FIRST it was the Bamboo farmers’ market in Melville, then the Market on Main at Arts in downtown Joburg. Now it’s the Fashion Kapitol market in the CBD.

At present 16 or so seamstresses and tailors have stalls in the courtyard of the Kapitol, in the Fashion District, every Saturday from 10am to 2pm.

“It’s authentic Joburg wear,” says Rees Mann, the Fashion District mover and shaker. He sees the market growing in time, particularly as there is now a beauty salon and restaurant in the Kapitol.

The Kapitol, with Joburg’s first public outdoor fashion ramp, was launched in February this year with Joburg Fashion Week and Saturday, 10 December, saw the best student designs from the SewAfrica Training Centre on show.

Several buildings were demolished to create the exciting space, a square with 30 shops facing it, and an arcade linking Prichard and Market streets. In offices upstairs the Gordon Institute of Business Science has set up shop. Medo, the Micro Enterprise Development Organisation, which connects large companies with emerging micro enterprises also has office space here.

The Kapitol takes up most of the block, which is situated in the heart of the district, comprising of about 26 blocks on the eastern edge of the CBD – bordered by Market, Kerk, Von Weilligh and End Streets.

The district houses over 300 fashion-related micro-businesses, with seamstresses and tailors from across southern Africa represented.

Fashion Shack

The Fashion Shack, Mann’s outlet for locally made clothing and accessories, mostly in shweshwe fabric, now houses a restaurant too. It is run by Jonathan Jorge and Emma Whittle, who have given their own interpretation to local cuisine with favourites like chicken and chakanaise (a mix of chakalaka and mayonnaise) half moon, inkukhu (chicken) burger and chips, or Shacky’s Kota (a version of a bunny chow).

Says Jorge: “This is very exciting. We have changed our perspective on the CBD – it is brilliant, we are comfortable with the inner city.” Jorge and Whittle have just returned from several years in the UK, working in high-end restaurants.

Their customers at the Fashion Shack are mostly passersby, but on Fridays and Saturdays they pull out a braai, and it has attracted business people from some of the local banks, and lawyers from the nearby Marble Towers.

“We get a lot of Dutch and German tourists,” explains Jorge.

Jorge and Whittle commissioned two Zimbabwean artists, Tenson Sibanda and Reason Ndlovu, to paint a large mural on the outside wall of the shack, depicting Joburg scenes.

Jorge and Whittle have brought in creative outdoor tables – a bath filled with water and covered with a sheet of glass, with several goldfish swimming beneath the glass, and a huge tyre levelled with a round sheet of glass. They have plans to expand the restaurant.

The beauty salon, which opens this week, is called Born Fire. It is owned by Afro-pop singer Ntando, and is situated above the Fashion Shack, in one of the heritage buildings on the site.

The Johannesburg Development Agency has pumped R25-million into the district: R9-million into creating the Kapitol, and R16-million into sprucing up the district with new paving, lighting and distinctive sewing emblems.