PRISCILLA MWILA, Lusaka
AT the age of two, her parents divorced and she had to be brought up by her singer mother.
Now aged 20, Cecilia Njovu describes the experience as challenging.
Cecilia says it was one of her most difficult experiences seeing her mother, Christine Mumba, struggling to make ends meet.
“The situation was challenging after dad left us,” she says. “We had to fend for ourselves and being the only child from my mother’s side, it always broke my heart to see her struggle to provide food or school fees, while some of the children at my school had an easy way out.”
Cecilia remembers one case when she was chased from school because she had not paid school fees on time.
She says she did not tell her mother that she had been chased from school when she went home. Somehow, she was hoping that money will be found somehow, somewhere.
Instead, she told her mother that they were on a mid-term break. However, her mother got concerned after the normal period for a midterm, which is normally one or two weeks elapsed, and yet, Cecilia was still home.
Her mother visited the school and discovered that her daughter had been sent away for delaying to pay schools fees. Fortunately, she managed to talk to the school authorities and Cecilia was back in school.
Cecilia describes herself as a determined person.
It is difficult to disagree with her.
Despite that challenging upbringing, Cecilia is riding high in her chosen field of fashion designing.
She owns her own fashion label called Ulo Designs, which she hopes to grow internationally.
Last month, Cecilia submitted her name for a competition organised by Legendary Gold Limited of Nigeria under the Africa Fashion Reception.
Legendary Gold Limited has been promoting the African Fashion Reception with the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The African edition, now in its fourth year, is organised in partnership with the African Union and UNESCO.
The major goal of the Africa Fashion Reception is to bring about infrastructural development and wealth creation for Africa through the creative industry of fashion.
The last edition, held in September in 2016, was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and presented Africa’s best and most creative designers, producers of shoes, bags, jewelleries, make up, beauty and hair products to the global market.
To be eligible to participate, these products must be locally sourced and produced in Africa with global best practice.
At the Africa Fashion Reception (AFR) official launch in 2013 in Paris, France, Legendary Gold Ltd presented 13 designers from 13 African countries. The following year, 17 designers from 17 African countries participated. Last year’s event featured 20 designers from 20 African countries.
The Africa Fashion Reception organises two events annually; the African and global editions usually hosted by the African Union in Addis Ababa and by UNESCO in Paris respectively.
Cecilia tried her luck at the Africa Fashion Reception, and she was selected to represent Zambia at the event in Paris.
However, the event was supposed to be held in November but has been moved although the full details are yet to be given to her.
The African Fashion Reception is certainly big, in the last few years, it has given African fashion a new direction by propagating it as the new inspiration for global fashion.
Cecilia developed interest in designing at a tender age. She was fond of watching fashion shows on television and often times asked her mother to design dresses and skirts for her.
To help build her dream, Cecilia received a mini sewing machine as a gift for her tenth birthday from her mother. And at the age of 18, she received a much larger machine which was also able to make dresses.
Cecilia said this marked the beginning of her dream as a fashion designer. After a few years of designing, she decided to take a step further by taking part in local fashion shows.
“I have taken part in shows such as the Vitenge ni Vatu and Zambia Fashion Week as well as Kasanka Winter Fundraiser,” she says. “The shows have given me a platform to showcase my designs and also exposed me to other opportunities in the fashion world.”
In 2016, Cecilia got two awards for best upcoming designer; one from the Zambia Fashion Week and the other from the Kasanka Annual Winter Fundraiser by Kasanka Trust under the Kasanka National Park.
The Zambia Fashion Week organised a competition where participants were requested to post their designer clothes on Facebook. The photos with the highest likes would carry the day.
“My photo emerged victorious, I was so happy,” she says.
On the other hand, the Kasanka Annual Winter Fundraiser organised a panel of judges at the show. Cecilia won the competition beating two other girls.
“At this this point, I had mixed feelings,” she says. “I was happy but again it felt like I was dreaming because my competitor’s designs were equally very good. I cried and screamed at the same time. I think it was just favour from God.”
Cecilia describes the experience as life changing because her self-esteem was boosted. She started believing in herself like never before. Now, she believes not even the sky is the limit if one is hardworking and committed.
She however described the fashion industry as work in progress, saying that the industry has potential to grow but lacks adequate funders.
“I hope to advance my tailoring and design skills on a professional platform one day and eventually opening a fashion school in Zambia,” she says.
Cecilia encourages young people to always believe in themselves and their abilities. She believes God has given every individual something to do apart from sitting in a formal office.