Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
LILONGWE (MaraPost Lifestyle) -- One by one the models strut their stuff on the runway at the Bingu International Conference Centre in the capital, Lilongwe. The young men and women come in decked up in chic, if not daring, designs – some are donning dresses complete with bottle-tops and yet others are in trendy hats made of fowl feathers.
Sisal and wood are also in the mix as the models do their catwalk on the ramp. It’s all about the first ever Malawi Fashion Week.
Africa is increasingly becoming cautious of fashion. Although fashion is mostly associated with the glitterati with deep pockets snapping up trendy designs by the likes of Gucci, Georgio Armani, Versace or Stella McCartney in the glitz and glamour of the fashion capitals of Milan, London, Paris or New York, many designers on the continent are using locally-available materials to come up with chic but affordable designs.
Malawi hasn’t been left behind. Elegant Resources has teamed up with African Dzuwa of former Presidential Press Officer Chikumbutso Mtumodzi to stage the event.
Dawa Loga-Lemberger, CEO of Elegant Resources, says at least 15 designers participated in the red carpet event which begun on Friday and ended on Sunday.
“They were supposed to bring in their designs and were supposed to be judged by judges,” she explains.
These judges, says Loga-Lemberger – a columnist with Malawi News, are retailers who have clothes shops in the country.
“We wanted to see what designs they would want in their shops,” she says.
The Malawi Fashion Week was blessed with the presence of some of the continent’s top models. On the bill was one of South African top models Natasha Singh, Alice Rowland Musukwa, a Zambian model and former Miss Universe, and Naomi Banda, another Zambian top model.
“The goal is to progress the fashion industry that is booming in Africa,” she says. “This is a great start, we would like to network in the region. We want these designers and models to participate in the next Zambian and South African fashion weeks.”
But fashion is mostly associated with high end designs that do not come in cheap. So does fashion have a future in Africa, let alone Malawi?
Eva Gertrude Kapanda of Eva’s Fashion Designs in Blantyre says it’s not true that trendy fashion is always costly. She says in her case she uses locally found materials to design her clothes, ear-rings and shoes which greatly push down prices.
“I usually design about Africa,” she says. “For example, I use chitenje which is cheap. I use plastics when I make ear-rings. I also use chicken feathers for the ear-rings. I make stuff from everything…wood, even bottle tops.”
Kapanda says even old shoes can be recycled to come up with trendy designs.
“I’m into recycling, even my shoes are old shoes covered in chitenje. Nowadays we should not throw away things, we must recycle them,” she says.
Patricia Ntambalika, a Malawian designer based in Windhoek, Namibia, believes African designers must move with time while at the same time keeping the African cultural theme in their designs.
“I use African material to make my garments but I do it in contemporary way, something that an African and somebody who is not African can actually feel comfortable to wear,” she says.
Ntambalika says fashion has a future in the country despite the hard economic times because the world is quickly becoming a global village.
“Malawians’ attitudes towards clothing are changing. Malawian women never used to wear trousers or mini-skirts but nowadays people are free and they can wear whatever they want as long as it looks fashionable on them,” she explains.
The event also had a celebrity touch with the involvement of former Big Brother housemate Felicia Ngoma who has taken up a career in designing. She says she uses everything from sisal to seed to make chic designs.
But Felicia bemoans the slowness by which fashion is taking root in Malawi.
“Fashion has a future in Malawi but it’s going slowly. Everyone wears clothes, we cannot keep on promoting the fashions from outside,” she says.
But Grace Khondi, who attended the show, says she fashion was on the way up in Malawi.
“I’m impressed with what I saw, we have lots of talent in Malawi,” she says.
Her friend, Hope Seywood, also says she was impressed by the theme of the designers.
“All the designers took the theme of nature which is in tandem with our culture,” she says.
But men in the audience felt the event was too skewed towards women.
“I think fashion is for women going by what we saw tonight,” says Davie. “Look, 90 per cent of what has been showcased here concerns women.”
But Loga-Lemberger, the main organiser of the Malawi Fashion Week, disagrees with this view.
“Fashion is for both men and women, even children, only that women are more cautious of fashion,” she says. “Of course, fashion is a women-driven industry because fun-looking outfits are mainly for women. But guys want to look good too.”
Even the figures on the runway attested to the fact that fashion is a woman thing. For example, out of the 15 designers who participated there was only one man and out of the 15 Malawian models, only four were men.
On the future of the Malawi Fashion Week, Loga-Lemberger says the organisers want to make it an annual event.
“African designs are influencing global fashion,” she says. “This will be an annual event which will attract tourism.”
Loga-Lemberger says the Malawi Fashion Week will benefit many people across the board.
“We are really promoting Malawi. We know that it’s a 360 really where we need the cotton grower to grow more cotton. We also know that for the designers to be appreciated we need excellent tailors. We also need shop owners to take our designs to the end users,” she says.
And the models also need training, according to Sigh, the South African top models.
“Models are really just like hangers which means we need a good hanger to go around on the ramp where they are not making mistakes,” she tells the Malawi models. “We need to invest in education and training of the models.”
(c) The Maravi Post 2013