COP on the catwalk

The city’s been buzzing with talk of global warming and planetary destruction these past few weeks, and it can call get a bit depressing, so I thought I’d focus on something a little different today – something that speaks to me as a woman, and an environmentalist: fashion.


Er, fashion and environmentalism? Yes, if you’re Durban-based artist Marian Immerman (Mother of the talented young designer Rozanne Immerman whose label Rozanne & Pushkin has won numerous awards). Marian was in the store to chat about her contribution to COP17, an ensemble titled Mother Earth:

Natural cotton fibres in tones of green give the whole ensemble an organic, earthy feel, while scraps of ethnic fabric speak to the roots of the design in Africa, and in Durban specifically. To me, this outfit epitomizes COP17.


I also love the way the back of the garment combines the names of our city with the name of the design label, making a statement of “local is lekker is green is fashionable”:

The long, sweeping hemline (hard to see on a shop dummy) gives the overlaid green skirt a feminine flow, evoking the muse Mother Earth. This is reinforced through the vegetal tones of green, which Marian says, “represent harmony and environmental awareness”. The tie-dye effect also imbues the cloth with a warm, peaceful, hippy feel. “Not quite Greenpeace, but green piece!” says Marian.


Raw edges and knotted finishes demonstrate how much of this garment was made without the use of electric sewing machines, befitting an outfit honouring the planet at this time of dire carbon misuse.

It’s accessorized with a grass bucket handbag that was salvaged from a thrift shop and decorated with flower embroidery off-cuts from other projects. “This is called upcycling,” Marian explains, “using old or useless things to create something of a higher environmental value.”


Because, really, fashion has always been about value. Value for money. Valuable materials. Cultural value. And the values you hold close to your heart.


Marian has ensured that every aspect of her work embraces the values and meaning behind it. From the main piece of fabric to the bits of button, cord and wool used to embellish it, value is everything.


And from these values comes her message: we can preserve mother earth, and still be fashionable, creative and unique at the same time. “It’s all about looking at things differently,” she explains.


Even this comes through clearly in the construction of her work: the retro-trendy braces are worn reversed – perhaps illustrating that something is backward in the way we are looking at fashion, and at the world.


Marian is gaining a reputation for her revolutionary way of looking at fashion. Walking along the beachfront recently, she found a discarded Niknaks branded beach umbrella and took it home to turn it into a funky fashion piece.

Honouring its origins, the skirt-poncho combo is loose and light (ideal for the beach), and a matching satchel is perfect for toting water, sunscream and trashy novels.


I adore the way Marian incorporates seemingly useless items into her fashion statements. “One should always put your Niknaks to good use!” she quips. Upcycled items immediately take on higher value, but in the case of branding this is even more significant. For example, now that the Niknaks logo and mascot have been updated, this icon now takes on the status of a collectors item. Marian’s creation thus combines one-of-a-kind couture with South African cultural history.

   The new Niknaks icon

But in addition to her artistic and environmental contributions, Marian tries to make a difference to the lives of the less fortunate too. When she got in touch with Simba (Niknaks’ umbrella company – no pun intended), she was delighted to secure the donation of 1000 bags of Niknaks for underprivileged children. The handover will take place later this month, so watch this space!


Each in their own way, these outfits force people to think about the impact our choices have on our environment: one representing the earth we wish to preserve; the other a celebration of the trash that could kill it.


I admire people who create such cogent messages through their art. And for the rest of us who are not so talented, I’m grateful for the opportunity to show our support by buying and wearing these fashion statements, spreading the message in style.

The Mother Earth dress, the Niknaks outfit, and many more of Marian’s creations are on sale at Rozanne & Pushkin, Shop F208, Gateway Theatre of Shopping (near the Wavehouse). Call them on 031 566 2778.

Rozanne & Pushkin also has a branch at Shop 19A, The Zone, Rosebank (011 8800 209).


To visit the Rozanne & Pushkin website, click here. They also have a Facebook page.