This kid is a bit special

McBRIGHT Kavari is destined for great things. The 16-year old is a multiple award winner and Namibia’s leading designer of traditional OvaHerero dresses.

“If others are making a living out of their talents, then why must I mind those who think sewing is for women when it is my talent?” he laments.

At 16, Kavari has defied many odds to become a top Herero-dress designer, something which started when he was an infant competing with his nieces to design clothes for their dolls.

Born and bred in Windhoek, Kavari is a talented and very unique teenager. While boys of his age are still depended on their parents, he is making a living out of his talent, paying for his own school fees, pocket money and fending for himself.

He is a ninth grader at Goreangab Junior Secondary School, having completed his primary school at St Barnabas.

His mother, Ruth, first got to notice his talent and potential during his primary years in grade 4, 2005 at the age of 11, when he designed an impressive night gown for his big sister.

“My first design was a night gown that I sew using my mother’s old hand machine. I took materials from her room and when my mom and sister came home they could not believe I designed the gown myself. They were all shocked,” he recounts.

That impressed his Mother so much that she bought him an electric sewing machine when he was in his sixth grade, something heavily criticized by the neighbors and relatives as sewing is largely considered ‘women’s business’, apart from his age.

“People talked and my mother was the bearer of all the negative comments that came our way. I was also not bothered; I said to myself, ‘if others are making a living out of their talents why should I not? Why should I be afraid to do activities that are considered for women if I know I have the potential to succeed in doing them?’” he quizzes authoritatively.

A Nina electric sewing machine was delivered between June and July courtesy of his mother, and came at the time when grade 12s were preparing for their Matric Farewells in 2007.

“As soon as I got the machine I started doing Matric Farewell dresses for my sister and her friends and they were so impressed that the friends recommended their friends and the list grew.

But that was not the first payment he got from designing clothes, the first payment came when he was in grade three during2004 when he sew a dress for a big decorative doll that was in his neighbor’s home.

“The neighbors were so happy and decided to give me a little amount and I was so excited. It was N$ 50 and this was the first payment I got in my designing”.

Based in the heart of Katutura, the youngster recounts how after that neighbour’s doll exploit word spread and grew in the high density suburb about his ability.

He began making plastic clothes for his niece’s dolls and other neighboring girls and their parents would then nickname his business ‘The Bride Shop’, word play on his name McBright.

“My niece had to buy clothes for her dolls from my shop as they were much better than the one she could make,” he jokes.

Buy the time he was mature enough to read and understand things, McBright Kavari says the day he entered the Bride Shop in central Windhoek something opened up in him.

“Something moved within me with what I was seeing. Those garments and clothes stole my heart and I now go to that shop to get material every week.”

He has never attended a fashion school or a sewing training course but since his mother bought him a sewing machine, he says, he has been moving from strength to strength and designing more and better dresses.

“I started designing farewell dresses, then Herero dresses, wedding gowns, suits, trousers and Oshiwambo dresses, but also Nama and other dresses”.

In a given month, Kavari has more than 30 clients and the number keeps on increasing. He says he produces around 20 dresses a month where the minimum price for a Herero dress now stands at N$300.00

He is the only person to have won the Herero Dress Designer Competition Award consecutively since its establishment in 2005, He first entered Herero Dress Designer Competition in 2007 and though he did not win, he was among the top 10 finalists, and walked away with a brand new electric sewing machine.

“I heard about the competition on the radio and noted down the organizers’ numbers, and was so happy when I ended up among the top 10 finalists,” he says.

It does not end there, as in 2008, he entered the same competition and managed to beat the other contestants and was crowned “The Best Top Herero Dress Designer”.

More than 20 contestants entered the competition, most of them women.

As the Best Top Herero Dress Designer, Kavari also won himself a trip to Germany but could not go as he was under-age to participate at the fashion festivities in Germany that was being offered by the organizers.

“So the person on the second place went in my place instead,” he says with a forced smile.

In 2009, Kavari again participated in the Herero Dress Designer Competition and crowned “The Best Top Herero Dress Designer”.

In March this year, the youngster hosted his first fashion show which was held at the Protea Hotel Furstnhof, Windhoek. Tickets sold at N$ 150.

This is a rare phenomenon among young people of his age in Namibia.

He narrates the show with so much confidence and joy.

“I don’t know how to explain what happened there, but in the end I can tell you, I have decided to have the event annually,” is his summary of that fashion show, where he exhibited his designs and clothing.

Prominent garment shop, Chelsea Textiles co-sponsored the show which had the hand of veteran journalist Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro while established fashion guru Vivangua Mujondjo promised to be making head horns for all the dresses in his future shows. Kavari is eager to defend his two-time crown at the Herero Dress Designer Competition slated for November this year.

In all this, the models that have participated in showcasing his outfits are either from his church or his sisters’ friends.

The traditional dress is derived from a Victorian woman’s dress, and consists of an enormous crinoline worn over several petticoats at times up to six, and a horn shaped hat (said to represent the horns of a cow) made from rolled cloth.

These dresses are worn with a lot of symbolism at weddings, at funerals, or any other important events in OvaHerero culture.

It takes this genius not more than 5 days to finish a single complete Herero dress.

And the thing with fashion is that it is a cycle, hence it is hard to find a particular distinctive style in the OvaHerero traditional dress and he continuously borrows from different styles of different eras.

“I want women to dress for themselves and not for men or other women. They should set trends for themselves in their cultures; hence I have even started making traditional attire of other cultures like the Damara and the Aawambo. Women do not copy other people’s sense of style, they just appreciate it and get what suits their bodies,” he says, showing Prime Focus the latest Herero dress in the market, which has borrowed a lot of techniques from the traditional Nama dress

“The latest Herero dress has borrowed some notes from the Nama dress but with time people will learn the difference,” he says.

He is aware of how women worry about their dressing, the confusion over what style to wear to make them look appropriate. OvaHerero women like to stand straight and be aware of their posture thus he advises that it is easier to dress from head to toe in one tone clothes.

When Prime Focus visited him for a photo-shoot, Kavari was busy dressing and measuring the wife of his school teacher who had brought her materials.

“It’s amazing how this boy works. We brought the materials only yesterday afternoon and he has worked the whole night to produce this dress. I was surprised when he called me to come for measurements because I never thought he would finish this dress in time for my function, as it was at short-notice,” she said.

Yet, he is just but a normal kid, who is so much in love with Fanta and home-baked Herero bread.

But he dreams to be the Frans Indongo of Namibian traditional fashion designing business.

“I look up to this man (Frans Indongo), particularly with regard to how he started his business empire; I heard he somehow started his business also sewing clothes”.

Kavari says he is in the process of registering his own company and can’t wait to meet business magnet Frans Indongo.

He was brought up by a single parent (Ruth) and is the last born in a family of six.

His mother owns a laundry shop Speed Mini Laundry and is the one responsible for the management of McBright’s revenue.

Ruth Kavari says she is proud of her son’s talent and describes him as a ‘sweet mamma’s baby.’

“He is my last born and I am really proud of him, his talent is a blessing from God”, says Ruth.

Kavari’s Mathematics teacher, Gloria Mutakalilumo describes him as a hardworking student with great potential.

“He has a potential to succeed especially in fashion designing. As his teachers we also support his business and some of us take materials to him for designing. One would wish we had a fashion class and no doubt he would teach others in the process,” she says.

Mutakalilumo says teachers at Goreangab Junior Secondary School have increasingly become supportive at school and Entrepreneurship is amongst Kavari’s best subjects.

“I know how to balance my time between school work and my designing. I have a daily timetable that I tend to stick to in most cases and manage my time well. Some of my teachers have become my clients,” he says.

According to him, the youth of Namibia have a potential to succeed if they are to dig deep down within themselves and find their talent and follow their dreams regardless of whether the talent is considered an oddity or the preserve of the opposite sex. Kavari notes that if there was a fashion school where he can go he would gladly go there as that is where he sees his future.

“I heard that my grandmother also used to sew, but I never learned sewing from anybody.

My mother can sew, but she does curtains and not dresses. I want to be in the fashion industry, I think I can succeed in many things within this field and I think my future belongs in fashion design”. PF