Self-taught designer Ndeumona Kandongo’s credentials recently shot skyward when a dress she made featured widely in the Finnish media.
The dress was worn by Dorené Valkonen, the Namibian wife of the Finnish member of parliament Ville Valkonen at the 2022 Finnish Presidential Reception.
“It was an honour to wear such a masterpiece and make our beautiful country known in Europe,” Valkonen was quoted as saying.
Kandongo (34) said Valkonen posted on social media, calling on Namibian designers to design a dress that she will wear at the reception.
She told VIBEZ! she submitted sketches and the two met afterward, and to her surprise, her design was the successful one.
“Coming up with the idea was the hardest. It took me about two days to draft, sketch and get the fabric swatches. The actual pattern-making and sewing took about three days,” she said.
Describing the dress, Kandongo, who operates under her label Monah Creations in Windhoek, said it is called ‘Sunset in the Namib Desert’.
“This dress represents the beautiful sand dunes of Namibia found along the coastal lands which are represented by the waves on the bottom of the dress. The Namibian desert has one of the miraculous living fossils called the Welwitschia Mirabilis which exists for over 200 million years and is represented by the green lace on the top of the dress as the Welwitschia remains evergreen in such a harsh and dry environment. It was worn with a beaded crown representing Namibia’s beautiful breathtaking sunsets.”
Ogongo-raised Kandongo took up fashion designing full-time after she lost her full-time job at First National Bank in Windhoek in 2014.
But her love for designing started in the early 1990s. Kandongo said she always had a creative flair for design and managed to achieve her life-long ambition to become a fashion designer.
“I started off by sketching designs and it wasn’t until high school that my mates asked me to sketch their matric farewell dresses and had them made,” she recounted.
“As a creative, everything seems magical like a magic wand, the sparkles, the glitz are in the mind. I chose the art of fashion for its authenticity, the freedom of expression and the enigma.”
She continued despite discouragement from family and friends who would advise her that fashion designing is a waste of time; she won’t get a job, and it won’t take her anywhere.
Inspired by her grandmother, who was also a fashion designer, Kandongo said she would love to dress more celebrities and all women with different body shapes.
“Speaking of celebrities, I have worked with Maria Nepembe and Antonia Shinana. ‘Proud’ is an understatement. I have such passion for providing excellent service to my customers making them feel extra special,” she said.
Asked about the local fashion industry, Kandongo said it is growing rapidly, with more self-taught designers, but general support in the arts industry in Namibia from financial institutions is almost non-existence for SMEs.
“As artists, we face exploitation due to a lack of regulations. There is limited access to markets and restricted mobility and high taxes. In a country with one of the highest unemployment rates, finding skilled Namibians to employ is tough due to lack of skills. In addition, one is forced to create replicas of existing designs and work as a tailor or seamstress instead of a designer because the market for fashion design is too small. The arts and culture sector bleeds - it’s demoralising and discouraging,” she said disappointedly.
To make matters worse, Kandongo added, the municipality has closed applications for fashion designers to operate from municipality-run stalls, while rental rates for private venues are too high.
“We are forced to operate from home which is not a conducive business environment for business expansion,” she noted.
On future plans, she said: “I can’t kiss and tell, but there are lots in store for me and my brand”.