The Re-Think Fashion Incubator, situated at the Old Post Office Theatre, held its first ever fashion show and exhibition for its learners, on July 6.
What is unique about the fashion school is that the 42 learners from ages 17 to 35 from Soweto, Kempton Park, Pretoria, Alexandra and Tembisa are all deaf.
They were recruited through organisations including DeafSA and the Ekurhuleni School for the Deaf in Katlehong.
The aim of the fashion show and exhibition was to display what the learners have been able to produce during their Foundation Phase programme from April 6 until now. During this period, the learners were taught the basics of fashion and making clothes.
The exhibition also helped the parents of the learners to interact with each other and to see what their children or partners were able to achieve in their time at Re-Think Fashion Incubator.
Faith Mtshali, the founder of Re-Think Fashion Incubator, said, “In our community people living with disabilities are often side-lined and overlooked.
“I started teaching people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds how to sew until I realised that there were no projects targeting people with special needs.
“Something was not right. I knew that I had to do something to empower these young people through skills training.
“I want to break that stigma that people living with disabilities cannot do anything. From what I have noticed from my learners are that they are very clever, if only they were just given a chance.”
According to Mtshali, one of the sponsors was the Department of Arts and Culture.
Linda Dhladhla, the programme administrator, said that the purpose of the three-month fashion incubator was to give people the skills to be able to take care of themselves and to provide for themselves.
“With the skills they have learnt they are able to start their own business, which was one of the goals, to make the learners self-sufficient. Each of the learners will receive a sewing machine.
“One of the toughest challenges they faced was that most of them had no fashion background and had to be taught from scratch. This becomes difficult because there are no signs for fashion terms within sign language.”
Dhladhla said the first three months was a trial to see how successful the programme would be.
“With enough sponsoring, the programme can run for a year and six months. During the first year, students would be taught more about fashion. In the remaining six months they would be taught the business side of fashion,” Dhladhla said.
The Department of Arts and Culture provided a stipend and catered for the learners daily.
According to Sibongile Khantsi, from the Ekurhuleni School for the Deaf, some of the challenges faced by the deaf community are the lack of education and information as well as the communication barrier.
“Staff members in schools need to be proficient in sign language and deaf schools need to cater for deaf parents so that they can understand their deaf children,” Khantsi said.
Peter Mampuru, from DeafSA which advocates for the rights of deaf people, said: “Families need to learn sign language to accommodate their deaf family members because their English is also structured so you may not understand.
“DeafSA helps with social work and psychological services and offers basic sign language training free of charge. “They also assist with job placement and interpretation. The deaf community is being sidelined when it comes to employment. DeafSA is trying to lobby with companies to employ deaf people.”
Mancia Leboa, Thabang Leboa’s mother said her child was diagnosed with meningitis at age one which caused him to be deaf.
“He became frustrated because he could not communicate with other children. He is treated differently but in a good way,” she said.
One of the students, Matshidiso Gxoyiya from Vosloorus, said she hopes she can come back and learn more because they learnt a lot from the experience.
She said one of the things she learnt is the different types of fabric and sketches.
Another student, Sekotane Nkoenyane from Thokoza, said: “I am very happy because we’ve learnt a lot of skills and I enjoyed making my jacket. I never thought it was possible.”
At the end of the fashion show, the learners were awarded certificates.