It was a warm, autumn evening; most of Windhoek had gone to bed early, as usual. On this night of socialites and fashionistas, fashion designers came together with musicians for an evening of wow.
Eyambukepo—meaning uprising in Oshiambo—was just that, standing tall for Africa.
“I believe that it’s events like these that show the world what we, the youth, are about,” says Richard ‘KingRich’ Namwandi, owner of record label Bay Area Music, whose team founded the show with Shewta Wahi, a Dubai-based designer.
This night of color and dash was a sign of changing times in the once sleepy Windhoek. Everywhere you look in the burgeoning capital city—with a population of 320,000—are construction sites and signs of growth.
“With Namibia being a relatively young country—independent for 23 years—it’s understandable why we are still in the process of breaking into international industries and markets on many fronts. However, entertainment doesn’t seem to be one of those anymore. The Namibian music scene has become very vibrant […] The fashion industry is growing at a similarly impressive pace. Last year, we had our first ever Namibian Fashion Show, which saw designers from all over Africa showcasing their designs alongside four Namibian designers,” says KingRich.
The line-up included the latest in musical talent and catwalk creations.
Hafeni ‘Happy’ Fransalso presented black and white evening wear with paisley details to applause. The College of the Arts Namibia graduate majored in fashion and design, visual arts and crafts. His collection of mens and womenswear included burnt orange and yellow fabric with geometric designs and fashionably oversized accessories. Happy, as he is known, is currently creating a line of accessories made from recycled materials.
The greatest challenge to Namibia’s fashion industry, he feels, is the lack of home-grown fashion magazines.
“These challenges can be overcome when people realize and see the potential in fashion, not only as an industry to make money and look good but as an art,” he says.
That evening the catwalk was also home to Namibia’s rising singers, rappers, kwaito and R&B performers, from Blossom and Beast to KevyGuy and Brain The Tool.
The most popular was Ruusa Ndapewa Munalye, known as Blossom. This soulful singer was nominated in 12 categories at the Namibian Annual Music Awards (NAMAs) and was named Namibia’s Best Female Artist of 2013. She scooped three other awards including: Best Kizomba; Best Newcomer and Best Shambo.
“My music reflects what is most close to my heart—messages of my roots, love, hope, and freedom,” she says.
The award-winning guitarist has performed in the United States and is touring Europe.
“The fashion show was great as it brings growth and exposure to the Namibian fashion industry. The mix of music and fashion strengthens the display of these great creations,” she says.
There is synergy between the two art forms.
“I believe as an artist, personally, that your style has to be top every time you come out. If you want to maintain an image, if you want people to respect you for your certain image, you have to be fashionable at all times. I believe they are one and the same at the end of the day,” says KingRich, who performed that night.
The sub-Saharan African country has been host to other large-scale fashion shows, as the tough-to-crack industry grows.
“The Namibian market in fashion only really started in the last two or three years, where you can actually do fashion shows like this, showcase your creativity and see how far you can push the barrier […]” says Tsatago Garoëb.
The 30-year-old happened upon his flair for fashion in high school, when he designed his sister’s graduation dress. Garoëb studied fashion and textile design at the University of Namibia. Today, he owns a fashion label—House of Tsatago, also known as H.O.T—which has dressed numerous Namibian celebrities.
His adventurous style lives through his eccentric dresses; after all, he was an assistant to David Tlale—an award-winning South African designer—during last year’s Namibian Fashion Show. Garoëb tests the boundaries because that is what fashion is about.
“I wanted to play with fabric. I wanted it to be fun, which is why I used chiffon, because it is free moving. And I wanted to incorporate fabrics like lace because it’s quite transparent and very dangerous but this accentuates a woman’s beauty. I wanted whoever is wearing my garments to feel free, beautiful and sexy, hence why I called this collection ‘hot, hot, hot’ because all of my garments were pretty hot,” he says.
The final collection, with an African feel to it, came from Shweta Wahi. It drew a standing ovation.
While other 10-year-old girls were playing with dolls, Wahi was sewing.
“For every birthday I would ask for a sewing machine or a mannequin or something to do with stitching or fabrics,” she says.
The self-taught 22-year-old—who has an eponymous fashion label—had featured in as many fashion shows as her years. This was the first of many more to come in Africa for the Indian-born designer, who was raised in Dubai and studied in Canada.
Wahi was the youngest designer at Ottawa Fashion Week in 2012 and has also showcased on the Toronto and Dubai fashion circuits.
“When you show up and people see that you are a young girl, they feel that you might be working for the person who is supposed to show up. They find it a little difficult to take you seriously, until they see your work coming down the catwalk,” she says.
Wahi interned for the winner of the first season of Project Runway Canada, Evan Biddell, who is also self-taught. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts at York University and qualified as an image consultant at George Brown College.
“When I start cutting the fabric, I don’t use technical patterns, because I never studied fashion at school. There is a dialogue between me and the fabric, and I drape it around a mannequin and just nip and tuck where I feel it fits […] If something goes wrong, there is always a way to fix it, you make it look like a beautiful mistake,” she says.
Her advice to aspiring fashion designers?
“I definitely think marketing has a lot to do with it and it depends on how you market your label because you have so many talented artists out there. I’ve seen so many people who are amazingly passionate and they can’t get their label out there; they can’t get the exposure they deserve. If they brush up on their business skills and maybe find a business partner and collaborate on marketing they can definitely have a sustainable business.”
But it’s not just about profit, Wahi has used her talents to raise over C$50,000 ($48,000) for charitable organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross and Haiti Relief Fund, to name a few.
This is only the beginning for Eyambukepo, it will return to a different country in Africa each year, and hopes to grace the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals.