A short story about a Zimbabwean Fashion Designer, born in 1993, and raised in a small town called Mutare, which is to the east of Harare that is the capital city of Zimbabwe. Most readers by now are already thinking, alright what’s her deal. Well, I spoke to Crystelle Khan, who is the Founder of the design label 9 Lives to find out what’s going on in the Zimbabwean fashion world from her viewpoint.
Her throwback story of where it all began; “In 2013, I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa and started pursuing my formal studies in Fashion Design at LISOF (Leaders in the Science of Fashion). I was always exposed to the fashion industry one way or another. Considering my mother is an entrepreneur in the retail and manufacturing industry, and she has such a contagious drive. When I was younger, I would accompany her to the shops during holidays, and that made me notice different trends and consumer behaviors.”
I could clearly feel Crystelle’s interest and fascination with fashion by the words she was fervently speaking.
She continued; “This experience through my mother’s work has had an influence on my current design philosophy. Nonetheless, studying at a fashion school took my mindset to the next level.”
I listened intently to the next words she uttered, as they came out with a humble expressionism of how blessed she feels to have had the opportunity to study fashion formally. She told me; “In my eyes, and perhaps others, studying fashion formally at the tertiary level is still a taboo topic amongst many young and aspiring designers still finishing their secondary school education. Some parents still believe in the status-quo that their children should go and study to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant.”
How interesting it was to learn about that perspective of studying fashion from someone who is as young, ambitious and was availed the opportunity, as her formal career in fashion began in 2015. She started off by entering the Zimbabwe Fashion Week, with the tunes playing well for her. Crystelle’s collection was well received and appreciated, and as a result, she was privileged enough to be declared as the Emerging Designer of the Year 2015.
I asked her how that made her feel, receiving validation for her work after pushing so hard to attain this goal. She stated; “The award was the icing on the cake. In the long run what I truly appreciated and what will benefit me the most is the overall experience and journey I went through. The entire process of working with a dressmaker, making patterns, costing and starting to create a name for me.” Adding on; “To date, I have had a small share of noteworthy publicity on television and in the media. I partook in a talent show in Zimbabwe called Starbrite Talent Show, in which I dressed the finalists. I also made my first Television appearance on DSTV.” Midway her talking, I had to mention how these are incredible accolades for someone who is in her early 20s. Of which she shyly acknowledged but enthusiastically added; “I was later invited on to Ayanda’s fashion house, to partake in a talk show regarding digital fashion and online shopping in Africa. Then after that, I launched a second collection, and it was also received very well!”
I had a go at my interpretation on the reason behind Crystelle choosing 9 Lives as the brand name, coming up with that it has to do with winning several chances in the fashion game despite the difficult circumstances you may overcome. Of which she clarified it for me by saying; “The real meaning of 9 Lives, is a brand that re-lives itself and stays relevant. Fashion is a continually evolving process, and my observation is that certain brands fail to renew themselves and adapt to current trends. I gave my brand this name to compliment my design philosophy and vision for 9 Lives. It was my dream to see it come to life and be able to create an adaptable brand that maintains its relevance in a dynamic and fast-changing consumer market.”
Although 9 Lives is not worldwide yet, with the current production taking place in Zimbabwe and a fair share of distribution in South Africa. I could clearly envision the real sense of its theme and concept, 9 Lives is a clean and minimalistic brand that is a representation of chic, simple pieces. The use of simple shapes and silhouettes while paying attention to the proportions of the garments is very distinct. Crystelle ended off by saying; “The key thing about 9 Lives clothing is that it can be worn at different times of the day and has a classy and fresh feel to it. It is a commercial brand, and the vision is to grow the brand organically and expand the distribution channels into various geographical landscapes.”
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