Picture credit: DIDA Clothiers on Facebook
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visit their website at http://www.didaclothiers.co.za/
It is a Tuesday morning and the appointment is for 10h00. At 9h20 I send Doris Ikeri an apologetic text. ‘Might not make it! GPS says I’m 9km away, but something is badly wrong on the N14.’
I get a reply half an hour and 500m later. ‘No worries, I’ll wait for you’. At 10h15 I finally pass the scene where all 3 lanes had been closed. Something resembling a ball of crushed tinfoil is being hoisted onto a truck. If you look closely, you realize it had once been a small white car.
The Pretoria CBD is not somewhere I go if I can help it. To middle class white housewives like me it is the epitome of Paradise Lost. Although I find the address easily enough, finding parking anywhere close by proves as impossible as I had feared! This time I call Doris instead of texting. It is 9h30. I hate being late and my insides feel like that unforgettable ball of metal I saw next to the N14.
She hands the phone to her social media manager.
At that moment I am too busy negotiating one-way streets, minibus taxis and aggressive parking attendants to reflect on the fact that the person assumed to be a relatively small clothes designer for my modest research project about people who sew, has a social media manager.
“I will stand in the street and show you into the warehouse parking. What car are you driving? I will wave!” A bright yellow Mazda you can’t miss…but it feels like every second person in the chaotic streets is waving to direct me into an alley!
By the time I switch off the car, breathe a sigh of relief and take a good look at the young man who had jumped into the passenger seat beside me at the corner, the morning has taken on a surreal quality.
Phillip has a warm, confident smile and a spunky hairstyle. He introduces himself properly: he is a social media/marketing consultant and Dida Clothiers is one of his clients.
Doris is in a meeting and we wait on a sofa in front of the rolled-up warehouse door, looking out on to a peaceful landscape painted on the wall of the opposite building. He chats to me about his work for Dida and his quest to add value to different customers’ social media platforms by encouraging collaboration. I learn that Dida Clothiers is just one part of what Doris is all about. The main focus of her business is hair care products, distributed through a large dealer network.
He came on board to be involved in social media marketing of the clothing line as well as the development of her Afrocentric lifestyle magazine. But the more he talks, the more I realize that I have just met one of those enviable people who recognize potential and possibilities everywhere he looks. Before long I am getting a free but valuable consulting session regarding my sewing-journal project! It feels as if the very air around Phillip is charged with ideas: his brain is constantly processing everything he sees and hears and working out ways it can be celebrated and shared.
Coming out of the meeting, Doris greets me with an embrace as if we are old acquaintances. We retreat to her office for the interview. Spending time with this remarkable woman is like sitting sit down on a rock next to a river in Africa, with someone full of wisdom and patience and all the time in the world. Doris has a calm, poetic way of speaking. It is easy to forget this is a businesswoman with a full schedule, and that the tumult of the Pretoria CBD is crunching the streets and pavements outside!
She came to South Africa from Nigeria 12 years ago. She lives with the conviction of God’s calling on her life, so she moved with the vision of what she could offer in this country. Never wavering from her calling she steadily developed her business into what it is today. Her core inspiration is African Identity: across the borders of different ethnicities, tribes, languages and countries, there is a wealth of culture to be rejoiced in.
The clothing range is unashamedly Afrocentric, but because the designs are custom made she finds joy in identifying different African elements which reflect the wearer of each garment’s background – precious to him or her. It transcends stereotypes. For Doris, fashion is an authentic part of celebrating identity.
I had sent her a naive list of potential sewing-related questions – I now blush when I realize how off-the-mark my assumptions had been. She is not a needlewoman herself as I had assumed when I asked to meet her: I realize she is the creative force that inspires those around her to take pride in their talents and identities, and flourish!
She invites me into the boardroom where her team had been continuing the meeting while she spent time with me. A room full of faces turn towards me at her introduction and I witter out an inelegant explanation for my visit: I had noticed the clothes on a mutual friend’s Facebook page because my friend’s blonde daughter was one of the models in a Dida photo shoot.
Picture credit: http://www.didaclothiers.co.za/
Including a Caucasian model to showcase an Afrocentric clothing line made me sit up and think differently about clothes I might otherwise have considered to be “not for me”. A small inclusive gesture made me wish to know more.
Phillip shows me the workshop where under the hands of three men and one woman the Dida artworks take shape. I had not come prepared for this either, and the moment passes awkwardly while I search in vain for the right words to express my admiration to these enormously talented people at the sewing tables.
Fabric of all colours and textures seems to explode from shelves on one side of the room.
“I am designing another display system for their materials,” Phillip tells me. He describes a tree-like wooden structure from which the fabric stash spills as it is draped over branches to be easily accessible for cutting, while at the same time adding joy to the workshop.
I can see it, and it makes perfect sense.
The Dida Clothiers showroom is at another address. With a streetwise young man in the car I find a parking space quickly this time. Even so we still have to walk a short distance through the ever-flowing river of people on the sidewalk, but it is reassuring to walk next to someone who has the confidence of belonging.
The showroom is a carnival of design, print and embellishments. No two garments are the same.
“We want to branch out into mass production now,” Phillip tells me. I ask him to define ‘mass production’. “Well, it means that we will make one of each size of some designs. We also think of things like T-shirts with just a little bit of African detail, which everybody is comfortable to wear as a subtle and affordable way of expressing identity. ”
Now that is an idea of ‘mass production’ which I – with my home-seamstress-dislike of fast fashion – can thoroughly respect!
As we say goodbye after he had walked me to my car, I realize that some of the energy of the Pretoria CBD had seeped into my skin this morning. I will never again be able to view this place as something “which once was”. It is not a lost paradise.
Instead, when I look around me I suddenly see life. The city centre might look messy and apparently chaotic in my eyes, because I carry around memories of the slower-moving, dignified Pretoria where I had lived and worked in long-gone days before 1994. In truth it is still a place full of potential, growth and celebration; embodied in people like Doris and Phillip. The Africa of today and tomorrow.
I tip the sidewalk car guard who had shunted me into the precious parking spot earlier. “You must close your window, mama” he cautions: “you must be safe.”
But his morning, this suburban mama is so glad that I opened my window wider than usual!