Ina Maria Shikongo is a fashion designer and educator based in Windhoek
Artwolfe: You are one of the first people to experience working at the new COSDEF Arts and Crafts Centre in Swakopmund – what did you think of the facilities?
Ina Maria: Yes, I was the first to use the textile room. It is a very good space, a very comfortable space really. We had to wait for the machines to arrive, but that didn’t matter because I made sure we had everything we needed for the workshop anyway. But in the end they got 30 sewing machines, 3 over-lockers and I think 2 steamers. And of course they were all industrial strength and very good quality.
AW: What skills and ideas did you teach participants in the workshop?
IM: The project was called Fusion. It is divided into two stages. The first is conceptual, where people come up their ideas. The second is practical, which has to do with product development. The main aim was to teach basic seamstressing skills.
First they (the participants) had to write a story. Then they had to draw it on paper and also make a ‘mood board’. Then they had to do research into clothing forms – this is where the influence of textile comes in. We chose clothes from existing patterns, because the course was also for participants to learn how to read a pattern, or how to interpret a pattern. We chose designs that could be altered easily to allow for some changes to be made to the garments. Next everyone cut and stitched their garments and lastly they had to embroider their stories into the garment.
My job was to guide this process, not to tell everyone what to do or think for them. But we did have to cut some of the garments because they were just too long. Then there were some tears! But it was useful for them to see how sometimes that kind of adjustment is necessary. I also tried to show them how to use pattern in textile, by contrasting patterned fabric with plain fabric to create contrast. In Africa people don’t do this! They tend to use the pattern just the way it is.
AW: So who took part in the workshop?
IM: There were 17 participants in total. I think it was two from Windhoek, two from Usakos and the rest from Swakopmund. The best participants to teach were the older ones who had experience with seamstressing already. There were some younger ones who hardly had any experience and didn’t know what they were doing. That was difficult – I need people who know how to sew, who know how to use the machines. What I teach is pattern reading and conceptualising so it was frustrating to work with people who didn’t already know how to sew.
AW: And how did the fashion show turn out? (The fashion show was held as part of the opening celebrations of the COSDEF Arts and Crafts Centre.)
IM: It was very emotional. The models walked to classical music – Japanese classical music. The whole idea of Fusion was to fuse the modern with the traditional, so I chose to play classical music. The reactions were very positive. They even asked us to do an extra show so we did three instead of two. It was very tiring.
AW: What is the next step for Fusion?
IM: Next, we want to take the show to Windhoek. We need to do market research to find out which garments are popular. These will be reproduced to sell in the shop at COSDEF. The project has to be sustainable because that is what COSDEF is all about. For example, next year we will hold a follow-up workshop for Fusion where we won’t conceptualise any new garments but will just reproduce the ones that are likely to sell. And of course some of that profit will go back to the original designers and hopefully encourage them to continue.
AW: When did you start doing fashion workshops – and why do you do them?
IM: I have done various workshops since 2006 collaborating with FNCC and other organisations. My first solo workshop was held in 2008 in the south. It was for an NGO and we taught how to make patchwork bags. My big solo workshop was held in 2011 and was sponsored by the National Arts Council. It was a disappointment because there were supposed to be five workshops but the money was not made available and we ended up only having one. This workshop (at COSDEF) was much more successful in comparison.
Why do I do workshops? Well, I am passionate about them. I am passionate about poverty alleviation. I believe in teaching people what they really need to know. I love working on a grassroots level, although I know that people I teach in workshops may never have the opportunities I have had. That is why COSDEF is the perfect partner in this, because of their approach. They reach people who aren’t given other chances. That is why I will keep working with them. For example at COSDEF, I am helping them to come up with a course in seamstressing so that people who do it can graduate and move on to study fashion at the KCAC.
We like to undermine the uneducated instead of realising their potential. That is why I like to work with forgotten people to show everyone what they can actually accomplish. That is what I love – it’s magic.