2020 is a year in which a lot has happened and that includes changes in the political landscape with Malawi having a new government led by President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima.
Apart from that, the world has been hit by Covid-19 pandemic which has affected a lot of sectors including the creative industry.
And today, because of the pandemic, the way of life has changed and it includes no handshakes to avoid the spread of coronavirus and wearing of masks – something which was unusual in the past.
Actually, it is a must or compulsory in other countries nowadays to wear a mask as the world wrestles Covid-19 pandemic which continues to claim lots of lives.
In the country, although it is not yet compulsory to wear a mask, in some places such as banks it is a must to wear a mask such that without it, then no entry.
For some shops, wearing a mask is also mandatory now as without that one cannot be assisted. This just tells it that masks are one of the key precautionary measures in the fight against the pandemic.
Wearing a mask has turned out to be key just as is the case with washing hands with soap or using hand saniters or social distancing, and these are some of the necessary precautionary measures which people have to follow to avoid the spread of the virus.
Masks are flying. This has seen fashion designers going full throttle and at the same time being creative to produce masks that are attractive and match with the dressing.
While the fashion industry has been affected by the pandemic in terms of business, the industry has to some extent benefited especially with masks on the ground.
Fashion designers have been challenged to come up with masks and much as many are getting something through sales, others are producing the masks and giving them out for free as a social corporate responsibility.
There are some, who are not into full-time art as fashion designers but with love in helping out in such tough times and also want to cash in on the mask business, who have come out to produce their own masks. Probably the only caution to them is – let them produce masks that are comfortable and those that have the specific recommendations.
Karaamo Fashion and Upholstery Enterprise which is an entity in fashion design, upholstery and stockists of chitenje/African print fabric has also taken up the initiative of producing masks.
Led by fashion designer Zithembile Malinki Kankhomba, the entity has been producing masks as a social corporate responsibility although they have a production cost.
“Our masks fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and are secured with ear loops. They actually include multiple layers of fabric (two fabric and a super polythene as a filter). The masks allow breathing without restriction and one is able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change in shape,” Zithembile said.
She admitted that at the moment although they are also producing other things, they have to some extent diverted their normal business line to masks.
“As I indicated, it’s a social corporate responsibility effort and these masks are given at production cost and we have managed to supply it to numerous individuals and companies,” Zithembile said.
She said that there was no single industry in the country and world over which has been spared by the pandemic.
“The fashion industry has been heavily hit. We cannot access fabric, even the way we are taking measurements it’s difficult because social distance must be adhered to,” Zithembile said.
She said they have however, found another avenue of expressing their creativity in mask designs and production.
“As Karaamo Fashion and Upholstery, we have designed and are producing masks that not only meet the World Health Organisation set standards, but also makes one rocking it stand out,” Zithembile said.
She described mask designs as – a beautiful piece that compliments well with one’s attire.
“I bet more creative ones will keep emerging,” Zithembile said.
Renowned fashion designer Lilly Alfonso, who has represented the country in different international fashion gatherings, said mask designs have challenged designers and kept them on their toes.
“So many masks are coming out and as designers, this has given us more room to think more in creating masks that are good,” Alfonso said.
She said the country has immense talent in fashion design and that she feels this is the best time to be so productive.
“We have also Intra Africa Trade Fair (IATF) coming up next year 2021, we can use that also to trade our products, IATF will give us an opportunity to sell, get investors and more connections to our businesses from border to border,” Alfonso, who was recently named IATF Ambassador, said.
Alfonso said she also takes this as a great opportunity for fashion designers to help in the fight against the pandemic.
“We also need to think within ourselves as fashion designers and find out more about our strength and test them for a good trade and masks are part of that test,” she said.
Actress, model and fashion designer Tendai Scander, said she was happy to be involved in mask designs.
“It is all part of doing fashion for a cause. It is not just a matter of making masks but they should be those that stand the test and have been recommended. Actually, it looks like we have started having fun in designing the masks because at the end of the day this is bringing in income than other outfits,” Scander said.
Wezi Mzumara, who is co-founder of the Mzuzu Fashion Week, called on fashion designers to be creative and make sure that they remain relevant during the pandemic.
“They need to be creative and this also challenges them to take a lead role in the fight against the pandemic. But the other question is how protective are the masks they are making?” Mzumara said.
She said making masks for designers should be made with recommendations from health experts.
“There so many good mask designs out there but we still have to look at how protective are the designs,” Mzumara said.
She said for her personally, her masks she was using have a gap in them to add an extra disposable filter that is after consultation with a health expert, who suggested this.
“This is a welcome move but fashion designers need to make sure that the masks are protective enough and have been recommended by health experts,” Mzumara said.