Going against the grain

2008-05-30 00:00

There are those who follow the crowd and those, like Lee Garakara, who try to persuade people not to. Without them, life would be rather dull, plain and stereotypical.

At 28, Garakara, a Masters student in fine arts at the local University of KwaZulu-Natal campus, is quietly building a career as a fashion designer for when he leaves his studies. His inspiration ranges from the street to the fashion shows of Sweden where Garakara was based for a year. For now, Garakara, who hails from across the Limpopo, produces T-shirts. His studio area is adorned with funky creations that incorporate vintage and vivid ideas to create his label, Stereotype.

“Basically, I want to create a label that educates and empowers the consumer,” Garakara explains.

The education part of his label is in the logo emblazoned on the front of each shirt. From the original sewing machine, to creative pioneers such as Marcel Duchamp, Garakara uses the shirt as a walking tribute.

His tributes go all the way back to the Industrial Revolution, when sewing was all the rage.

“All those guys and those industrial tools are what laid the platform for all designers today,” Garakara says.

His career took significant strides when he spent a year in Sweden as an exchange student. Gavle University was his base, and it was the Swedish culture of supporting and promoting pioneering initiatives that set him on his way.

“They just backed me. The student support system was amazing in terms of funding and advice. Nothing was too much for them,” Garakara recalls.

The opportunity to go to top-notch fashion shows such as the Stockholm weeks in February and August, where Garakara displayed his wares, was a wonderful eye-opener for him.

“You know, fashion over there is easily a few years ahead of us. Designers are so much more cutting edge and liberal, and nothing is too daring,” Garakara says.

A case in point, as Garakara points out, is the cut up jeans that are the rage these days. That style was in Europe years ago, but only really took off over here when celebrities were seen wearing them.

“People abroad don’t really feel the need to conform,” says Garakara. That was the inspiration behind his brand name; the idea of going against stereotype.

Garakara says the challenge of being a designer is trying to deconstruct that mentality and liberate the minds of the public.

An example he uses is the way formal and informal wear is now merging to form a sort of “trendy gear”. It is not uncommon to see someone wearing a bespoke suit, and teaming it up with a pair of takkies and a pocket chain.

Garakara’s plans hinge on him wrapping up his Masters, because the lure of Europe is strong.

“I just feel that, business-wise, the market there is a better fit. I will also look into developing a local market, but it is tricky because, for now, the only way I do business is through a website. There is no shop, as such, and I am the marketer, the designer and the salesman.”

Garakara’s designs can be seen and ordered at www.stereotypeclothing.net

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