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Promoting African Fashion & Art. By Brian Itai

Image taken from Nation Online

The African Fashion and Arts Festival is around the corner. This is in its 3rd year. The festival is aimed at celebrating the arts and fashion industry and expose designers and customers together. Our entertainment reporter BRIAN ITAI caught up with Lush Africa director Lorraine Mopiwa Kjajic who organizes the festival for more.

Q: What is the Lush Africa Fashion and Arts Festival

A: Africa Fashion and Arts Festival is an annual Fashion and Arts event organized by Lush Africa and is a specialized fashion and Arts brand that is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of African heritage through fashion, arts and music in Africa. Our aim is to promote the fashion, arts, and music and empower the young people in these industries by creating networking opportunities among industry players across the African continent and industry business leaders. During the annual events, which are hosted in Uganda, Malawi and South Africa, there are business seminars conducted to instill knowledge in interested participants in the areas of business management, entrepreneurship, brand management and digital marketing.

Q: Since the introduction of the festival in 2016, what impact have been made in the fashion and arts realm?

A: Sine the introduction of Africa Fashion and Arts Festival to Malawi in 2016, we have an understanding with Don Bosco Technical College on educating young people in the fashion, arts, music career of the current business trends of those industries in order to empower them with modern knowledge and competitive skills to enable them to thrive in these industries across Africa.

We have challenged Malawians to start buying products made by Malawians. We understand the level of poverty and unemployment in the country, and fashion and arts industries can be used to diminish poverty and unemployment. Our fashion events are attended by prominent members of society; last year we had the Mayor of Lilongwe in attendance, the ambassador of USA, a few ministers, directors and CEOs. These are indeed the people who can influence policies that can create a condusive business environment for the arts and fashion in the country.

We have seen more and more Malawians embracing Malawian designers and avoiding buying clothes designed outside the country for their special events such as weddings and zinkhoswe (engagement ceremonies).

Q: From your first-hand assessment, having worked with the local designers closely, how do you loo at their potential for making it big on the international market?

A: Malawi has a lot of talent- Lilly Alfonso, Mizu, Nzika Wear, Miss Pearl, Scorpi Clothing are some of the local designers that have made impact on the international market. However, local designers need to start using quality fabrics if they are to compete on international level; their designs must be unique. Yes we can all design using Africam prints but how uniquely can one use the fabric? This is what the international buyers are looking for as fashion trends change. Local designers must also take designing not just as a hobby but also as a business. As such they need to adhere to certain practices, develop business and marketing plans, and take advantage of social networks to enhance their brands outside Malawi. They must try and showcase their designs to other international platforms and have representatives outside Malawi who can further enable their brands to be exposed.

Q: What is your take on the support that the fashion and arts industry gets from government and other stakeholders?

A: Last year we collaborated with the Department of the Registrar General and Africa Regional Intellectual Property (Aripo). This is a big milestone as there has been little support from the government and from stakeholders in the country previously. If you look at other countries, you will notice the support the governments are giving to these industries. In South Africa for example, government funds designers and those in arts to participate in international exhibitions and shows. They collaborate with event organisers too make sure more of these events like Africa Fashion and Arts Festival are happening more often across the country. Lush Africa would love to see a day when we can take our events to all corners of Malawi as we scout for great talent to export it, but we fail to as we have no support or collaborative proposals from the government. We wish the arts, fashion and music events organisers could work together with the Ministry of Youth, Tourism and Culture to continue promoting and preserving our heritage, to equip young people with business skills in these areas and to enable a condusive business environment.

Q: How helpful have the international designers you have brought on the platform been in helping develop our local designers?

A: Our platform is considered as a networking and cultural exchange program, Most of the international designers take their trade seriously. When they come to Malawi, they come here with one mind to conquer the Malawian marker. They have a very professional business outlook. They will come with their clothes labeled with the sixes and brand names, business cards to give to potential customers, they have their websites (online shops) ready to serve the international clients.

We have started seeing most of our local designers embracing their fashion designing as a business, although with few resources, but they are emulating the international designers. They too have started eyeing international platforms so they can try to go and showcase their talent. It is my hope that when these local designers go to government and private companies for financial support to enable them to achieve international participation, these two stakeholders will support them.

Q: Going forward, where do you want to take this festival?

A: Africa Fashion and Arts Festival is still growing. Our aim is to bring Malawian designers to these other countries and bring designers from other countries to Malawi. Africans need to start supporting one another beyond borders. The digital world has made this very easy and we must take advantage of thus if Africa is to grow economically.