HAIL AFRICA’S CONTEMPORARY FASHION GENIUS
How often does a young Malawian national get the opportunity to appear on the continent’s first digital platform, Industrie Africa, for their love and pursuit of art, fashion and graphics designing? Industrie Africa is a digital platform that provides the media, buyers, customers and other insiders access to a comprehensive profile of Africa’s contemporary fashion landscape.
We have seen the Malawian fashion industry begin to flourish and pick up speed in recent years, perhaps due to the influx of young people who challenge the status quo and use technology to connect different cultures and art, and to start dialogue on various social issues.
The celebration of African culture, heritage, and history with bright prints and bold design, infused with 90’s nostalgia, is the ammunition Christopher Ngalu is bringing to the fashion game. With operations both in Malawi and South Africa, Chris launched Creative Base in 2013. The fashion and graphic designer is inspired by what he is exposed to through the media and what he sees every day. The basis of his line is the co-existence of both worlds; hence he would rather refer to himself as a creative that works with any medium to express feelings and messages. He is currently making a living off his work: powerfully themed fashion collections, fonts and graphic designs.
But those in his inner circle know that Chris has been in the business of selling clothes since his childhood. He remembers having a keen interest in art and fashion and would often be found doodling in his school books and drawing on his uniform. He went from selling known fashion brands to creating his own fashion line as a way of expressing his unique narrative whilst working on his craft. A twist to the tail is that he used to be a producer in his teenage years, with a crew and recording label which they took seriously. When they decided to venture into merchandising for their crew and music, the designer role fell on Christ who was already into art and fashion. The lack of proper graphic designing software did not stop Chris from experimenting with fashion and graphics for their artworks; even Microsoft PowerPoint proved to be useful at that point in his journey. From thereon in, the fields of art, fashion and graphic designing have merged together to becoming his full-blown passion.
Chris’ collections reflect his life and people around him. He discovered he had a voice as an artist that he could use to bring solutions and awareness to society through his work. His recent collection was called No Visa, a collaboration between Creative Base and a South African photographer/illustrator Monox. The collection draws inspiration from the concept of “One Africa”, the coming together of African nations into one borderless continent with people from diverse origins. The name plays with the idea of not needing a visa to navigate the continent.Creative Base uses the No Visa Collection to push the narrative of there being more strength in united than being divided.
In an industry brimming with fellow young creatives, with limitless opportunities and a million distractions, Chris Ngalu keeps his cool by seeing himself as his greatest asset whose unique selling point and strength is his individuality. He quotes “they say being the best is great, it means you are number one. But being unique is greater, because you are the only one.”
His family has always been supportive of his dreams and passion even before he embarked on his studies at university, partly because he had proven to them that it was a sustainable path he could make a living from.
Whilst having an in-born talent can take you very far in life, especially if you are a focused and driven individual, adding education to the mix has its added advantages. To Chris, there is a huge difference between being self-taught and attending university to specialize in a field.
Apart from acquiring skills from well experienced lecturers, getting an education in a subject you are passion about, like fashion and graphics, gives you more depth as a designer, says Chris. It has enabled him to move from designing for the sake of it to designing with a purpose, with each move being calculated. His studies have equipped him with critical thinking skills one would normally be unable to achieve when self-taught. Being around fellow driven and talented creatives creates an environment of learning, growth and artistic innovations, as there is a continuous loop of honest feedback and dialogue. For example, through a concept called design thinking, Chris can systematically design in a way that helps create value and solve problems. Each collection has a deep backstory addressing an important topic in society; making him a socially responsible designer. He believes as Africans, it should be about striking a balance of embracing our unique and broad culture with modern day means of expression and dialogue.
His dated work starts with 2016 Season 2 – Egypt, 2016 Season 3 – Ankara Wave, 2017 Season 4 – Base Life 1.0, 2018 Season 5 – Freedom, 2019 No Visa, a body of work that showcases his growth as a creative. One of his recent works, BASE – A N X I O U S, is a collection inspired by the underlying problems of mental health issues people suffer from but never speak about. His own personal experience with anxiety and depression sometimes stems from his own internal pressure to outdo himself. He always strives to outperform his previous work and sometimes this leads to feelings of inadequacy and not feeling appreciated, as though running his own creative business is not pressure enough. He uses music and conversations with his close friends and family to process his anxiety and depression, citing that sometimes a listening ear is all one needs to change mood and thought patterns.
Two things that help Chris deal with distractions and to meet deadlines: time management and discipline. He uses a combination of both to achieve his goals and to keep himself in check. He sees himself as a student of the creative game who is never content with his current state, believing that there is always room for improvement. As his own biggest critic, he is constantly thinking of ways to up his game, even as he continues to attract individuals and organizations that support his art and collections through purchasing them when released.