Dress for yourself and be comfortable

In my first column, published in February, I spoke about the evolution of my own style from following trends to finding my fashion identity.

One of the aims of this column is to interrogate the various aspects of fashion. The universe then presented me with an opportunity to sit down and debunk the various dimensions of fashion and how over-consumption and consumerism play into that.

Fashion designer Tsidi Ramofolo and I met at a library, a perfect venue, to explore fashion. My two favourite things – fashion and books – collided.

She tells me her journey with fashion started at the age of three, after her sister Sophia taught her to crochet using a matchstick.

I needed to know more about this unassuming woman dressed in a simplistic grey coat that exuded elegance and style.

Her creativity was further developed by her mother Catherine who bought Tsidi her first crochet hook and wool when she was seven years old. Eventually she completed her first dress.

She cites the encouragement she received from her parents as a huge motivation to follow her passion for creating bespoke garments. “All that encouragement helped to build my self-confidence,” she said.

Tsidi spent a large chunk of her formative years in Denmark as her father was a diplomat.

“Their schooling system is very different to South Africa’s which I find to be quite traumatic due to the expectation and competition that is created between individuals.

“The schooling system in Denmark encouraged pupils to gravitate towards what their interests are. There is nobody pushing you too hard and I think that is how one organically finds oneself,” she said.

Tsidi came to the Mother City 10 years ago, making cushion covers to make ends meet.

“I used a domestic sewing machine, at the time, and sold my items to various shops.

“When I was on my own in Cape Town, sewing just made sense to me and I was able to fine tune my skills,” she said.

She believes that fashion is what you make of it.

“We are all individuals and if you learn to maintain that, there is great power in that feeling of self-awareness. For example, if you give five people the same garment and send them off to style it, all five will come up with a unique way to wear it and make it their own. I think fashion doesn’t always allow us that because a lot of people are always chasing new trends dictated to them by trend forecasters,” she said.

Tsidi believes that globally, fashion has become stagnant since the 1990s. “Designers are merely recycling trends from the past and reworking fashion from different eras,” she said.

Her advice is simple: Dress for yourself and don’t ever wear something that doesn’t make you feel completely comfortable. “I want people to stop comparing themselves to others. There is no such thing as a perfect body. You could be wearing the perfect suit or dress but if you have not done the emotional ‘inner work’ people will see the incompleteness in you,” she said.

Smiling, she tells me that she has a black top in her closet that she gets complimented on often and that people don’t believe her when she says she bought it for R5 on the Grand Parade.

“I have another blouse that I purchased for R15; it’s simple, stylish and the craftsmanship of the garment is pristine – something that you don’t often see in clothing chain stores,” she said.

Her future endeavour will see her developing the existing sewing programme at Goodwood Prison.

“The project is aimed at male prisoners and I will be going in to improve their skills and make items that can go to a good cause,” she said.

Tsidi’s sage advice is that fashion should be relevant to your personality, pocket and what you already have in your closet.

“I make my garments using recycled material. My aim is to rehabilitate the personality and the planet at the same time.

“The material I use is not the fanciest and I prefer it that way. I’m keeping it simple and going back to the basics in a bustling society that has become so complex,” she said.

I will leave you with some food for thought from one of the world’s pioneering fashion designers: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live” – Gianni Versace.

Send your fashion advice and tips to mika.williams@inl.co.za