12 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Give Local Fashion Designers a Chance

Cedella, a daughter to reggae music icon Bob Marley may not be as famous as her father, or mother, or brothers. She does not have albums or Grammy to her name but her contribution to Jamaican culture is just as significant. Cedella is the fashion designer that developed creative concepts for the outfits worn by both Jamaican men and women's teams at the 2012 London Olympics, and the collection included uniforms, official ceremonies kits and everything for public appearances.

The designs were commissioned and approved by German sportswear giant, Puma, the official sponsors of the Jamaican athletics team.

What makes Cedella's contribution unique, at least to Zimbabweans is that such partnerships are extremely rare in developing countries. Just like the Jamaica Olympic Association, our very own Zimbabwe national team, the Warriors, has the Puma insignia on their uniforms. The only difference is that the Warriors have no deal with the Germans; there is no official endorsement of one by the other.

In short, Zimbabwean officials walk into a sports shop, buy two dozen yellow jerseys and find a printmaker or embroidery expert to add numbers to the back and a Zifa logo on the front.

In countries where national teams are sponsored by sports companies, every member of the team gets perfectly fitting outfits after careful planning, whereas in Zimbabwe, a diminutive player like Khama Billiat is most likely to don the same jersey size as that for big Carrington Nyadombo because everything is supposedly bought in bulk and outside the country. The strange arrangement means that either Billiat or Nyadombo or both are likely to feel uncomfortable while serving a national cause.

Under sponsorship deals and based on personal requirements, players have a big say in what they wear.

Bayern Munich and Dutch speedy star Arjen Robben's club and international uniforms stick closer to his body as a deterrent for shirt-pulling by the opposition.

In direct contrast, Zimbabwe's national team and club kits are not designed for any specific reasons. Most are bought in bulk from sportswear shops that also sell the same merchandise to schools, churches and other members of the public.

It might be that football authorities are not keen on engaging local fashion designers or that the designers themselves are not interested but the fact that remains is that there are no working relationships between Zimbabwean sports authorities and the creative gurus.

It has also become clear that art for a national cause is really not among fashion designers' priorities.

Several years ago, momentum was building towards the creation of a national dress. Many options were put forward and at that moment, it looked likely that fashion designers were finally taking the national issue seriously.

But some decade or so later, there is no national dress and the interest is that particular cause seems to have cooled.

Most of Zimbabwe's fashion designers appear to be interested more in making the "spectacular" and the "impossible", following trends in international circles where some work on designs that look good on the catwalk but are unlikely to function normally in any other environment. Such designs are only meant to stretch the imagination of the fashion designer but fell terribly short on functionality. The "impossible" and the "spectacular" are acceptable in developed countries only as an extension of the designs that work.

It is strange and unfortunate that in a country like ours with no real foundation for fashion designs with some sort of societal role, the frontrunners in the industry are more interested in glitz and glamour. Certainly extravagance will always find a way to show itself in any society, but it is never the priority.

Like any other art form, if a fashion design does not have any role to play in any setting that it is introduced to or developed for, then its significance is severely compromised. Zimbabwe needs more and bigger fashion designers working on nationalistic projects that a group of little known individuals mass producing "I am a Zimbo" T-shirts.

One small bright spot in local fashion designing has been a company called Faithwear which has developed designs for the Olympics squad and some national teams.

There was a sense of pride in some when they saw Kirsty Coventry lining up against some of the world's best swimmers while wearing a locally-produced uniform.

It is perhaps strange that the Zimbabwe sport with the least following always gets some form of sponsorship while the number one sport, football, struggles all the time.

It is important that fashion designers are given the platform to create designs on a national scale.

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