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Monday, 24 August 2015

Young Zambian fashion designers, creative time bomb

By Andrew Mulenga

(Photos: Vince Banda, R & G)

Zambians love fashion that is why it is no surprise that the escalating shopping mall culture has come along with the invasion of – mainly South African – fashion outlets such as Mr. Price, Exact, Foschini, Identity, Mud Boutique, Truworths, Uzzi and Woolworths.

But even in the shanty towns too, on every corner there are boutiques selling reasonably priced – mostly Asian-made clothing items. In some high density areas like Lusaka’s Kalingalinga, one can safely say, the compound’s little fashion shops outnumber the public taps that supply clean and reliable water.

New York-based style expert Natalie Joos (second from left)
shares a light moment with her Fashion Master Class
in Lusaka, Zambia
Anyway, not the whole of Zambia’s fashion scene is dominated by foreign-made clothes and accessories, there appears to be a fashion underground of sorts with locally made products and the purveyors of these products are a group of vibrant young designers, many of whom are not trained at all, seeing there are no fashion design schools in the country. What is even more exciting is the subversive nature of these youth, they reject foreign made products opting to create their own. Most start small, buy Salaula (used clothes) for personal use, make alterations to the clothes and the styles end up catching on with family, friends and before you know it, what started as an effort to look different emerges into a 10-client fashion label.

This is why Tau Foundation a newly launched Zambian none-profit outfit that aims at fostering educational initiatives in the arts and creative industry alongside the Zambia Fashion Council, an organisation focusing on promoting fashion talent recently flew in New York-based style expert and fashion consultant Natalie Joos to conduct a two-day Fashion Masterclass.

Debbie Chuma - As Zambians we
have potential to grow the emerging
industry if we unite and work together
According to Tau Foundations co-founder Gloria Huwiler, the workshop targeted local stakeholders in fashion including designers, stylists, models and photographers, it provided a comprehensive overview of the fashion industry, with a focus on styling, fashion publications, the new role of social media in fashion marketing and the skills sets needed to grow a brand for the fashion market.

“It was a really beautiful experience to see the impact of an international perspective on our young creatives through this workshop. The inspiration taken will no doubt contribute towards the creation of sustainable industries in the creative fields, and give a platform for the endless unexplored potential and talent that exists here.  We look forward to creating more opportunities like this in the future” says Huwiler who is co-founder of Tau Foundation along with Adaobi Mwanamwambwa. Huwiler, is a stage and screen actress who lives anywhere between the US, UK and Zambia, not new to arts initiatives, she successfully toured an exhibition of contemporary Zambian art in Hollywood and the New York art scene whereas Mwanamwambwa is on the verge of launching a company that manufactures hand-made safari boots and sandals, she already has potential customers from as far as California waiting in line, so the two are a very driven and focused team.

Nandi Ngwenya models a dress by
Mushamba Margaret Phiri of Musha Designs,
note the sophisticated strapless detail
Nevertheless, giving an insight into the Zambian fashion scene, Huwiler explains that the main clients of the young designers that attended the workshop are middle class Zambians and foreign nationals interested not only in supporting local talent but cultivating and expressing an African and Zambian identity.

“They appeal to a more educated, and patriotic crowd who prefer a unique expression of who they are and where they are from. They (the products) are however luxury items, individually crafted and therefore not always accessible to everyone,” she adds.
“Their work has a specific niche and clientele. They aren't necessarily making everyday clothes, most do not have a production team but make bespoke items for clients. It is good to note that South African chains, like Woolworths for instance welcome the collaboration with local designers, where their own items are used and altered, customized providing a unique and local take on their pieces.”

She indicates that the workshop was enthusiastically attended by various established and emerging local talent, and that Joos’ extensive experience in various sectors of the industry as journalist, stylist, photographer, casting director and style influencer provided a broad set of knowledge for the participants. Having collaborated with various brands among them Hugo Boss, Chloe and Roca Wear, Joos provided interactive and visual exercises and examples of international campaigns to encourage and improve the quality of local shoots.”

Some of the vibrant young participants that attended
the two-day Fashion Master Class in Lusaka
Huwiler says the workshop attendees left with an incredible sense of the vision and potential for growth as well as a newfound commitment to developing the industry as a coordinated and integrated collective, sentiments echoed by upcoming fashion designer and founder of design label Debbie Chu, Deborah Chuma.

“The Natalie Joos Master Class was so profound, educative and very fun. I personally learnt a lot from her about the fashion industry. As Zambians we have potential to grow the emerging industry if we unite and work together. This industry is worth a lot of money and as she (Joos) shared in one of her classes its worth more than $1.2 trillion as a global industry. If we work together we can tap into that as a country. There is a fire and burning talent in the young creatives of Zambia,” adds the 23-year-old. Joos herself describes Chuma as being very talented and having “great promise” dedicating an entire article to her entitled Debbie’s World on the blog Tales of endearment. Inspired by her late mother, Chuma’s dream is to sponsor herself to a world class fashion school abroad, make it big and one day provide employment for other young Zambians.

Joos takes a group photo, she is wearing a locally
designed outfit by Musha Designs
Another young Lusaka-based designer Christian Syafunko, described the workshop as an eye opening experience and that until this point, he assumed a stylists job was always personally tailored to the end user client.

“After the workshop I realised how helpful a stylist would be for interpretation of a range. I also understood the value of social media a little better,” he says

And Claudio Pasquini a student says: “It was a mind opening experience having Natalie teach us and guide us where to go and what to do next for the Zambian fashion industry. Natalie really helped me think a little more about the social impact such as Instagram, blogs, websites etc... I absolutely enjoyed it.”

“The art of fashion knows no boundaries Natalie Joos who's a stylist from the U.S. coming here and wearing my designs shows that the world of fashion knows no language, it bridges the gap between Zambian designer’s models photographers from different places. I learned that we could make an industry just like the one in US by working together. I was so excited that the face of Jimmy Choo could also wear my clothes, that is the Art of fashion,” adds local designer Mushamba Margaret Phiri.
In addition to the Fashion Masterclass in Lusaka, Joos carried out a workshop and training sessions through the Tau Foundation and Sun International with local seamstresses in Livingstone.

Tau co-founder Gloria Huwiler (l) with designer
Mushamba Margaret Phiri
According to Hewiler, the pilot project will continue to focus on the Woman’s Community Centre in Livingstone Victoria Falls to produce goods with recycled materials that have the potential for local sale and export. By providing woman with sustainable skills sets and developing small scale entrepreneurship so the women can provide for their families and improve their lives.
Joos is already back in New York but from the experiences she shares on her blog, you can tell that the countries vibrancy particularly that of the people she mingled with left a lasting impression on her.

She observes that: “There’s a lot of work to be done in Zambia, but if everyone pulls together and keeps the fire going, Zambia’s fashion talent will be on the map soon”.

Joos particularly commented that that what was missing is a platform for the young designers to show off their work and collaborate. The lack of fashion education was another issue in that only one college has a fashion class. There is also need for a fashion magazine, as well as a need for trained people.

She was pleased however that The Fashion Council, a private outfit, has identified these problems and is now trying to lobby government to create infrastructure for all the creatives to work together and sustain a self-sufficient fashion industry. Joos also indicates that she had a word with Minister of Tourism and Arts, Jean Kapata at an evening reception and encouraged her to look into the plight of fashion as a creative industry to which she implies the minister responded positively.

It would surely be exciting to see the Zambian fashion industry as small as it is, being fully supported by some government initiative as there certainly is no doubt that the young people involved in it are literally self-employed meaning they are supplementing governments direct responsibility of job creation and youth empowerment. Also would it not be nice to see Zambian made clothes on the international fashion runways of Milan, Paris, New York and London?

Meanwhile, if you are looking at getting yourself quality local fashion merchandise, designed and created by the young Zambian designers featured in this article, visit VALA, the go-to shop for local fashion at Foxdale Court, Zambezi Road, Roma, Lusaka.

Partners for both Tau Foundations workshops were Budget Stores, Leopards Hills Memorial Park, Latitude 15, The Royal Livingstone, R & G events, Pilatus, Akasuba, Nkwashi, Technet, Shreeji investments, African Grey, Melissa Supermarket, Woolworths. 


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