The Portrait of a Malawian Man

Mr Chiwaya
Behold the image of our office guard, Mr Chiwaya standing proudly in front of the car, wearing cropped white pants and multi-coloured striped socks. Behold the slightly protruding belly and just visible outline of a white vest underneath the shirt. Behold the spectacles, functional status unkown. This my dears, is the portrait of a Malawian Man. A juxtaposition of tragedy and flair, hope and misfortune, all with served with a cheeky dollop of humour.

The cropped pants represent the inadequacy repeatedly exhibited in the Malawian man. You see we never really manage to do anything quite right. It’s an inland port without barges, it’s a presidential jet that is not sold, it’s failing to conduct an election that’s already been held three times, its passing laws about farting in public. It is  repeatedly a case of close, but no cigar, always the bridesmaid, never the bride… just ask the Flames.

The specs are a no-brainer. We are a nation of keeping up appearances, impressions and facades. Protocol is king. It’s about having Presidents who have 10 prefixes-  professor, doctor, imperial highness, ngwazi, grand pumba, you name it. The substance matters not as much as does the perception. Drivers will bow, ministers will crawl, men will feel important and will let nobody forget it. That you are actually useless and incompetent at your job, nobody cares as long as you drive your Prado.

The white vest beneath the shirt represents the false sense of security we all employ as Malawians, fooling ourselves that it’s really all right, were actually doing ok and its all going to be fine. This is the ‘aBwana, aBiggy, aStogo’ phenomenon at work. No Sir, you are not a boss you are a loser getting drunk on Rider sachets every day. Why are we calling each other bosses when we are clearly losers? This false sense of security stops us from seeing the truth and improving. The moment we recognize the truth we might just do the unthinkable and refuse to keep living in mediocrity. We might just hold the people in power into account so they start creating jobs and generating wealth for the people. Till then, your man’s just gonna keep thinking he’s the man.

And yet.  Aaaaaaaand yet. Those multicoloured striped socks peaking out proudly underneath the pants. A glimmer of hope? A side-serving of grit? For all my belittling and disappointment with ourselves, I cannot help to feel like we will rise up, we will not and cannot stay this way forever. Once the oldies are phased out I see a generation with ideas, hunger and chutzpah. I personally refuse to live out my life in this same rubbish and I dare say my peers with me. Dare we give Malawi a chance?

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Fashion and Brains- Oil and Water?

Phade Collection- FAME 2012

Phade Collection- FAME 2012

Friends, Romans, countrymen.. I apologize for my tardiness in posting (especially to a certain Ms Mila!). I have been lacking in inspiration due to a number of factors- 1. Being busy with work work 2. Bored of trying to take pictures on the sly 3. General Laziness etc etc etc

That said here I am, back with a bang on the heels of FAME 2012!! FAME, which has caused an interesting phenomena ever since certain individuals in my life discovered I was in the ‘fashion world’ (I was secretly very chuffed, imagining myself in quirky glasses providing commentary at some cocktail party about the state of the fashion world at the moment being in  considerable flux or something intellectual sounding). Anyway, so suddenly, because I am in this ‘fashion world’ my opinions started being silly or very frivolous. For. Example. A very heated discussion was taking place on the merits or lack thereof of Margaret Thatcher. I said I admired her very much. This was sharply followed by a ‘Whyyyy- because her suits matched her handbags?’. Ha ha HAAAA. And indeed all points I made further were also dismissed withh some ridiculous ‘fashion/girly’ remark.

Which led me to thinking, is fashion really only for airheads? Anna Wintour complained in the documentary the September Issue that her siblings looked down on her for editing Vogue- one of the most influential magazines in the world. Indeed she is one of the most influential people in a billion dollar industry, yet she still feels a sense of insecurity in her chosen profession.  To be perfectly honest, I too feel like people don’t take me seriously when I have my ‘fashion hat’ on. But should fashion even be serious? Is it just a bit of fun?

These were questions I was grappling with when BOOM! Oprah was surpassed by Folorunsho Alakidja as the richest black woman in the world!! A woman who primarily made her fortune in oil but is an renowned fashion designer and well-known peer of Nigerian Fashion. Click click click went things in my brain!! Blatantly, you can be an oil tycoon and a fashion genius (at the same d@mn time!!!!) Dilemma conquered, I shall pursue my Engineering career, while remaining an ‘influential’ peer of Malawian Fashion. Don’t you start- my influence has already begun- yours truly was a judge at this years FAME! Post to come (after the newspaper prints it dears) Suffice to say it was fab! And I am obsessed with Paledi Segapo, designer of Palse Homme who showed last on the night.

Palse Homme Collection- FAME 2012

Palse Homme Collection- FAME 2012

Uh huh. Malawian brothers please take a cue. Look at this perfection!!

And THIS brought the house down. The way us ladies screamed you would think we had been kept in a Siberian prison for seven years without a male in sight!!! (Some people do say… ok I won’t go there….)

Eyecandy-  FAME 2012

Eyecandy- FAME 2012

Look out for the full piece on FAME 2012 in next weeks papers when I talk about all the fabulous collections!!

Pictures courtesy of Mars Photography

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Fashionomics

We are currently in a recession. Globally and nationally. This is a fact that cannot be refuted even by the most wordsmithy wordsmith (with a doctorate) or animated spin (witch) doctor. How is this reflected in our everyday outerwear? Does outerwear even matter when you can’t get out (since you have no fuel!)? The answer is yes!! Coco Chanel herself was inspired by the need to be thrifty and practical during World War I, so who are we mere mortals to bow down and give in at the mere tossing about of the word devaluation?? Besides, you look good you feel good (very necessary considering the times). So let us examine how we’ve been doing.

Firstly, the words thrift and practicality prompt the need for a quick lesson in fashionomics.

Lesson 1: Balance of payments
We are currently a net importing nation. We are all aware of the extent to which this reaches- we do not even manufacture our own toothpicks. At a time when foreign exchange is such a precious commodity, should we also be importing clothes as well? Especially when our priorities should lie with the obvious? Lets look at local v. international, ladies casual:

Miss Dingi- "Imported"
Miss Dingi- “Imported”
Miss Yiwo "Local"
Miss Yiwo “Local”

Tough call right? Both girls look fabulous. Interesting to note both pairs of shoes are imported! Bata needs some competition local shoe manufacturers out there.. Lets look at the gents looking casual:

Mr Wilson "Imported"
Mr Wilson “Imported”
Mr Model - Wearing local designer Lilly Alphonso at FAME
Mr ‘Model’ – Wearing local designer Lilly Alphonso at FAME

So ladies which one would you want chatting you up at the bar (given present economic circumstances mind you!!!). Shout out to Rob for supporting local industry and drinking local beer! p.s who isssss this Malawi’s own Tyson Beckford???!! I’m loving them both!

Lesson 2: Insider Trading
When it comes to fashionomics, insider trading is very important. This implies you have more pertinent information than other parties allowing you to make a better ‘deal’. When it comes to formal wear, the ‘westerners’ have got that access to information working for them. Especially when it comes to the gents. They have been making tuxedos for years and years and when the design has not evolved much for the last 100 years its near perfection (after all, natural selection has weeded out all the weak designs- ooooh I digress, that’s another days lesson- fashionology). We are hard-done by trying to make our own version of it:

Mr Model at Fame- "Local"
Mr ‘Model No. 2’ at Fame- “Local”
Uncle Mossy and DK do classic Tux- “Imported”

See. Compared to the mens casual were Tyson was twerking it, here, old school beats new school.

How does women’s formal wear compare, since this is in constant evolution so prior information is not applicable? This is evident in the similar designs for both imported and local you can see below:

Miss T and Miss I- "Imported"
Miss Iza and Moi- “Imported”
Ms Lilly Alphonso former FAME winner at FAME and Moi going “LOCAALLLL!”

Hard to say hey.. But i say local is lekker (yes in a foreign language). So lets deal with this slump with sartorical aplomb and reclaim (NOT remove!) our fashion destiny! Aluta Continua!

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If the shoe fits…

..doesn’t mean you should wear it.

Malawians, this can also be applied to all forms of clothing. Just because it fits you, doesn’t mean you should wear it.

So, in the spirit of constructive criticism, let us spell out some simple rules:

1. When you find a pile of clothes with loads of different prints, walk away.

What is going on?

Lets speculate that maybe this unaware individual was going to a Mexican pinata party. This still would not be ok. Next time, just walk away. Stick to T-shirt and jeans…

…that is of-course, unless your a young fashionista, who knows what she’s doing! Observe-

Stripes and print- done right

with some hot funky shoes

Here we have a striped shirt, printed pants, brown shoes.. Does it look garish? Au contraire! It looks good, because she KNOWS wat she’s doing. (Even the carpet appears to be working with her!)

Whereas others, sadly unaware, come up with this-

Sportswear gone bad, very bad

Cease and desist mon frere, cease and desist. This unfortunate combination, as seen in Blue elephant (as mentioned before, an infamous fashion crime scene!) should never be repeated again.

2. If it doesn’t compliment your body shape, walk away..

Lets spell it out- when we say fit, we mean the correct size for your body. For example, behold Gent in pharmacy below:

perfect shirt and slacks

The shirt and slacks fit perfectly, complimenting his figure and making him look rather GQ (wink wink). On the opposite side of the spectrum-

too tight.. in all the wrong places

Na-uhhhh girl, na-uhhhh. This girl needs clothes that emphasize her curves in the right places, to compliment her body shape. The fit is everything, if it oversized or too small, don’t wear it!!

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African FIERCE

Taweni- MALAWIAN/ZULU QUEEN!

I recently did my first radio interview (thanks Capital FM) about this ol’ blog of mine and was asked what inspired me to start it. Many of the my inspirations are captured in the picture above. I love this image. It says so many things, and stirs in me emotions that connect me to my ancestors. Rather corny, you say? Corny but true! I look at this image and think how beautiful Zulu women must’ve looked, all dressed up for their wedding days, or even just attending to ther daily chores, and I feel a connection to them.

It makes me wonder how my own Tonga ancestors looked, what sort of head-dresses or hats they might have worn and the jewelry they might’ve made. It makes me sad to think all I know is what wikipedia tells me. Whilst my dad does a thorough history in terms of culture and war- he doesn’t quite do fashion history… Interestly, Tonga men are known for their smart appearance- their immaculate Western suits, always worn with a hat. (But btw what did they wear before the Scottish missionaries came along?) The women on the other hand, I’ve heard nothing. I’m extremely proud of my Tonga heritage, a pre-requisite for being Tonga, but push come to shove there is nothing I can wear that will immediately identify me as such. This shouldn’t be the case.

When I visited Ghana and Benin a couple of years ago, I was struck by the way the ‘African-ness’ was still present in street-wear. The dresses we modern and fashionable, but has distinct African flavour. I loved it, I bought a few, and errr, wore them a couple of times when I was back in Malawi. They just didn’t fly at wedding/social gatherings. They are just not the order of the day here. Go into most boutiques in Blantyre, and you find fancy hats, fascinators in the brightest colours you can imagine.. You won’t be finding a Ngoni head-dress, no Sir, or anything Tonga/Tumbuka/Lomwe.

How much does this say of our society today. How is our ‘Malawian-ness’ defined? We used to have a flag we deeply loved and felt allegiance to, that was changed. We have our ‘tribes’ but what do we really know about them? And how much are we defined by ‘tribe’ anyway? My dad is Tonga, my mother was not. Am I discarding 50% of my heritage?

In my opinion, this lack of identity and pride is fuelling laziness and sloth amongst our people. Grown men asking for money straight up and for no reason is one indication. No able man with pride would ever ask for money for nothing. When a kid’s first words he learns in English are ‘give money’ (giiiivvee manneh!!) what hope has he got when he grows up?

Double whammy- exquisite detail AND cute baby

This cutie won’t be saying ‘give money’ to anyone soon with a mommy like that. I love the detail and intricacy of the piece, which was initially intended to mimic the coiffure favoured by Zulu women of the 19th century- which was natural hair worn in a cyclindrical shape extending from the middle of the head. Time and mastery of weaving and beading techniques led to beautiful hats we see today. P.s love those beaded earrings too. And the collar of that dress is fab!

All in all, salute! I wish I saw more of this. I wish I could dress like this! Taweni, the beautiful lady in the picture is Malawian, married to a Zulu. How I wish a had some Tonga accessories to chuck on with my next dress and instantly be transformed thus, into one fierce African Queen! So inspired!

P.p.s nice RED dress (wink wink)

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Men: Foreigners 1 – Malawians 0

Malawian men. Yes I give you a lot of stick, but you make it so easy for me. I mean the woes of the Malawian woman are many, and 90% of them can be attributed to you.

Where to start? Due to unfortunate perceptions that have endured over time, the birth of a Malawian male child is more celebrated than that of its female counterpart. Doting mothers and proud fathers treat this male child with more love and attention than any sisters he may have- by letting him have the bigger piece of ndiwo (you know they do), excluding him from doing any chores (‘eeee ama konda ku sewela tu!’) and paying more attention to his schoolwork. This child becomes accustomed to having females attend to his every need- preparing the food and serving HIM first and doing all the cleaning up afterwards (including pouring water for HIM, while he washes his hands). Ok, so maybe this is the village scenario, but it still infiltrates into the ‘town’ boy’s psyche because you know when he goes back home he gets that special treatment.

This excessive pampering and imbalance of sibling expectation leads to the average Malawian male growing up with a sense of superiority and entitlement, which in most cases, is severely undeserved. Most Malawian males therefore end up chauvinistic lay-abouts who drink kachasu at ‘drinking joints’ and play bao all day while the woman goes to the farm and tills the soil. Ok so maybe that’s in the village- in ‘town’ the men end up slightly better, at least they work. Spend their whole salary on booze though. And brag about it to their mates. In fact, drinking is the main topic of conversation. People spend hours on end talking about how much they drank last night or the night before, they even appropriate respect according to how much a guy can drink.

What, pray tell, has this got to do with fashion you ask. Well this sense of self-absorption and smugness by virtue of being male means most men around Blantyre wear what ever they want and think they look fab. Short ties over protruding bellies. Football shirts and pleated slacks. Boat shoes (yes i’ve been here before!)

I sound bitter, I know, but that’s because it shouldn’t be that way! There are men out there ladies! Men who you can have conversations with and learn something new from, men who when you look at them, look like they mean business.

Smart casual perfection- Schipol airport

Regard this well dressed gent above- pink shirt, pocket square, some cheeky red-bottoms, funky glasses. You won’t see a Malawian exec at Chileka airport dressed like that, alas he probably be by the bar, guzzling a green. Even with casual wear, the difference is vast-

beach fab

I dare you to go to Nkopola, and find a man looking as well put together as this guy, with his electric blue jeans rolled up just so and his matching plaid shirt. If you do, please, send me pics!!

Despite obvious protestations that might be made about money and exposure, it is possible to look good on a budget. Check out this Malawian guy below, who works as a guard looking great at a afternoon barbecue

The cool guard

He proves income need not be a barrier to making an effort and looking good (the beer is also excused- it was a barby after all!). He’s got on his trendy military jacket and rasta belt, looking all cheeky. I mean most of the guys pitched up like this:

Standard malawian men

Schooner fest! All said and done, one doesn’t even need to make a huge effort. Throw on and jumper and jeans- just make sure they fit and aren’t actually from the early 90’s:

Cicero- laid back but funky

I realise I have been somewhat hard on you my Malawian brothers, and I apologize to all those that work hard and treat women equally (and by default- dress well!). As I have highlighted there are some out there who do manage to pull things off.. Its just that the vast majority are letting you down. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again- Malawian men, step up your game.

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Surprise!

I’m always harping on about how Malawi can sometimes surprise u… Did u know that we are quite fashion forward here in Malawi??! Those of you who follow trends will know that the new spring thing in the rest of the world is flatforms! If you have no idea what these are do not despair! Flatforms are a combination of the platform and flat shoe and have been dubbed the ‘shoe of 2011’. What the fashion critics don’t know is these have been Shoe of 1985, 86, 87….. 2011 in Malawi! Take that Anna Wintour! We are way ahead of you over here, so much for cutting edge.

Below, are offerings from Chanel and Derek Lam

But forget the catwalk, our women are already rocking them on the streets on Blantyre!

at the atm....

in the office!

Now, I’m certainly one to move with fashion, but here I draw the line. These shoes are borderline abominations. I find them very ugly. Comfortable yes, attractive no (thoughts of crocs creeping into my head- don’t get me started again!). Points to the nature of the fickle fashion industry. Sometimes I wonder if the people in the industry say ‘look at these ugly shoes, I bet I can make them trendy’, succeed and then proceed to literally laugh all the way to the bank! tsk tsk… shame on US…

Having said that I have been known to change my mind, I thought the same of Ugg boots but soon made them a staple in England! Ditto ponchos (I hated ponchos!). Points to the fickle nature of my mind I guess! 🙂 Hence why I’m into fashion?

Anywhoo, back to the more mundane daily duties- policing of these streets. I have to thank my fellow officers/correspondents out there for these.

OFFENDER A- One print too many

a lil too much

Don’t even get me started on the cycling shorts underneath. Never underestimate the ability of an individual to put the most random things together (remember the clash- I warned you about this)

OFFENDER B

Red Gentleman

I’m on the fence about this one. My fellow officer regarded him an offender but there’s something I like about the ensemble.. I like it when people go for it! Red on red, white on white, why not! The important thing is the guy has a POINT OF VIEW. He certainly stands out in a sea of standard..

Have a good weekend all!

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