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'Africa revamped': Fashion designer shoots for the stars

By Alex Court and Marc Hoeferlin for CNN
updated 5:24 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
When Kemi Kalikawe set up her business in Dar es Salaam six years ago her mission was to blend African and Western styles.
When Kemi Kalikawe set up her business in Dar es Salaam six years ago her mission was to blend African and Western styles.
Fusing styles
Multicultural heritage
Traditional influences
Design collaboration
Fancy footwear
Central location
Passion in business
  • Naledi Lifestyle store sells clothes and home products in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Kemi Kalikawe creates products that bring together African and Western styles
  • Before starting her business Kalikawe studied marketing in England
  • Kalikawe struggled to find a place to base herself in Dar Es Salaam

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(CNN) -- 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."

Revamping African fashion for the future

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.

My brand is Africa Revamped. Africa getting a modern twist and just bringing the West and Africa together
Kemi Kalikawe, Naledi owner

"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.

Source: Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013 Global Report

Overall, Africa has a higher proportion of female entrepreneurs compared to other regions, with Nigeria and Zambia (both 40.7%) topping the charts. The stats reveal that countries like the United States (10.4%), the UK (5.5%), and France (3.1%) have a less equal business landscape.

Overcoming obstacles

Over its six year lifespan, Nalendi Lifestyle has established a reputation and a steady stream of clients. But it wasn't always so easy for Kalikawe.

"I had to find a place that was close to my customers, so I shopped around for different places where I could share with somebody who had an existing space and they were not using it. I had to do a lot of convincing when I finally got the space that I am in now," she remembers.

But getting a physical presence wasn't the only obstacle Kalikawe had to overcome. She says that creating advertising and getting people to know that her shop was there took time. "It's lucky that I am right by the road, so that way when people pass by I put mannequins outside with my dresses."

While she has faced difficulties, Kalikawe has no regrets; "I totally love what I do," she says. "From a kid, I've always known I was going to work in the industry; in design industry somehow. I am so fortunate that I am actually doing what I love to do."

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