It used to baffle me that with all the beautiful cloth that you can find around Malawi, there seemed to be a dearth of good tailors and seamstresses and fashion designers. Malawian women would buy the cloth (Chitenge) but never make anything from it, for fear of it being “ruined”. After a few such attempts myself, I understood their plight and resorted to just guying cloth as well.
Moving to Ghana is a dream for a fashionista – or in my case, someone who likes finding new fabrics, designing, and wearing interesting dresses. That’s not to say that the experience was perfect, since a well-fitted dress still required multiple fittings at the tailor and anywhere between a week to a month to make well, but as a whole, Ghanaian style was a thing to marvel. As I learned more, and became increasingly connected, met a lot of artists in the industry – the models, the designers and the actors – both those that tailored to a Ghanaian market and those that had made it internationally in Europe or elsewhere. In my mind, that gap still existed in the Malawian market, and was a potential that could and should be remedied.
So I was surprised to find when I came back to Malawi this time that there IS an upcoming fashion scene. There is now an annual fashion show, featuring mostly Malawian and some other African designers. Some used the Malawian and African cloth with western styles, some used western fabrics with Malawian styles, and some used a mixture in between. Some were spectacular, others need a bit of rethinking.
When I think of Malawi, I don’t think Fashion. It doesn’t jump to mind the same way that fashion and Paris go together or Malawi and village. But that doesn’t matter because the scene does exists. And with some nurturing and exposure, hopefully it will grow. Hopefully it will inspire investment into the currently floundering textile, tailoring and design sector. Hopefully it will inspire a generation of Malawians that want to and feel a sense of pride when wearing Made-in-Malawi dresses and clothes, not just knock-off western styles. While the high-end fashion industry is unlikely to look to Malawi as their next target market, it is encouraging to find that Malawian designers are starting find their own way in the local fashion industry.
Although I’ve been in Africa for 3 yeas now, I love when moments and events like these can make me say “this is not Malawi” and then shift that perspective in a single motion to say “this is Malawi” and equally as deserving of recognition as a village.
To all designers, artists and fashionists in Malawi: well done. Share your ideas, work hard, and I look forward to seeing what you produce next year.