Monday, September 27, 2010

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Local Designs Draw Fashionistas to Platform for Fusion

Mireille de Villiers

27 September 2010

A model donning green synthetic grass in the shape of a dress, with adey abeboch (little, yellow flowers) in a basket on her back, carrying a sign wishing everybody a "Happy New Year," ended the catwalk fashion show of Sewasew Design on the evening of Thursday, September 23, 2010, at Ethiopia's first Hub of Africa International Fashion Week.

Both local and international African fashion designers showcased their lines in the courtyard of the Laphto Entertainment Centre, located next to St Gabriel Church in Old Airport, Addis Abeba, on Thursday and Friday, September 23 and 24, with the aim of uniting the fashion industry to establish sustainable development.

Sewasew Hailu, the creator of the label that aims to promote Ethiopian traditional clothes by creating unique designs in a mix of both local traditional fabrics and almost any other available textile, was clad in bright red as she received a standing ovation from a large part of the crowd at the end of her show, during which she presented her new collection. It comprised of casual wear and jeans as well as predominantly oversized white and brown coats with mini skirts and traditionally inspired modern evening gowns.

Mahlet Teklemariam, managing director of Clairvoyant Marketing Agency which organised the event, wore a lime green knee-length cocktail dress by Sewasew.

"It is the first of its kind in Ethiopia," Linda Muruthi, managing partner and creative director of Clairvoyant, said at a press conference at Jupiter Hotel in Bole on Wednesday, September 22. "It started out with East African designers, but now we feature designers from across Africa and hope it will become even better in the future."

John Kaveke from Kenya kicked off the catwalk show under a full moon and dramatic cloud cover with female models in superbly finished feminine red dresses with elaborate, vivacious collars from his contemporary label, Kaveke.

Strutting in sky-high high heels to house music, the ladies were followed by six males in conventionally tailored classic, yet edgy, suits in natural earthy colours, the first of which was enthusiastically cheered by the crowd.

"It has been my policy to help other labels to grow," he said. "Over the past five years, I have started using mostly local materials for my clothes, and the accessories are also made from traditional materials."

While much of the fabrics he uses are still imported, all of the items are manufactured in Kenya by himself and Kenyan seamstresses, who also do the Maasai beadwork, a prominent feature in his designs.

All the clothing of Banuq, a Berlin-based label by Italian designers, uses a local (African) supply chain and is cut, made, and trimmed in Ethiopia by Halie Garments, a clothing manufacturer that was established in Addis Abeba in 2006, before it is exported, according to Susan Wong of Banuq and the workshop coordinator of the Fashion Week.

The talks that comprise the workshops, held at Jupiter Hotel in Kasanchis over two days, were presented by manufacturers and agencies and aimed to communicate with local industry stakeholders on matters such as trade, marketing, and quality control of products.

"We are trying to inspire local producers to export, despite the bureaucracy and paperwork of importing and exporting," Susan told Fortune.

The male models showed off the classic lines of the simple garments, made of organic Egyptian cotton in natural colours, barefoot, signifying Banuq's relaxed approach to fashion.

"We want this event to create jobs within the industry, not only for models and designers, but also for marketers and product developers," Muruthi said. "Our motivation in organising the event is to create awareness in order to grow the industry; makeup artistry is definitely something that can grow here."

Addis Abeba, being a cosmopolitan city with a large international community, has a huge market for all things new and fresh, raising questions about the supply available to meet the demand.

Once you have the market and the product, you need a marketing agency, models, and photographers, which are difficult to find locally, according to Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim, Somali born twins who are based in New York City and own the label Mataano which showcased its designs on Friday evening.

"If it changes, we will consider producing clothes in Africa to benefit the industry as a whole, so that Africa does not just serve as the backdrop for a show with everything being imported."

Only Ethiopian models were featured in the show. While Ethiopia has no shortage of beautiful women, there is no professionalism, no representation, and no agencies in the city, according to the backstage coordinator of the event.

Kahindo Mateene, the designer of Modahink, who is originally from Congo and currently based in Chicago, is as chic and sophisticated as the clothes she designs.

"Modahink is a fair trade clothing line," she said. "I am looking to create sustainable jobs for people who manufacture the clothes, which are exported and sold in the United States (US)."

After the catwalk showings and workshops, the week ended in a party held on Saturday, September 25, hosted by one of the main sponsors of the event, the Embassy of South Africa, which is currently celebrating its heritage month and commemorated its national heritage day on Friday, September 24.

"After hosting the World Cup earlier this year, we wanted to be more involved in celebrating the creativity and talent of the continent," Johnny Pitswane, minister political and deputy head of mission of the embassy, said.

Home-grown Ethiopian talent, Ousman Mohammed, at the helm of Ras Africa Designs, featured no men in his show. The first model wore a dramatic leather mask to go with her short black dress, which was only the first of many small dresses made even from cow skin and leather and a mixture of different fabrics.

Mapozi by Robi Morro from Tanzania showed last, Shortly after having been announced, started her show suddenly, without the video interview displayed before every other showing. Just one model walked down the ramp under the floodlights in a short, colourful dress, taking the audience by surprise.

The label is trendy but ethnic, fusing traditional materials with modern cuts. The presented designs were colourful and commercial and incorporated a lot of big earrings, with the overwhelming trend being black sash belts tied around the waist, with the exception of the white wedding gown at the end, which donned a red sash, tied in a sleek bow.

Other design labels that were featured included Mafi Habeshigna, Mela Design, and YeFikir Design from Ethiopia as well as Heni from South Africa.

"This event can turn the industry around, which can put players in a position not to be at a disadvantage when negotiating trade agreements with partners in Asia and Europe," Pitswane said.

This sentiment is echoed by Kaveke.

"We are sitting on a time bomb," he said at the press conference with his colleagues. "The population of Africa offers a market that is about to explode. We believe that there is a future, otherwise we would not be sitting here."

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