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Clothing Designer from Malawi Targets Overseas Markets


Lilly Alfonso is one of the top fashion designers in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.

Alfonso has shown her creations at fashion shows in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Her clothes are now being sold at stores in South Africa. She is using individuals in Britain and the United States to sell her products in those countries.

Lilly Alfonso hopes her creations will be sold throughout the world within five years. When a VOA reporter went to see the designer, she was on the telephone.

“They (are) wanting 32, 34, 35, 36, 38, so I will send you the sizes right away after this…”

Alfonso says she has loved the world of fashion since she was six years old.

“Every time I, I look(ed) at any cloth that is there for me, quickly I would want to change to what I like. Pretty much, I would cut a hand, or make it short. I would be almost half-naked most of the time. I used to get into trouble...”

She opened her own tailoring business. And in 2010 she was named best designer at a fashion show in Lilongwe.

“So that motivated me more to say ‘Everything is possible.’ The person who invented the car, even the plane, he had to start with a dream. What would stop me?”

Her business is growing. Alfonso employs 30 people in her fashion design center. She buys some of the material she uses in her clothing from disabled weavers in Malawi.

She also offers free training to young designers, like student Mphatso Chilaga.

“Now I’m having this experience, how to draw models -- really like (in a) professional way, how models are supposed to be drawn, how prints are drawn and printed, how you can study material, how you can determine a color on a person by comparing with their complexion if it would suit them or not.”

But her success has brought problems. She says she must now deal with people who are copying her designs.

I’m John Russell.

Lameck Masina reported this story from Lilongwe, Malawi. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

fashion – n. the business of creating and selling clothes in new styles

naked – adj. not wearing any clothes; not covered by clothing

tailor – v. to make (clothing that is measured to fit a particular person)

motivate – v. to give (someone) a reason for doing something

fabric – n. woven or knitted material; cloth

weave – v. to make something (such as cloth) by crossing threads or other long pieces of material over and under each other

complexion – n. the color or appearance of the skin especially on the face

suit – v. to be attractive on (someone)

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