compete with anyone and it easy to say in any language background which makes it versatile.
- You view on education?
Education is very important. In any industry if you do not educate yourself continually you can’t evolve. Every day there is always something new being invented or a new skill being developed. I feel that everyone should always educate themselves by all means they possible can within their capacity to always stay on top and evolve.
- The advantage of having fashion qualifications
In the fashion industry, on my own journey I have found that my qualification helped in two ways. Applying for jobs, it’s easy for one to say that they are designers or work in the fashion industry, but companies take you more seriously when you show varsity qualifications. The second was in the process itself, varsity not only taught me how to make clothes but to always tap into my creative side more and combine that with technology while being guided and helped by professionals in the industry
- Often people study as far as achieving master’s degrees and more, is
it necessary in fashion.
It depends on what it is you want to do with it. I stopped at a diploma because I wanted to be a designer. A friend of mine went on to a degree in order to teach fashion and another went all the way to her doctorate in order to study textiles and develop fabrics as well as write her thesis.
- There have been top designers who has made it big yet have no formal
qualifications. So, is fashion designing a talent or skill?
It’s both. You need to find a balance between them. We are lucky in the sense that a lot of fields these days can be self-taught through the internet or mentors. It may not be as in depth as varsities or colleges, but I can guarantee you that no designer has made it as far as they have without educating themselves one way or another.
- Was fashion your first-choice career study? If not, which course was it and why?
No. I originally wanted to study teaching. I didn’t see fashion as a career. Only when I took a gap year did it open up the possibility.
Teaching is still one of my passions. I love the look on people’s faces when they learn something new or achieve something they haven’t before. I love to help people along their journey. That’s also why I combined the two and now also teach people how to sew.
- Since you are a menswear designer, what challenges have you
Being a female menswear designer is hard in the sense that some people are bias against the idea. They feel because I am a female how can I design for men. Which is a catch 22 because the most famous designers are men in women’s fashion. So why not the other way around?
- Your view on the fashion industry in South Africa
Fashion in South Africa has a long way to go. We are polluted with fast fashion that people are not willing to trust new brands or pay for quality. They want something cheap and quick. Slowly customers are coming around because some are now looking for fresh ideas.
- Given the powers, what would you change, remove or add?
I would remove fast fashion. Fashion is the second biggest working field contributing to pollution. Everyone wants something quick and fast they have never looked deeper to see what their spending had done to the planet. People are not aware of the clothing trash islands or water dye pollution. Just how people educate themselves on plastic pollution they should look at clothing pollution.
- What’s your design style or DNA?
My style always is loose, comfortable and detailed garments with an inspiration of Asian streetwear.
- Who’s your target market?
Individuals who are not afraid to stand out. They are usually the outgoing, stand out of the crowd Kind of people. Male and female and young creatives.
- South Africa has been under pressure economically, has that affected
Yes, it has. Prices for manufacturing has increased and fabric has gone up and people aren’t spending as much on quality clothing as oppose to fast fashion.
- You’ve entered program called 21 Steps of Retail, kindly enlighten
us about that program?
The program aims to educate young designers on the fashion and retail industry. 21 Steps was one of the best decisions I have ever made. As it connected me with all the right people in the industry as well as educate me more about the retail industry. Not only that but the people you meet help and shape you as a designer and business owner
- From a designer’s perspective, what are the pros’ and cons of custom
made and ready-to-wear?
Custom made is more expensive and time consuming because you are focusing on an individual and their body type as well as their wants. Some break into that market great and turn it into a business while others like myself have not got there yet so we rely on RTW. Some don’t understand why bespoke is more expensive. They assume that they should be paying retail price. But that’s not the case. But ones you get it down right and have a great bespoke clientele, money comes in slower but in big cash flow.
RTW is faster to produce but sells at a lower RSP and clients are always looking to change something about your design but not willing to pay for changes.
- After winning the Menswear Scout Competition, you got an opportunity
to go to Florence in Italy to attend the menswear trade fair called
Pitti Uomo. How was that experience and what did you learn?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go. I was given the opportunity to either go on the trip or be given capital to help my business. I chose the capital as it made more sense to help grow my business. Fortunately, enough I was given another opportunity through the 21 Steps to take part in the South African pop up event that will be held in Milan the end of September.
- If you would be offered a job to work for an international fashion
house would you take the offer?
Yes! I wouldn’t think twice about it. That would be a great opportunity to expand my connections and educate myself more.
- What are your future plans?
I want to sell in stores as well expand into accessories for now.
- What advice would you give to young women who loves fashion and
considering pursuing a career in it?
It’s hard. It’s so hard you want to cry and scream at the same time. The truth is it will get you so down that you would want to give up. But at some point, something amazing happens and you get this little spark of happiness by creating something that’s part of you and your soul. You feel proud and blissful, and that feeling is amazing, so hold onto that until the next.
Please stay tuned for scenes of this interview. For more information about Shalene and her brand go to https://www.safashionweek.co.za/category/designers/bi-parel/ and can also follow her brand on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/biparel/
Until Next time…