ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
THOSE who followed the Zambia Fashion Week from inception – the Julian Becker days- can confess that her exit from the event back in 2008 threatened its continued existence.
Julian was the founder, until she started running her own public relations (PR) consultancy firm. The fear by many was that the ZFW would go with her.
This is what drove Karen Nakawala, in 2011, to revamp the Zambian Fashion Week (ZFW), which was on the verge of going into oblivion.
“I felt that something needed to be done before we completely lost our industry,” she said.
Ms Nakawala is the chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Afro Multi Media Productions, a media and events company. Her commitment to lifting and empowering her fellow women has also seen her pioneering the Zambia Women of the Year Awards.
“I thought the only way to improve our fashion industry is through a local platform that will allow local designers to showcase their works,” she said.
Ms Nakawala has a degree in Public Relations and Marketing which she obtained from the Ndola-based Institute of Commercial Management in 2009.
While pursuing her studies as a distant learner, she worked for Ford Vehicle Centre Zambia Limited (CFAO) and later moved to Zambezi Airlines in 2009.
“I have a passion for media but women empowerment has always been on my heart since I was young,” Ms Nakawala said.
She explains that in 2010, she decided to venture out on her own after realising she wasn’t getting satisfaction from her formal job.
“I followed my heart to leave my Job, it was quite challenging sometimes but I knew I was doing it for my country,” she shared.
Her passion for fashion has seen her captain the local fashion industry through the ZFW, which is now on the international calendar for fashion weeks.
For over seven years now, she has been organising the annual fashion event with the aim of creating a platform for growing the fashion industry in Zambia. And the event has proved to be a catalyst for job creation for models, designers, photographers, makeup artists and event planners.
“Every year in October we run the fashion week which has opened so many doors for many, it has brought up the spirit of learning and oneness in the industry,” Ms Nakawala said.
Upon revamping the ZFW, Ms Nakawala’s dream was to see locally made costumes on the market.
“It’s now vivid enough because we can see that our fashion industry is improving day by day. We have our own (products) to embrace as Zambians and we can see people proudly buying local brands,” she said.
Ms Nakawala recalls that her first fashion week in 2011 had only 11 designers, a small audience. She mainly put up the show using her own resources.
“Sometimes when I sit to compare how much the industry has grown through the fashion week, I begin to understand that soon Zambian brands will go international,” she said.
The fashion week concept originated from New York In 1903, in a shop called Ehrich Brothers, and eventually spreading to other countries. Borrowing from the original idea of propping up the local fashion industry, the fashion week has become a big event in Zambia, attracting local and international designers.
From the time the ZFW was revived, Zambia has seen a rebirth in the fashion industry with more young designers bursting on the scene.
This annual event offers a platform for local emerging and established designers to showcase their designs to potential clients and buyers who attend the show.
“From the time we started the ZFW, we have seen a big difference, more fashion designers are coming up each year,” Ms Nakawala said.
This year’s ZFW successfully ran from October 19 to 21. The event was graced by award- winning South African designer Nobunkosi Mukwevho, who is behind the label Khosi Nkosi.
“The event was a huge success with more male talented local designers getting the opportunity to showcase their collections,” Ms Nakawala said.
It saw over 1,000 fashion enthusiasts, investors and journalists attending the event over the three-day period.
The show attracted over 55 local designers and three foreign established ones.
With the theme ‘Design beyond the ordinary’ , the runway saw designs by the likes of Donalia Mwale (Dotty Designs), Kabaso Nkanda (Nkanda Yatu), Anna Mabula (Gloriaz Daughter), Kubekili Kalaluka (Afro Chic Designs), Chisoma Lombe (Chizo Designs), Martha Kabaso (Africouture Clothing) and Cecilia Njobvu (Ulo Designs).
Others are Duncan Kanyembo (Blink Designs), Nada (Nada Fashions), Juliet Jacobs (Interfashional Africa), Charity Nyirongo (Mo Creations & Couture), Nelly Chama (House of Ynell), Muleya Kalaluka (Evolve), Naomi Phiri (Nogam Designs), Ronnie Musonda (Akwe Couture) and Richard Kasanda (MK72).
“The event is arranged in a way that local designers are exposed and at the end of the fashion week, we give out awards in order to motivate them,” Ms Nakawala said.
Her creative and artistic abilities have also been seen on stage, on television and on Radio Phoenix as a presenter.
The Zambian Women of the Year Awards founder and director enjoys creating opportunities for fellow women and believes that no circumstance is bigger than any woman.
Further, she shares that women must realise that hard work and achieving one’s dreams has got nothing to do with gender. She believes a woman with self-belief, determination, focus and passion can achieve anything in life.
“It’s time women shed off the victim mentality veil and stood up to be counted by getting involved in national development,” she said.
Ms Nakawala is a single mother of two girls.