The initiative, conducted in collaboration with the South African Footwear and Leather Export Council (SAFLEC), eThekwini Footwear and Leather Cluster, Edizioni AF, and Arsutoria School, brought expert instructors directly to local manufacturers in KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town.

Through hands-on training and personalised guidance, SMEs gained knowledge on product quality, materials, innovative design techniques, and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the design process.

This understanding is expected to lead enterprises to adopt AI technologies more readily, enhancing their ability to anticipate market shifts and stay ahead of competitors.

The workshops facilitated networking opportunities and potential collaborations among participants, fostering an ecosystem conducive to innovation and growth.

By leveraging the insights from the workshop, participants are described as being well-positioned to capitalise on opportunities in the fashion industry, achieving their goals of global expansion and market competitiveness and thereby increasing employment opportunities.

Two participants, Sophia Khan from Smiley’s Footwear and Dylan van Zyl from Bata SA were awarded scholarships to attend a five-week design course on shoes and bags at the Arsutoria School in Milan, Italy.

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“Receiving this scholarship isn’t just about winning; it’s about opportunities it unlocks and the dreams it will fulfil, not only the recognition of past achievements and hard work but also a catalyst for the future,” Van Zyl said.

Stefano Migliavacca, Edizioni AF, Milan added: “Our goal is to support companies/designers to better understand the international market, to be able to focus their skills. With this support, I’m sure that we can achieve great results and see companies evolve and diversify their products after the training, to compete with international brands.”

The ILO’s Productivity Ecosystems for Decent Work South Africa Project, launched in July 2022, aims to address productivity growth constraints and promote decent work in the country, with a focus on the leather, leather goods, and footwear sectors.

At the end of May, the ILO developed a grievance application process for Indonesian garment workers in partnership with three trade confederations.