We recently announced the upcoming Zimbabwe Fashion Week 2015 event on Ladybrille. Since then, we have been receiving news regarding designers pulling out, an alleged legal action contemplated against organizers of the event and much more. To get clarity about what exactly was going on so we could properly inform our audience, whom we had initially encouraged to patronize the event, we reached out to organizers of the event and also the third party service provider who is involved in this dispute.
Below is the press statement sent to us from Zimbabwe Fashion Week Organizers. From its indication, the issue has been ongoing since April and continues to carry forward till this August/September 2015.
(Update: Listen to Priscilla Chigariro-Gessen’s exclusive interview with Ladybrille addressing the allegations and more).
PRESS RELEASE, HARARE, ZIMBABWE April 30, 2015.
Zimbabwe Fashion International
Zimbabwe Fashion International regrets to announce that it has become a victim of an unwarranted malicious act of slander and defamation by one of its disgruntled former services providers from South Africa, specifically Group of Creatives (“GC”), an events management start-up, founded by Jen Deiner, the wife of a fashion photographer, Simon Deiner.
ZFI has considered the legal options available to it in light of this ugly and dishonorable attack, but we have decided that to expend time and funds to punish GC will be an inefficient investment of our resources, and that the people who care about the industry and about general fairness will be able to see through the ugly fabric of false accusations if we set the record straight:
- ZFI was established six years ago as a platform for the revival and development of the fashion industry in Zimbabwe. It has produced a world- class fashion event rated as one of the most successful fashion events on the continent, and has connected designers, retailers, manufacturers, artists, and investors.
- ZFI has always sought to promote broadest possible cooperation of different peoples from many countries on the continent, and we, as a board, feel deeply offended that at the very moment when Southern Africa is going through one of deepest crises of our time, our former partners from across the border resort to ugly attacks that bring no commercial or reputational gain.
- ZFI was always committed to importing and transferring professional skills to local Zimbabwean designers and service providers, investing in bringing international talent and professionals for local skill development, and sending local designers to show at international platforms.
- In 2013, ZFI engaged the services of GC to provide support in the production of our annual event. GC was just starting in the business, and offered very competitive pricing. The quality of work was acceptable, and we made the decision to engage GC again in 2014.
- In 2014, numerous conflicts arose between GC and other service providers of ZFI on the basis of unacceptable, racially biased and patronizing attitude of GC towards the local Zimbabwean providers. Production problems were blamed by GC on our “staff’s incompetence” and no responsibility was ever accepted for production failures. ZFI was forced to seek emergency replacement for some of the providers who walked off the set due to insults and mistreatment by the GC.
- Besides the stressful atmosphere of the event, we also observed a clear change in the attitude of GC. GC was no longer trying or able to provide us with the edge that would justify the cost of bringing in international expertise. Since ZFW 2013 was the only full fashion week that GC had ever produced, there was no discernible development or improvement in the level of service. Further cooperation had ceased to make sense.
- In January 2015 GC again approached ZFI with an offer to produce Zimbabwe Fashion Week in 2015:
- “…regarding ZFW2015, we would like to know whether you are going to hire GC to do the technical direction, as well as produce the shows and awards. … We really hope you do…” e-mail from Jen Deiner, Jan. 26, 2015
- ZFI formally notified GC that it would no longer be requiring its services.
- In response, GC engaged in clear blackmail, and threatened that unless the business relationship continued, they would endeavor to destroy the reputation of ZFI on the African market:
- “…we have quite an extensive network of media, event owners, designers, suppliers etc. across Africa…” “…should you decide to use another producer or production company, all these networks we will cease to be involved with ZFW. We will ensure that all event owners, designers, suppliers and producers across Africa are aware that Group of Creatives is no longer involved with ZFW…” e-mail from Jen Deiner, Jan. 26, 2015
- We noted with surprise GC’s claim that many people, including other production companies, share their viewpoint. This was of particular interest, as ZFW has never used any production company with the exception of GC, as previously we produced the event ourselves. However, the outpour of support from our designers, sponsors and other partners has convinced us the GC’s claim was simply an unfortunate exaggeration. Shortly the industry participants will be releasing supporting materials to this effect.
- ZFI recognizes the economic limitations of our country, but we don’t believe that we should ever feel inferior just because we might not have the resources or the contacts that South Africa offers. Consequently we refused to succumb to pressure, and the relationship was terminated.
- On April 23, 2015, having learned that ZFI will not budge, GC, as it had threatened, distributed a malicious email about ZFI to all of its contacts across the continent with the sole purpose of undermining the legitimacy and good reputation of a proudly Zimbabwean brand. In part GC’s e-mail accuses ZFI of “threatening”, mistreating and having no respect for our suppliers. The letter purports to make an issue of a payment dispute between the two parties and seeks to distance itself from ZFI as if it were GC’s choice.
- We find such conduct not only contrary to law, but morally despicable. In our opinion, it is in the very least in very poor taste, but more importantly will undermine the ability of GC to find new clients, who potentially would be threatened with an ugly scandal if they don’t like the service GC offers. It is generally not the best policy to look down upon the people from neighboring countries who, by accident of economics, might not have the same resources or skills or equipment at its disposal to compete with South Africa.
- We recognize that ZFW had its fair share of challenges in the recent years, mostly caused by the liquidity constraints that all sectors of our economy have experienced. Yet we don’t believe that this gives anyone a right to bring us down, as we try to rise up. Some of our sponsors and other funding partners were not fulfilling funding obligations, and in turn forced us to rely on trade credit advanced by our suppliers and service providers. We regret this turn of events and have always remained committed to honoring all of the outstanding obligations in a responsible manner.
- ZFI is a nonprofit organization and all the money it raises is fully utilized to paying for production costs, young designer workshops and other necessary expenses. The ZFI board is now making every effort to raise funding as quickly as possible to retire the outstanding trade debt and fund future operations. We ask our partners for patience and understanding as we overcome the challenges and pave the road for a smooth 2015.
- We will not be cowed, we will not be broken, and we will not yield to blackmail and slander. We stand strong.
Ms. Uduak is best known as an advocate who uses the tools of media and the law to help creatives and businesses clearly articulate their true brand identities, and communicate it to the world through their products and services, to maximize profits. She is a lawyer, speaker, author, journalist, and recognized thought leader, and trailblazer for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder and publisher of Ladybrille® Magazine, and an Attorney and Partner at Ebitu Law Group, P.C, where her practice focuses on Fashion, Business, & Entertainment Law and Trials. For more information about her, visit www.msuduak.com.