Words Helen Jennings
Koketso Chiepe has studied in New York, shown in Johannesburg, London and Lagos and stocks at Topshop. But now the established Botswana designer is focussing her attentions closer to home with Gaborone Fashion Weekend (GABFW).
It all started last year when she decided to give her country’s fledgling fashion scene a boost with Gaborone Fashion Night. “There were so many fashion graduates coming back into the country with no business environment to work within so I put together an intimate evening of fashion that would create opportunities for them,” says Chiepe, who currently lives between Nigeria and India. Four designers showcased in front of an audience of 700.
This year Chiepe set her sights higher with GABFW - two evenings of shows plus an expo, workshops and designer mentoring scheme. She also invited international media, models and actors. “It was ambitious, and it was hard work but definitely worth it. The young designers learnt a lot and are now looking into ways of turning their creativity into sustainable brands,” Chiepe says.
Co-hosted by Lapologa, Botswana’s leading lifestyle magazine, logistics were headed up by its chief photographer Shike Olson. “We set out on a journey that’s been a life changing experience,” he said at the GABFW press conference on Thursday 9 August. “This is more than a few nights of fabulous fashion, this is our way of putting it into people’s mindsets that the creative industries can thrive in Botswana.”
The theme of the show’s stage set, a mass of wires and crates, was Under Construction. This was a comment both on the city itself, which celebrates its silver jubilee in 2012 as shiny new buildings shoot up across its skyline, and the fact that GABFW is one of the first building blocks of the fashion industry, one that could become as significant to Gaborone’s economy as its mineral resources wealth.
Friday’s shows were by designers fresh from college. Kealeboga Merafhe of Di-monde Reign focussed on jazzy tailoring in local Leteise fabric. “I make workwear that is professional but still uses colours and prints,” she says.
Aobakwe Molosiwa of Gilded Sands kept to a strict palette of cream and baby pink for his soft and dreamy looks with boned, bouncy hems. “This collection is about the movement and elegance of ballet – these outfits give off energy instead of keeping it in,” says Molosiwa, who studied in Durban. And Fatima Mekgwe of menswear line MTK Brand showed casual cotton tops, sweatshirts and slim trousers in primary hues accessorised with bow ties. “It’s a whimsical collection with sailor, beach and cartoon influences,” says Mekgwe, who studied in Namibia. “This event is a platform that is opening the door for all young designers to come through.”
Saturday’s shows began with an accessories showcase – statement necklaces by Butlhe Mguni, feathered earrings and neckpieces by House Of Divinity and extravagant sashes and waistbeads by Sino Ragontse - followed by shows from more established designers. Chiepe’s younger Koke line of corset tops, romper suits and mini dresses and her more exclusive Kotetso range of gypsy dresses, bib front tops and cropped trousers in tie dye, wax prints and chiffon were both highlights. As was South African brand Ephymol’s draped dresses, rag tops and jumpsuits in metallics and lace. Botho Chalebgwa’s girls came out like glamazon bumblebees in black and yellow bodycon dresses covered in stripes and geometric prints. And the finale came courtesy of AMFW 2012 Young Designer of the Year LaQuan Smith, who showed his cruise collection of kinky catsuits, cobweb dresses and skater skirts with PVC adornments.
Miss Botswana 2010 Emma Warens was the face of GABFW. “Kokesto is like my mentor, by big sister, so when she asked me to get involved in an event that empowers and uplifts our people, I was on board straight away,” she said post show, on route to the after party. “We’re here to open minds to the fact that fashion isn’t just a hobby, it’s an industry. Now we have a diverse range of talented people coming together and making something happen.”
In the audience were government ministers, local celebrities, proud parents, the unmistakably leather-clad Botswana Cowboys and one happy Arise editor, excited to be witnessing the birth of one of Africa’s next fashion hot spots.