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Fight for adaptive fashion

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DISABILITY IS NOT INABILITY—A male model on the runway

Fashion designer Xandria Kawanga of Xandria Fashion House has created a fashion and modelling platform that is gradually making a label – All Shades of Beautiful Fashion Show.

It is a platform that Xandria, who started designing at seven years old, shaped to give fashion designers with disabilities and those without disabilities a place to showcase their talents and skills and at the same time introduce them to the right market for their products and to train them to build successful fashion brands.

Having won the hearts of people in its first edition in 2021 which was attended by an impressive audience including Minister of Gender Patricia Kaliati, Xandria returned last Saturday with the second edition.

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The second edition was different from what people experienced in the first edition as this time around, All Shades of Beautiful Fashion Show and team decided to breathe in a design genius competition where 10 fashion designers with and without disabilities competed for an accolade.

The designers were provided materials to create fashion’s most unimaginable items, fashion and business mentorship which they presented during the fashion show which was held in Blantyre.

“We just thought we should do things differently in the second edition and so, we breathed in a competition. We gave the designers materials and inspiration elements to design accessories and wardrobes. They were given a period of three months to come up with the designs while going through business and fashion mentorship,” Xandria said.

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She said they named it design genius because their aim is to push the designer’s creativity to the limits, showing their ingenuity.

“This challenge aims to make adaptive and eco-friendly fashion a norm by putting these as the main categories of what the designers should pursue when creating their designs,” Xandria said.

She said she was impressed with the outcome of what the designers came up with following the mentorship and that they are looking at bringing impact on these designers’ lives by supporting their startup businesses financially, providing them the right materials to learn and finding them a market to sell their products.

“You saw for yourself that it was not only about giving a platform to designers with disabilities but we want them to even connect with designers without disability. We also had creatives with disabilities from other disciplines for instance dance and poetry. We also had models with disabilities as well as children with disabilities,” she said.

Through the fashion contest, people appreciated designs in challenge categories such as adaptive fashion which is clothing designed around the needs and abilities of people with varying degrees of disability.

“People also saw sustainable fashion which is clothing that is designed and used in environmentally friendly ways and then finally people sampled our Malawian traditional fashion which is clothing designed around Malawi’s ethnic groups,” Xandria said.

Celebrated fashion designer Lily Alfonso was part of the people that witnessed the second edition and could not hide her excitement at what she saw during the red carpet show.

“I am short of words, I was not there last year to watch the fashion show but what I have seen in the second edition is something worth commending. I would like to commend Xandria for the direction she has taken in supporting persons with disabilities with a focus on fashion,” Alfonso, who was among the judging panel of the design genius competition said.

Alfonso, who has travelled the world and showcased her designs in well-known platforms, described All Shades of Beautiful Fashion Show as unique in that it gives a chance to persons with disabilities to shine.

“I should be frank with you, this fashion show is a winner in that it has gone beyond to look at talents of persons with disabilities which in most cases are sidelined and yet they have potential. Today, I have seen good designs made by fashion designers who are disabled but have shown through their works that disability is not inability,” she said.

Amazed by Xandria’s work and the uniqueness of All Shades of Beautiful Fashion Show, Alfonso decorated Xandria with an award and also created other awards for the event that lived up to its billing despite not getting adequate support from the corporate world.

Bright Zakeya, a resident of Chilomoni, who watched the fashion show for the first time, said such platforms deserve the best support.

“It is sad to hear that the organisers operated on a small budget with little support from the corporate world and yet what we saw was huge. For me and even others who attended this event, they never came out the same. I saw good designs that as a country we can sell outside the country and even help improve our forex situation,” Zakeya said.

He said through the platform persons with disabilities are being empowered to utilise their talents to make a living.

Amaryllis Hotel General Manager Ramy Waheed, whose hotel has opened up to the creative world and offered its full support, hailed Xandria for creating the platform.

“As a hotel, we love arts and we are ready to work with different players and for that, we are partnering with various players. Looking at what Xandria has done and the concept of All Shades of Beautiful Fashion show, we are in with them and we will continue to offer our support,” Waheed said.

He said having supported the event last year; they decided to be part of the second edition.

“What we saw tonight is fantastic, the designs are exceptional and I am even blown away by the fact that some of the designs were made by persons with disabilities showing that disability is not inability. Most of these designers had no stage to showcase their work, some of them just needed encouragement and now they have been empowered,” Waheed said.

Filmmaker Hastings Golosi, who is working with Xandria and is fully focused to empowering young people and persons with disabilities to utilise their talents to help in the country’s development, said there was talent out there but many do not have adequate resources.

“For instance, if you have noticed, we have the best tailors around, most of them are the ones making clothes for people for different occasions but they don’t grow. They are on the same place and most of them do their work outside shops not owned by them but others. What if we empower them to look beyond,” Golosi said.

Golosi who is the founder of Enact (Entrepreneurship in Action) said they created their organisation having observed that small and medium enterprises that are started by the youth, women and persons with disabilities face unique issues which affect their growth and profits hence diminish their ability to contribute effectively to sustainable development in the country.

“What we saw tonight is great, models were brilliant showcasing designs by designers but we need to put more efforts so that they put their ideas into action,” Golosi said saying youth entrepreneurship is what they are advocating for.

For Xandria, there is more to come through All Shades of Beautiful Fashion show and despite running with adequate resources, she is determined to give a platform to persons with disabilities for them to sparkle

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