Fashion designing industry in Mzuzu is almost non-existent but, as JOHN CHIRWA writes, that is about to change.
Lilly Alfonso is universally acknowledged as Malawi’s face of designing. She was made ambassador of ‘I am Fashion’—a fashion designing event by an Amsterdam-based firm, Queen of Africa, a few weeks ago.
In addition, her designs have graced international runways at the Africa Fashion Week London 2012 and 2013, Barcelona Africa Fashion Week 2013 and the Africa Fashion Reception Paris 2013.
Besides that, she is the 2010 Malawi Fashion Edition (Fame) best designer.
Such local and international acclaims have not gone unnoticed by up-and-coming designers in Malawi, in Mzuzu to be precise.
Fashion designer Towera Mkandawire, 24, adores Alfonso.
“Her exploits have inspired me to venture into fashion designing as a career,” says Mkandawire, who has established her clothing firm called House of Towera.
Her designing studio, opened last year, is a busy place. On a daily basis, she has to make, at least, six designs—for weddings, send-offs, top-ups, beauty pageants (including Mr Mzuni and Miss Mzuni) and individuals.
Fashion design, unlike tailoring, is the art of application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories.
“A designer produces something that has never existed before and puts embellishments on the fabric. The art is inborn and it is expressed through innovations,” explains Mkandawire.
Walking through the streets and locations of Mzuzu reveals that the evergreen city has few such artists.
“There could be a lot of professional designers within Mzuzu, but few have come out in the open, yet people these days want designer clothes,” observes Mkandawrie, who holds a certificate in textile and designing from Phwezi Women’s Training Centre in Rumphi.
An exhibition organised by Kwanza PR at Mzuzu Museum last month confirms her observation. Four designers—including Mkandawire—participated.
The others were Kwanza Creations, Sozo Wear and Zik Garvey Investments. Of the four, House of Towera and Sozo Wear are into clothing, Kwanza Creations is into accessories whereas Zik Garvey do interior and exterior designing.
These are the only participants at other fashion events that have taken place in the city.
Kondwani Phiri, who established Sozo Wear clothing line in January this year, is another admirer of Alfonso.
“Before establishing my firm, I had a day-long training with Alfonso at her studio in Lilongwe. She also gave me a designing manual to understand the industry. She has been my inspiration to open a clothing line as well.
“Presently, I do online assignments with her until I master the trade,” claims the budding designer.
The exhibition at Mzuzu Museum was Phiri’s second opportunity to showcase his products in Mzuzu.
There are efforts, however, to organise numerous such events to make sure that more skilled designers come out of their cocoon.
Wezi Mzumara, who is the owner of fashion house Kwanza Creations — and also founded Kwanza PR, which organises fashion shows in the city — says such events will be organised at the end of every month beginning with August.
“There is a regional demand to hold these events regularly and some have asked us to conduct these shows in Nkhata Bay as well,” says Mzumara.
The exhibition that was organised to celebrate African culture was the second activity Kwanza PR had this year. The first was Fashion Tea Party on March 8 organised as part of the International Women’s Day celebrations.
“This was our first big event to court our customers and the response was good. The event opened us up to the fashion market and exposed various designers who are little known to the public in Mzuzu,” says Mzumara, who also founded Kwanza Creations.
On the other hand, Phiri says he plans to launch his firm in a few months to reach out to a wider audience.
“We have lined up a number of activities prior to the launch. Apart from a road show, we are working on a documentary of fashion in Mzuzu. We are also planning to have a fashion week where we will have different types of designs to exhibit,” he says.
The challenge, however, is that most of these designers operate from homes.
“It is not cost-effective to have an office,” says Mzumara who operates from Chimaliro.
But Mkandawire says in future they may team up and do their businesses separately but under one roof.
“This may be easy for our customers to access our services and products at a one stop centre,” she says.
Although the industry is still in its infant stage, Mzuzu designers have a dream. The dream is to command local and international applause just as their idol Alfonso.