When creativity blends Malawian tradition with fashion

At the back of a seemingly incurable malaise presently kicking Malawi’s economy in the stomach, a scanty percentage of the citizenry is relentlessly spending sleepless nights to eke a living. As Pius Nyondo writes, most of these are youths who, after being frustrated with good-for-nothing academic papers and shoddy paying jobs, have resorted to self-employment.

Models donning Creative Base designs. Photo by Penjani Nyirenda.
Models donning Creative Base designs. Photo by Penjani Nyirenda.

When Christopher Ngalu, 25, walked out of The Polytechnic – a constituent of the University of Malawi (Malawi) – with certificates in graphic designing, he felt on top of the world.

He was wrong; and, in fact, very far from the top.

Christopher did not know that he was joining thousands others, who had also walked the very same corridors he had sauntered about, but were scampering in the streets because of joblessness.

“After more than two months of simply staying at home, I realized that the world was not as simple to survive in as I thought when I was in college. Employment was hard to get,” reminisced Christopher.

According to the most recent data published by the World Bank, the unemployment rate was pegged at around 7.5 per cent.

The unemployment rate in Malawi and other countries, so the World Bank posits, is defined as the number of unemployed people as percent of the labor force. The labor force includes the people who are either employed or unemployed, i.e. who don’t have a job but are actively looking for one.

The labour force does not include people who are not looking for work, children, and the retired.

In Malawi the age-group most hit by unemployment is between 16 and 34, according to Youth and Society director Charles Kajoloweka.

Mzuzu Fashion Week design.-Photo-by-Kimpho-Loka
Mzuzu Fashion Week design.-Photo-by-Kimpho-Loka

“There is little political will as regards the welfare of the youths in Malawi,” Kajoloweka explained.

“Politicians would rather use the youths for violence at the most lowly of costs other than help them in achieving their life dreams.”

Kajoloweka, who now encourages youths – including graduates – to volunteer for a number of activities that can help the lives of their fellows.

“As Youth and Society, our aim is to seek that lacking voice that would speak for the youths. Malawian youths struggle; and, yet, they constitute about sixty percent of the country’s population. The youth have no space in our societies. It is unfortunate,” said Kajoloweka.

But, to-date, Christopher insists the youths can still grab their space in the society and hit it big if they could be determined.

Christopher, who owns Creative Base, a Mzuzu-based firm that is blending tradition with present-day fashion, has grown into a formidable entrepreneur.

“I started small but the proliferation in my designing business has been significant,” he confessed.

Christopher said from a staggering capital of K100 000 about three years ago, he now boasts of a substantial liquid capital, which, he says is as a result of investments he has so far made.

He says he is now into something different with his designing wit.

“I’m trying to link my fellow youth with their heritage,” he said, “by blending my designs with our forgotten rich, local touch.”

According to Christopher, he is “also working on accessories like beads.” He added: “I’m bringing them in a current and fashionable way that can appeal to the present generation.”

Inspired by such legendary designers as Sheria Ngowi and Elikem Kumortizie of Tanzania and Ghana respectively, Christopher encourages people of this generation “not just to wear anything but rather focus on the meanings of the colours in the cloths they are wearing.”

He is, for example, currently engaged in ‘kente’ designs which, according to him, are some of the ancient cloth designs Africa must not forget.

“I’m working on gold and white colours which define royalty as well as sanctification rites respectively. People can have a look at our samples in the Taifa Market of Mzuzu,” he said.

Looking ahead?

“Yes,” he said with a broad smile. “I already indirectly employ over fifty youths for the Mzuzu Fashion Week which I host every October. I’m dreaming big – for myself and my fellows.”

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6 years ago

If 70% of youth had this mind set, this world would be far a better place than it is. Keep up good work and reach great greater heights.

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