Ineeleng Kavindama is a woman of many firsts! The retired Motswana fashionista single-handedly laid all the ground work for today’s modern day men and women of studied elegance. In 1995, IK as she’s affectionately called won the Best Designer for Menswear at the South African Fashion Designers Association. She was also the first Motswana to showcase in the first Mnet Face of Africa in 1997, and successively also the first Motswana to participate in the South African Fashion Week both in 1997 and 1999.
Her meteoric rise continued when IK became yet the first Motswana Fashion Designer to be featured on the American basic cable and satellite television news channel, The Cable News Network (CNN). Furthermore, IK became the first Motswana designer to grace several South African mediums such as Sunday World, Sunday Times, The Star, City Press, Sowetan, YFM, Metro FM and SABC1’s popular magazine, Selimathunzi with her alluring omnipotence.
Her star continued to shine brighter when IK also became the first Motswana designer to dress the well-liked SABC1 continuity presenter, Dicksy Nqula. She has judged several fashion competitions both locally and in South Africa; and she was also the first Motswana fashion designer to feature on Generations and Sowetan promotion in the year 2000 after which she retired and worked as a columnist for The Botswana Guardian, IK Fashion Police column from 2003-2005.
She’s the license holder for Fashion Week Botswana and currently IK is the Director of Ineeleng Holdings (PTY) Ltd, a company that deals with supplying medical equipment to Botswana Government Hospitals since 2006. Spotted at the Fashion Without Borders affair held at Avani hotel in Gaborone on Friday night, #BotswanaUnplugged caught up with the iconic fashion trailblazer for a simple but profound walk down memory lane…
Why did you decide to choose Fashion Designing as a career?
I come from a family of fashion conscious mortals. My late father, the iconic Joseph Kavindama was a fashion conscious man and my late brother Thato Kavindama known as “Miami Vice,” lived through the 80s fashion. I was fortunate enough to see whatever was trending at the time through them. Through them I got to know big fashion names such as Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Carducci, and Habbit at an early age. So for me Fashion Designing became a career of choice and there was just no escaping it.
What according to you is a favourite part of being a Fashion Designer?
My favorite part of being a designer is that you hold the power to transform an ugly duckling to being the show stopper of the night with just one knockout dress. Needless to say, the glitz and glamour that goes with being a designer is addictive.
The designs you created are no doubt good enough, but who and which things were your inspiration while creating such designs?
When I started designing in 1994 while based in RSA after the collapse of the Apartheid Era. The international focus at the time was all on South Africa, so I was inspired to design a theme that resonated with The New South Africa hence I became one of the pioneers of Afrocentric designs. I blended Haute couture with ethic designs from tribes like Tswana, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Venda and they became a hit. Hence I was featured on CNN when they did an inset on changes in South Africa. The designers who inspired me were Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Versace and Giorgio Armani.
Fashion is timeless. I believe fashion is a state of mind of a certain period because fashion evolves from time to time.
What skills according to you are necessary for a successful fashion designer?
Like I said previously, my timing in South Africa was perfect. I was one of the first designers to give new meaning to the word ‘trendsetter’ in the New South Africa. I became the darling of the media as they gave me a lot of publicity even when they knew I was a Motswana. Most of whatever I did people followed and copied. I became sort of a trendsetter. Ethnic look became fashionable as I advocated for people from Southern Africa to abolish Kente fabric and Western African designs in favour of our own ethnic look as mentioned above and I showed them how through all my designs. I introduced overalls as part of my street wear and they became trendy amongst celebrities and Kwaito artists. I introduced plaiting with silver wool commonly known as “maphondo” and it became an instant hit. As a fashion designer, one needs to be versatile and to adapt to the changing landscape of fashion. You also need to have natural Public Relations (PR) skills as you have to market your brand for people to fall for your designs and buy them.
What is the qualification required for a Fashion Designer career?
Talent is the main qualification needed but a Diploma in Fashion and Business Administration is needed so as to advance your career and business to the next level.
How do you stay up to date regarding fashion?
Through various digital media platforms (social media) and of course through old school fashion magazines such as Vogue.
What do you think about work ethics and what kind of ethics you believe in following while working with fashion?
The great thing about the fashion business is that it’s a transparent transaction, involving a willing buyer and a willing seller. It’s simply a business deal. The buyer pays for what they want and they would not buy or pay for what they don’t want. So luckily there is no room for one to be unethical in the fashion business. Besides, as a person I don’t believe in crossing the proverbial line. I would rather walk away if something goes against my work principles or ethics.
What do you consider the important facets of the fashion industry?
The design and commercial facets are the main sides that I consider to be important. The design has to be good enough to rake in the money.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I like setting trends and being the first to introduce concepts that others will embrace even if it’s decades later. I have the gift of foresight – seeing ahead of time. I believe that it is also my weakness because at times the timing would not be perfect or ideal as most people would not be on the same wavelength as me, and that can be truly frustrating. For instance, when I applied to study Fashion Design after my O’levels I was rejected when I applied for a Government Bursary (scholarship). Our government at the time was not ready to consider or accept Fashion Design as a career choice. This was in the early 90s and I had to be sponsored by my parents. I am glad today that the publicity that I got as a Fashion Designer thereafter opened doors for those students who came after me to finally get sponsorship to study Fashion Design professionally.
Describe your creative process…
It involves visualizing something and putting it on paper and watching the transformation from the design on paper come to life or seeing the end result on someone’s body.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
By listening to classic jazz music of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. Singing the blues does it for me in any situation whenever I find myself stuck creatively.
Tell me about a project you’ve completed that has made you the most proud?
After my retirement in 2000, I came up with a concept to introduce a fashion column called IK Fashion Police. It was a thrill being a columnist as I did not have any background on journalism. The impact it had on our people surprised me albeit very proud. My goal in every project that I embark on is simply; it has to yield results for the recipients. As a designer it was to make a difference in the lives of my clients, to give them pride and confidence through my designs. As a columnist of IK Fashion Police, it was about addressing current affairs and fashion trends through a fashion perspective. As an entrepreneur now in the medical business, it is about ensuring that people are given quality healthcare service through the provision of the best medical equipment. Lastly as a retired fashion designer, the primary goal for me is about giving back to the industry that served me well from 1994 until 2000, by way of sponsoring upcoming designers through the Ineeleng Kavindama Fashion Award trophies and gold medals, so as to encourage them to reach for the stars.
Tell me about a time when a client didn’t like your work…
Just like any other business, the client is always right even if it’s not your fault. You always have to apply the policy of appeasement in order for peace to prevail. For me, each and every project that I embark on is given topmost priority. It’s usually one step at a time. You also have to understand what the client wants first. Please also understand the budget of your client and the occasion for such a design.
And you’re now saving lives; from fashion design to now supplying medical equipment…
Yes, I am now happily retired and currently in the business of supplying medical equipment to Government Hospitals in Botswana. My company is one of the providers of medical equipment which was used for the first heart operations carried out at Princess Marina Hospital in 2010. The cardiac project is now happening at Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole. Through this heart surgery programme, many people’s lives are saved through the following heart procedures; provision of pace makers, mitral valves replacement, iotic valve replacement, double replacement and bypass of veins to the heart. It pleases my heart to be a part of this critical lifesaving journey.
In parting, how would you relate past and present fashion trends?
I can safely say Botswana’s Fashion industry has grown tremendously. The talent of designers that we have is good enough to compete on the international stage. All that is needed now is for Batswana to support these young designers so that when they are exported to the world stage, Batswana living abroad or in these countries can come and support them whenever they are showcasing. It’s not always about government paying for the designers to participate in these various shows but rather for them to find a packed room full of fellow citizens in order to boost their confidence. Whenever designers showcase, it is very important to have home crowd. I like the fact that the current Minister of Trade, Vincent Seretse is spearheading the call for retailers to accord Batswana the platform. This is huge opportunity for our designers to showcase and sell their designs. However, I also understand there are obstacles which have to be addressed such as the issues of capital to fund the production targets expected by these retailers as well as quality control for the designs to meet the standard of Quality Assurance required.
If our designers are supported with the above, then the sky is the limit for them. Lastly, I want all artists across the board to be supported, hence I am going to be taking time out to encourage Batswana to ‘support an artist’ or ‘adopt an artist’ with the little that they have. In other countries this is already happening. Help can be provided to artists through various forms such as legal or financial advice as well as availing the right business contacts. All of us have a struggling artist in our families, neighbourhood, communities and villages. I do not want a situation where our artists die poor when it’s possible to make a decent living out of the arts industry. It just takes one phone call to the right people to change an artist’s life for the better. That’s all that I am asking for.