AMANDA LAIRD CHERRY MAY HAVE REACHED THE PINNACLE OF HER CAREER, BUT SHE’S NOT DONE REACHING FOR THE STARS, WRITES DEBBIE REYNOLDS
Pinning Amanda down between her trip to London to accept her Fashion Designer of the Year award, her businesses in the USA and South Africa and the birth of her second grandchild is no easy task.
When we do talk, she gives me her full attention, which is exactly what makes this exceptional fashion designer and businesswoman so extremely successful. Amanda immerses herself totally in everything she does, be it making sandwiches for her husband Glen’s work lunch, creating an inspired runway collection or launching a new brand across the world.
With her roots firmly entrenched in her beloved Durban, Amanda managed to branch out to USA’s Charlotte, North Carolina, where she has lived for the last 11 years.
“We still have our home in Kloof, and I come back to SA four to five times a year for various shows or work commitments,” she says. “Each time I see my country with a great perspective and a fresh eye.”
Moving away from South Africa was never on Amanda’s agenda, but when Glen suggested going on an adventure, Amanda said “why not!”
“It was hard at first, but I have such a wonderful team beside me that it works really well,” she says.
In her acceptance speech at the 2019 World Fashion Awards in London, which she was “flabbergasted and thrilled to win”, she paid tribute to “all the people I have worked with and who have supported me over the years”.
“From my husband to my seamstresses, pattern makers and partners, it’s a team, not just me!”
Amanda has always had an inclusive mindset, a passion for culture, social responsibility and mentorship and an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding.
It is these qualities she brings to her design ethos and brands, which include Amanda Laird Cherry Apparel, ALC Menswear and The Space in SA, and Ivy Citizens “athleisure” in the USA.
“Collaboration within the local industry and supporting local for strategic sustainability has always been my business model,” says Amanda.
It’s a commitment which also won her the Changemaker Award at the inaugural Twyg Sustainability in Fashion Awards 2019.
I first met Amanda in the 90s when she headed the rampant Durban Designer Collection fashion pack. The girl who wanted to be an actress turned into a confident, passionate, humble, adventurous and classically elegant woman with an edgy twist.
“I think my style comes from my mom who has a great eye for decor and clothing,” she says. “With my dad being a racehorse trainer, she had to dress up a lot and was always beautifully appointed. I ended up with a lot of her clothes which ignited my love for the soul of second-hand things.”
Her unique collaboration with Gumtree to create a collection from restyled second-hand clothing for SA Fashion Week 2019 was a sensation. For Amanda it was fulfilling to create awareness of our unsustainable “throwaway” culture.
Particularly telling is her “most memorable” career moment. “I always think of the 1999 Durban Designer Collection where my collection was inspired by traditional African umBlaselo pants.
“I’d been intrigued by them from the days when we would drive from Durban to Cape Town for the horseracing season in the December holidays and I’d see men wearing them along the way.
“Wanting to use them as an inspiration for my range that year my research took me on a wonderful journey of meeting people, from professors at UKZN to Warwick Avenue workers and an amazingly proud man who created them from a tiny room in a KwaMashu hostel.”
It was “goose bump” collection, which Amanda remembers more for how well it was received for its cultural heritage and sensitivity than for winning the Best Designer award.
If forced to find a reason for staying relevant in such a fickle world as fashion, Amanda reckons it could be down to
“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I don’t like giving up and I don’t let go easily,” she laughs. “I’m also insanely curious and blessed to work with my great loves … art, drama, community and people.”
Being a mom to Raqel (28) and Ethan (23) and now grandmother to Josi and Deyla, Amanda has considered slowing down.
“But, when I chat about it to Glen, I know that I don’t want to stop. There’s so much more to learn and discover and new goals to reach. I’ve not achieved my 100% yet!”