‘African time’ is a time bomb

2012-11-03 11:15

In a digital age, being ‘fashionably late’ simply reads as disrespectful, rude and bad business etiquette

The old saying “time is money” takes on a new meaning in our digital age. Time is not just money, but has become one of our most precious commodities.

Technology has not only created a faster-paced world, but our smartphones have ensured the boundaries between work and play have been forever blurred.

Since we now work at double the speed we used to, it means that in a year we’ve probably worked the equivalent of two. It’s no wonder everyone is feeling burnt out.

Even meetings have become the bane of business and there’s a growing trend of conducting meetings standing up to save time. (If you hate meetings, give it a try. It works.)

The point is we all battle to manage our time. Today, a single mum secretary has the same time pressures as the CEO she works for, if not more.

In the fashion world, the mantra for arriving at a function has always been “fashionably late”.

You don’t want to look too eager, and your tardy arrival might just provide you with a suitably dramatic entrance. But this mantra was born in a very different era.

Today, there’s a very fine line between fashionably late and just downright rude.

In the past, arriving late conveyed some aura of importance. It sent a subtle message to the early arrivers that your life was busier – and therefore more important – than theirs.

But today everyone has busy lives, so you can’t mess with people’s time.

If you wait for the latecomers before starting an event, you risk insulting the guests who made the effort to arrive on time.

Keeping people waiting for a social event is annoying. Keeping people waiting in the business arena is unforgivable. What used to be a subtle power play now simply reads as disrespectful and bad business etiquette.

Our public servants have elevated this disrespect to a fine art: from civil servants who have no empathy for the hours you spend in a queue, to government ministers who keep guests at events waiting, only to deliver a droning speech and leave in a blue-light convoy before anyone else does.

This is justified as “protocol”, but it boils down to ego and lack of mutual respect.

Even in the fashion world, “fashionably late” is no longer tolerated. The turning point was in 2007 and played out in the international fashion arena – an industry that houses egos almost as large as politicians’.

Darling of fashion Marc Jacobs (also the head designer for Louis Vuitton) had cultivated a reputation for running late with his New York Fashion Week shows – by anything up to an hour and a half.

The world’s fashion media put up with his shenanigans until his fateful show at the uncomfortable New York State Armory. The 9pm show started at 11pm.

The incident prompted a wave of complaints from editors in American and European newspapers, as well as influential trade publications. The International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes wrote a scathing piece: “A bad, sad show from Marc Jacobs, running two hours late, high on hype and low on delivery, symbolised everything that is wrong with current fashion.”

The incident was a watershed moment. Jacobs’ shows, especially for Louis Vuitton, now start on time, or at least within an acceptable (for fashion) half-hour delay.

It is therefore puzzling that back home the Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week Africa has for the past two years not managed to keep to its published schedule. Delays of between an hour to two hours have become the norm.

At last week’s event, many editors skipped the final shows on the programme simply because the schedule ran so late.

A spokesperson for fashion week cited “logistical problems with getting audiences into the venue, creating a knock-on effect” as the cause.

But surely if the same problem persists two years in a row, it would be wise to plan a schedule to accommodate this? If theatre productions can start on time, I don’t see why fashion shows can’t.

The fashion week is a brave and visionary platform. It unites creative talent from the continent and is slowly gaining traction and international interest, in line with the trajectory of Africa becoming the planet’s future consumer force.

But running late is not only a disservice to the designers they represent, it reinforces the disparaging stereotype of “African time” which, in business terms, simply translates as lack of professionalism.

If we want to compete in the global arena, best we understand which time zone we’re operating in.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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