African fashion shapes up

2012-06-30 19:14

The hourglass figure has been ignored for far too long

The days of having to settle on a skirt that’s too baggy around the waist just because it fits around the hips may finally be over for many African women.

That’s thanks to a mother-and-son team who have finally cracked a sizing system that conforms to black women’s unique contours.

“It just doesn’t gel, the shape of the clothes in the shops compared with the shape of an African woman!” says Fikile Nxedlana over the phone from her House of Vunula fashion workshop in Durban.

“I’m now in my sixties and my experience, since my teenage years, is that if you find your size, the top fits but the bottom doesn’t. It’s too tight or it stands out at the back and you can never find pants. And my shape is normal!”

In Joburg, her 26-year-old fashion designer son Jamal Nxedlana agrees wholeheartedly: “The problem is the hip-to-waist ratio.

Western patterns don’t accommodate the natural hourglass figure. Women have more dramatic curves than stores suggest.”

Which is why the young fashionista, who has styled the likes of Spoek Mathambo and Loyiso Bala, and his traditional-clothing expert mother have teamed up to create a new label called Missshape.

Initially aimed at young professionals, it boasts a chic silhouette courtesy of Jamal and a new sizing system developed by Fikile that is based on realistic African body measurements.

“I would buy clothes and alter them,” says Fikile.

“Soon I was altering all my friends’ outfits. I took a designing course and started making clothes. That’s what inspired me to push Jamal and say, hey, there is a market here! In trying to correct these patterns I came up with a new way of working things out.

Now I’m even making a figure form (dummy) in the correct African shape to work on.”

Jamal, who studied design, took up his mum’s suggestion when he returned home from working in the fashion scene in London.

He creates the look, she creates the pattern. He chooses the fabric, she produces the clothes at her factory, where she also trains unemployed women to make a living from fashion.

Jamal, who is the founder and creative director of the seriously hip online magazine Cuss, supplies Joburg boutiques and markets the new range – which is already moving off shelves at a surprising rate.

“My mum and I are very different in terms of what we think is fashion,” he says. “But we have pooled our expertise.”

Fikile chuckles when City Press repeats her son’s words.

“Ja, Jamal, he is very edgy. But I’m a very flexible old woman. I go with the flow. Working with him, he makes me feel younger.”

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