REDEFINING FASHION DESIGNING IN MALAWI

                      Exit chitenjeism; enters yours state of mind

By Malchus.

To most believers, the word spirit (Holy or otherwise) is a term that constantly knocks on to the doors of their grey matters. A day hardly passes without uttering this word. Indeed, believing in the existence of a super natural being is almost synonymous with a belief in the existence or presence of the concept, spirit.

That line of thinking, though misleading, is also equally applied to Malawian fashion designing industry.

It is laboratory truth that most Malawians wrongly relate fashion designing to chilundu wear, or chitenjeism.

Go to every Jim and Jack who calls themselves fashion designers, to them, that industry means chitenjeism. So, instead of calling themselves chitenje designers, they do mislead the audience by masquerading themselves as fashion designers. My foot!!!

So, if, if chitenjeism is not necessarily fashion designing, then what is fashion designing?

Miriam Webster dictionary defines fashion as a “popular way of dressing during a particular time or among a particular group of people.”

In other words, it is the business of creating and selling clothes in new clothes.

In popular language we call that trending, but it is a trend mixed with skill, style and a passion of creating a new way of dressing that originate from a designer’s expression, or their perception of what is trending on the market.

So, minus chitenjeism, do we really have a fashion industry in Malawi?

“Yes, we have!” that is according to Wezi Mzumara of Nkwaza PR; an agency that co-organizes Mzuzu fashion week.

According to her, “Fashion is generally defined depending on the individual’s sense of style and ability to put pieces together to achieve a specified look. So, looking from this perspective, then yeah, we have a Fashion industry in Malawi.” She enlightens.

Sharing Mzumara’s sentiments is Mr Base, the proprietor of a Malawian but South African based clothing line, Creative Base, who says fashion is multi-dimensional.

“Fashion is a way of life in terms of how people dress; It’s a reflection of different creative inputs and constant trends that are made for different targets. In short, fashion is a way of life, and it goes beyond just clothes. It could be accessories, shoes and everything that goes with it,” he enlightens.

So, if fashion is indeed that wide, then what the heck is wrong with most Malawian self-acclaimed fashion designers?

Mr Base attributes these deficiencies to two factors.

“Most local ‘fashionists’ lack creativity as they limit themselves in their imaginations and do act as robots; following the old chitenjeism, possibly for fear of taking a risk and try something out of the ordinary.” He says.

He cites an example of his firm “At CREATIVE BASE for example, we don’t always work with “chitenje” only, we use all kinds of techniques; in some of our collections: painting, stitching and also adding beads to designs are some of the new techniques used.

On her part, Mzumara believes most so called Malawian clothing lines are failing to move with times.

“The steady growth of African fashion in the mainstream Fashion world since 2005 – 2013 was predominantly referred to fashion using chitenje, Ankara, wax materials.

This has changed over the years as fashion has become more digital (visibility of other styles and uses of materials in African fashion)…all these have given modern designers and consumers a more diversified view of fashion. Not limiting fashion just to chitenje,” she elucidates.

The bottom line

Risk takers always do have a chance of succeeding in life. If most Wanna-be fashion designers cling to their chitenjeology, they shall never ever blossom.

So, folks, if you are trying to make it there, trying out something new is the name of the game; fashion-wise.

As Mr Base concludes, “It brings more life to the clothes, and attracts attention because it has never been seen before; the style is new, and it is someone’s innovation.”

Wezi also concludes that the lack of understanding of what fashion is and how the industry works makes it very hard for the industry to grow as most consumers take the production process at face value.

The reality check is that most of those so called fashion-designers, hereby being referred to as chitenjeists lack exposure of current fashion trends elsewhere so as to learn new techniques of the day.

Equally important is that they should never priotize income generation at the expense of passion driven and production of quality materials.

As it has been clarified here, by those who have been there and have done it, fashion designing is more than a mere chitenje. Fashion designing is almost a state of mind. You don’t need one Lilly Alfonso to define what fashion is. The way you feel it, so be it!!.

So in the words of Christopher Ngalu: “every Malawian designer out there, should get into the industry with the right reasons. More so, be original and remember fashion is a form of self-expression so express yourself in whatever ways you feel. Break the tradition and step outside the box!”

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