All along, the use of a traditional wrapper, popularly known as chitenje, has been regarded as the purest form of traditional dressing, mainly among women.
Traditionally, wearing of chitenje by women is considered a way of preserving traditional values, especially in rural areas.
Imagine, a woman without a chitenje in the village?
Some women describe the chitenje as an occasional and emergency material which helps women to safeguard traditional values.
“The chitenje is occasional because a woman wears it at events such as funerals to observe traditional values. It is questionable to see a Malawian woman going to a funeral in a mini-skirt with a high heel.
“The chitenje can also be a powerful form of protection during emergency situations such as accidents in which survivors may cover themselves up or in case of serious violations such as tearing off of clothes and injuries,” said Yankho Kaunde from Kachere Towshship.
Bearing testimony to Kaunde’s assertions, a survivor of 2014’s stripping scandal at Blantyre Market had to be given a chitenje to cover herself up before being whisked away from the abusers.
On the contrary, the country’s fashion designers look at chitenje as more than some sort of emergency or occasional material, but rather a vibrant source of business on which the country’s fashion industry is thriving.
Lilly Alfonso is one of the country’s top fashion designers who heaps praise on chitenje as one fabric which is helping to uplift the country’s fashion industry.
“Today we are taking pride in chitenje because it is helping to uplift the face of the country’s fashion industry. It is a source of typical designs that maintain African touch that suits the choice of people,” she said.
Wachituta Thombozi of Kuwala Creations said chitenje has become a reliable source of affordable fashion, which has helped many Malawians to order designs of their choice.
“Chitenje has made fashion easy and affordable in Malawi because many people, including artists, are opting for fashion made from chitenje for them to look trendy while maintaining the local flavour,” said Thombozi.
Gwamba and Adrian Kwelepeta are some of the country’s popular musicians who have been spotting trendy styles made from chitenje.
Mwai Namaona of Nzika Arts said as time goes, chitenje moved away from being extensively used as some respectable form of dressing to making trendy suits and dresses popularly known as traditional wear.
But today, Malawian men and women (both old and young) are spotting traditional wear at many gatherings including engagement ceremonies and bridal showers.
“Today, fashion designers have amped the use of chitenje, which is now accommodating different men’s styles and are booming at a cheater’s speed,” said Namaona.
The use of chitenje has been extended to shoe designing by some of the local designers like Chimwemwe Mwenyemasi.
He broke into the shoe designing scene when he used People’s Party (PP) chitenje to design a shoe.
Today, Mwenyemasi receives numerous orders of shoes designs from chitenje from clients, especially those involved in traditional weddings.