Following a 5½-year-civil war and as intercommunal clashes continue, fashion is not the first thing that usually springs to mind for many about South Sudan.
But a small group of young fashion designers say they want to help change the country’s image by showcasing locally designed clothes that are increasingly capturing eyes in the fashion world.
“If we can come up with something that can help us boost and empower ourselves, then we can do it,” said Ghum Barnabas Kulang, founder of Kulang Enterprises.
Kulang began creating his own designs in 2019 with a focus on fashionable suits and colorful dresses made from African prints. He believes creating a national brand is important for the morale of South Sudanese people.
“So, the inspiration is, I want us to have an identity, as well,” Kulang told South Sudan in Focus. “We should have something that is commonly known in us, (because) it’s not basically the rivalries of the war. We also have good architecture in terms of culture, as well as fashion designs.”
About a dozen designers earlier this month put on the sixth annual South Sudan Fashion Week in the capital, Juba.
The show’s founder, Dawson Dau Amou, a successful East African model, wants to change the world’s focus on South Sudan from a war-torn country to a nation that can build on self-sustaining enterprise.
“What we are up to here is all about growing the fashion industry, because it is a business industry, so that we don’t rely on brands that are made from outside,” Amou told South Sudan in Focus.
Six years ago, five designers participated in South Sudan Fashion Week. This year, 20 designers sent their fashions down the runway with South Sudanese models sporting designs of local designers.
Most of the designers say their biggest challenge is finding the money to fund their small businesses.
David Shegold, founder of D’Gold’s Fashions, began designing clothes five years ago after graduating from a fashion school in Uganda.
Shegold told South Sudan in Focus that he decided to specialize in designing wedding gowns and party clothes because many South Sudanese attend these occasions but usually wear clothes imported from foreign countries.
“I have seen people doing a lot of weddings and a lot of parties, so I see most of my people go abroad and get the wedding gowns from there,” he said. “Then I was like, ‘Why can’t I do a wedding gown since I am a professional in this?’”
South Sudanese designer Wilma Amito, who designed a swimwear collection for this year’s fashion show, said she was inspired by learning how to knit online during last year’s COVID-19 lockdown.
Amito took up knitting to keep herself busy, but her hobby quickly led to her designing bathing suits, tops and shorts.
Amito believes fashion can be a uniting factor in South Sudan.
“People bring in their different ideas, so it is a sign of unity,” she said. “When I come from a different tribe and someone else comes from a different tribe, we combine and develop the love and the understanding among ourselves.”
There are no compiled business figures for South Sudan’s nascent fashion industry. I
But the designs are attracting attention in the diaspora. South Sudanese fashion designers displayed their creations for a fashion show for the Luol Deng Foundation’s annual conference in Minneapolis in 2019.