'Africa revamped': Fashion designer shoots for the stars

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Naledi means “star” in Tswana, one of the languages spoken in Botswana. So when Kemi Kalikawe gave her lifestyle store that name, she decided to add a sparkle to her business.
“My brand is Africa revamped,” she says. “Africa getting a modern twist and just bringing the West and Africa together and marrying them into something beautiful.”
Kalikawe grew up in Botswana, as the name of her store suggests, but her business is in the thumping heart of Tanzania’s biggest city, Dar es Salaam.
Funky fabrics
Shoppers who visit her store find jewelry, sandals and vibrantly-colored outfits on the shelves. Some of Kalikawe’s garments even use indigenous Tanzanian fabrics like the Khanga and Kitenge.
“I make dresses, I cater mostly for women,” Kalikawe explains, “and I do jewelry and also sandals, which have all got an influence of African fabrics.”

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Whilst taking a tour of the store, Kalikawe points out one her favorite dresses, “I love it because it defies what Tanzanians think of the Tanzanian Kitenge, which is funky, it’s stylish, and it can be worn anywhere.”
With such a variety of designs, fabrics and patterns on display it’s clear that Kalikawe’s work is her passion. “Sometimes I see a fabric and it just speaks to me,” she says. “So I take that and start thinking of what I can do to bring out its beauty.”
Career change
As a child, Kalikawe dreamed of working in the design industry, but she ended up studying marketing in England. She soon realized she wasn’t cut out for the advertising world and moved to Kenya to study interior design.

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“The school that I was going to also had fashion design. I ended up wanting to find ways of promoting fashion designers and so I put on a show for them,” she explains. “When I came back to Tanzania, I worked with the British Council… and my job was to find underground fashion talent and put them on the stage. That’s how I ended up making my own dresses… and the people that would come to the show loved my clothes.”
That background is reflected in her store, where she promotes other entrepreneurs alongside her own creations. “I choose to include other designers because there isn’t particularly a space where designers can showcase their work,” Kalikawe says.
“It’s expensive to open your own store. So this was something that gave me that chance to promote other designers plus sell my own things,” she adds.
Like Kalikawe, many women in Africa are capitalizing on their entrepreneurial skills. In fact, the continent leads the world in the number of women starting businesses, with almost equal levels of male and female entrepreneurs.

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|CNN

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