Clothing retail management students explore sustainability with Mapula Embroideries

Posted on October 23, 2019

How can local embroiders contribute to clothing retail management students’ understanding of sustainability and community engagement? By linking Clothing Retail Management students in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences with a local community engagement initiative, Mapula Embroideries.

The Mapula Embroidery Project in Winterveld is a community arts project made up of around 150 economically disadvantaged women who embroider their history, stories and experiences on sheets of cloth to generate income.

“Following the integration of the Mapula community project into the curriculum of Product Development 411 (KLR411), the second semester Textiles: Marketing and Consumer Aspects 421 (TKS421) module presented the opportunity to further advance skills and knowledge of both the students and the Mapula community project members in the construction of textile products to comply with specific quality standards,” said Dr Nadine Sonnenberg  Course convenor of TKS421.

Dr Sonnenberg said students were tasked with the compilation of step-by-step guides and the training of the Mapula community project members to construct products of acceptable quality to sell commercially.

As part of the final-year subject Product Development, the students explore the world of entrepreneurship, the enterprises of South Africa and the product development processes involved in manufacturing clothing.

Some of the clothing items produced by the students

They study clothing from a small business marketing and management perspective, enabling them to make economic and strategic decisions regarding the managing and marketing of a clothing business as well as the development of new clothing products, bearing in mind the needs of the selected target market. They are also exposed to factors that influence the planning, development and presentation of products as part of the product development process.

During the first semester of 2019, the main focus of this subject was on sustainability and community engagement in the clothing retail environment. Students were required to incorporate the three dimensions of sustainability, namely: the planet (environmental performance), people (social performance) and profit (economic performance), into their product development process and to suggest business ideas based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).      

The students collaborated with Mapula Embroideries as part of a community engagement initiative to produce clothing items that are made with locally sourced 100% cotton and artworks from the Mapula Embroideries collection.

Various get-togethers were organised during the semester where Mapula Embroideries and students could share ideas and assist in the product development process.

Final-year Clothing Retail Management student Keyani Mitri said she had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of imparting her skills.

“I have learnt that I actually enjoy teaching more than I thought I would and I feel that it has prepared me for the real world as I would like to start my own business one day in the future. This has reassured me that I would be able to train my staff to create garments.

“It has been a wonderful experience and it made me look back at how far I have come over these last four years as I started my first year learning to sew and finished my final year by sharing those skills with someone else,” Mitri said.  

UP clothing retail management students and the women of Mapula Embroideries.

The women from Mapula Embroideries, who participated in design presentations as well as the final reveal of the garments that were made by the students, also expressed their gratitude at having been part of the project.

Echoing the sentiments of her colleagues, Selena Skosana said she had learnt a lot. “Now I can use this to teach others.”

“I really enjoyed the experience and learned something new. I will make use of these methods in the future,” said Pinky Resenga, also an employee at Mapula Embroideries.

Hanri Taljaard, Course convenor of Product Development (KLR411), said the collaboration between the University and Mapula Embroideries was an enriching experience for all involved.

“All parties involved learned a lot from the experience and developed skills and knowledge relating to both creativity and technicality. In the process, students were given the freedom to create sustainable collections, with certain requirements and guidelines to adhere to. This process created an opportunity for them in which they had to think ‘outside of the box’, challenging them with real-world situations and giving them the guidance to develop innovative, yet realistic collections as part of their Product Development subject,” Taljaard said.

This is an ongoing project and will commence in the coming year, when students and Mapula Embroideries will continue working together to develop skills and transfer knowledge.

“Beyond the content of what was taught, this experience reminded all that were involved what it means to focus beyond your own self-interests towards the needs of others, and to truly make a difference in the larger community,” said Dr Sonnenberg.

- Author Hanri Taljaard

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