Katutura Fashion Week: The Voice of Namibian Fashion
Fashion is a force that greatly influences society by allowing individuals to express their values, creativity, history and even shifts in ideological paradigms. In Namibia, Dennis Hendricks is using the Katutura Fashion Week (KFW) to tell the story of Namibia’s culture, creative spirit, and struggle through the progression of the fashion industry. Named after the Namibian town, Katutura, where indigenous Namibians were forcefully removed by colonialists, KFW honours the sacrifices made by the Namibian people using fashion as a vehicle.
Conceptualised by Dennis Hendricks, KFW aims to support and strengthen the design industry in Namibia and across the African continent in its entirety. One of its main priorities is to give supermodels from all parts of Namibia a chance to be scouted for better work opportunities. Thus, KFW not only benefits designers and models but service providers such as makeup artists, photographers, designers, jewellery makers, and retail shop owners. Taking part in the fashion show provides exposure to larger markets, more paid work, and for retail shop owners, an opportunity to purchase new designs which they can mass produce. Ultimately, the initiative showcases the talent of Namibian fashion players by bringing fashion to the people, embracing creatives of various backgrounds, and identifying new talent in the fashion industry. “KFW is born out of the need to showcase the best of Namibia’s designers and to give Namibians a better appreciation of fashion” narrates Hendricks.
Dennis Hendricks was born Hendrik Muashindange Muatara. The multitalented model, actor, and designer grew up as a passionate athlete, who had never imagined that he would end up in fashion. “My biggest dream was to become the fastest athlete in my track and field for both the 400 m and 200 m distance, and it’s all I ever did in my school years” recounts Dennis.
The creative entrepreneur’s first encounter in the industry was as a model; an occupation he was motivated to take up by an agent who took note of his distinctive physical features when he was in the 8th grade. Initially, Dennis hated modelling because of the stereotypes associated with it, but he ended up considering it out of a need to raise funds to pay for his studies.
His first appearance was at the Pan African Fashion Show in 1998 where he was the only male representing Namibia. It was this particular opportunity that opened more doors for him and allowed him to gain more insight into the fashion industry. He then went on to win the best male model face of Southern Africa Fashion Awards 2014-2016, the face of SADC 2014/2016, and the face of Kangoma Africa dance in 2018. Dennis was also showcased as a designer and runway model at Windhoek Fashion Week 2017, and the African Fashion Week Nigeria 2018, among many other accolades.
The path to recognition was not an easy one for Hendricks, especially because he was a black male competing in an industry dominated by women. During the early years of his career, Dennis faced rejection and misunderstanding because, in the view of many people, modelling was a female profession. This was further complicated by the fact that Namibia’s fashion industry was still underdeveloped, offering limited opportunities to him and his peers.
Motivated to promote his work and that of other African fashion players, Dennis started the Katutura Fashion Week in 2019. He was determined to advance fashion as a viable career and to use it as a platform to celebrate the journey of Namibia’s national independence and cultural identity. Dennis attributes his success and the formation of KFW to his resilience and determination. In his own words, the founder says: “I never really pictured myself as being better than anybody out there but I only managed to survive because I knew where I was going, stood my ground through my habits, actions, and self–awareness.”
To date the organisation has promoted Namibian designers locally and internationally. It has also given opportunities to emerging Namibian fashion designers, a chance to exhibit their work and gain exposure. Through its various initiatives, it has helped in catapulting many fashion businesses into bigger markets. Its work has attracted fashion designers from around the continent, to showcase their work in Namibia – the land of the brave.
KFW’s Work Away from the Runway
Apart from helping fashion players exhibit their work on the runway, KFW believes capacity building and information sharing are crucial components for the growth of the Namibian fashion industry. As part of its work, the organisation promotes a culture of learning by conducting panel discussions and workshops with institutions such as UNESCO, and the Museum of Namibian Fashion. In 2020, KFW successfully conducted one-week workshops with UNESCO and University of Namibia. In the same year, it also hosted a virtual workshop with the Museum of Namibian Fashion and a panel discussion focusing on different fashion entities, called ‘Let’s Talk Fashion’.
Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic
KFW has reached many milestones, but it also bemoans the lack of support by government and local stakeholders. In addition to this, the COVID-19 pandemic heightened uncertainty in the world, disrupting most industries, especially fashion. KFW’s revenue was affected by the lockdowns and the team had to re-strategize and find ‘out of the box’ means of hosting their fashion show. As such, the team explored the route of live streaming. Against all odds, KFW successfully hosted the KFW on November 26-27, 2021 using virtual tools to encourage designers to participate in the event and the audience to view or attend the show. Namibia’s local designers and those from other African countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, showcased unique, versatile and artistic designs on the runway!
We asked Dennis about what he would change in the fashion industry if he could, and he highlighted that he would love to introduce various modelling methodologies and designs. He also expressed interest in showing people that male fashion designers are capable of delivering quality work regardless of their sexual orientation. Along with the above, Dennis revealed that he is keen on creating job opportunities for many aspiring male and female models by creating a model database in the country.
Regardless of the many challenges his organisation faces, Dennis maintains that he has a vision to grow KFW, to a point where it becomes the most influential fashion platform in Namibia. He believes in fashion as more than just clothing, but a part of one’s culture.
“Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life. It is passion, expressed in art, and if it were not for fashion, we would not be able to express ourselves, let alone have anything to wear without making a statement” says Hendricks.
It is because of such strong convictions about fashion that he is determined to make KFW an annual event as part of his efforts to keep the spirit of fashion alive in Namibia.