Tshepo Mhlatuzana, executive director of the Fashion District Institute, chats to Elias Nkabinde about the progress the Fashion Kapitol has made since its establishment in the inner city in 2008.

The Fashion Kapitol squareThe Fashion Kapitol, a fashion and lifestyle centre situated within the Fashion District on the eastern edge of Johannesburg’s CBD, has made significant progress in realising its vision of becoming Africa’s fashion capital since its establishment in 2008.

The centre, which seeks to fuse pan-African culture with modern urban ways of living, was sponsored by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), which injected R9-million into the Kapitol and a further R26-million into the revamp of the District.

The JDA’s upgrade work has included re-paving blocks in the District, replacing the mosaic stitching pavements, adding street furniture like benches, bins and trees, and giving the area a distinctive feel with new lighting and public artworks.

Comprising some 26 city blocks bordered by Polly, President, Troye and Pritchard streets, the Fashion District houses budget clothing retailers alongside cut, make and trim operators and the studios of emerging and established designers.

Platform for designersA platform for both established and emerging designers.At its heart lies the Fashion Kapitol, taking up most of a city block and consisting of 30 shops, offices, studios, a restaurant, a small square, a ramp, an amphitheatre, and an arcade linking Pritchard and Market streets.

The Kapitol has been the venue for several major events since its inception, including the Mercedes Benz Joburg Fashion Week, the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Launch, the Sunday Times Joburg Tour and the Joburg City Festival.

It has also hosted numerous social and community events, including launches and activations for Nelson Mandela Day, World Aids Day, 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse, Heritage Day, charity functions and events to raise awareness of breast cancer.

One of the key objectives of the Fashion District Institute (FDI), the section 21 company that manages the Kapitol, is to provide local entrepreneurs with a platform and the necessary skills and opportunities to develop and grow their businesses.

Heritage buildings in the Fashion DistrictOne of three restored heritage buildings within the Fashion District.According to the FDI’s executive director, Tshepo Mhlatuzana, a number of up-and-coming designers have benefited from the establishment of the Fashion Kapitol.

“There are now students who develop their skills within the Fashion Kapitol that will one day be able to open their own shops,” says Mhlatuzana. “There are aspiring fashion designers that have been able to showcase their fashion ideas because the Fashion Kapitol has provided them with that platform.

“We have had people that have started their own shops in the Fashion Kapitol and have gone on to do greater things in the fashion industry,” Mhlatuzana says, giving the example of Mbonisi Zikalala, who started out showcasing his work at the Kapitol’s Saturday Fashion Market.

The weekly Market gives emerging clothing and accessory designers a chance to break into the retail market by accessing the Joburg consumer who is looking for cutting-edge South Africa and African products.

Today, Zikalala is the owner of Mbonise Leathercraft, a shop that specializes in leather fashion, located at 130 Pritchard Street within the Kapitol.

“I think it was very important that the Fashion Kapitol and Fashion District was specifically developed here on Pritchard Street, as the area holds historical significance,” says Mhlatuzana.

“In the past Johannesburg was divided into two corners, one of gold and the other of fashion.” And where early Joburg’s garment industry was located then is where the Fashion Kapitol is now – with its eyes focused firmly, creatively on the future.