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New Swimwear for Plus-size Women in Brazil

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Brazil is well known for its stylish swimwear, with styles usually targeted at young women and those with more conventional, media-friendly body shapes. But now a company is making visiting the beach more comfortable and empowering for plus-size women.

Prior to the arrival of plus-size swimwear, women turned to over-sized tshirts and baggy shorts to hit the beach. Now, Brazilian companies are pioneering fashionable and sexy swimwear for women of all sizes.

Brazil has a well-known beach culture – a culture celebrated over the years in popular pop tunes like ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_from_Ipanema). The country has successfully turned its alluring beach culture into lucrative businesses,including fashion enterprises that have become global brands. The global hit brand of beach flip flops Havaianas (havaianas.com) is a good example.

Lehona (lehona.com.br) makes ‘Moda Praia’ – plus-size – swimwear for women. The swimsuits are specially designed to flatter larger body shapes and give women the confidence to go back to the beach. It is seeking to end the discrimination inherent in beach culture that favours the “thin, the rich and the chic.”

Body shapes have been changing in Brazil – as they have been across the world and the global South. While one cause is the global obesity crisis -ballooning as diets change with rising prosperity – there is also another, more positive cause: greater access to nutrition and increasing consumption of milk and meat tends to lead to larger body shapes. This has happened across the world and in many countries irrespective of the racial and ethnic background of the people. Norwegians in Northern Europe were once some of the shortest people in Europe and suffered from poverty and malnutrition. But, as food security increased and nutrition improved, they have over time become the second tallest people in Europe behind the Netherlands (The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition,and Human Development in the Western World since 1700).

For Brazil, malnutrition was widespread until recently. Records show 10 per cent of the country’s rural northeast in the 1970s was considered underweight.

The Brazilian statistics institute has found the past decade’s economic boom has had another consequence as well as lifting many millions out of poverty. It has found 48 per cent of adult women and 50 per cent of adult men are now overweight. This compares with 1985, when 29 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men were overweight.

Diets have changed in the intervening years. Rice, beans and vegetables are now in competition with potato chips, processed meats and sugary soft drinks.

And apart from nutrition and diet changes because of increasing incomes,there is also a cultural change. While the wealthy are more used to lifestyles with plenty of exercise, newly prosperous people do not necessarily have the fitness habit. One study found just 10 per cent of Brazilian teens and adults exercise regularly.

The Lehona brand has become a quick hit and receives many telephone calls and emails from would-be customers, its owners claim.

The Brazilian cultural expectation for women’s beachwear is skimpy, showing more rather than less. This prejudices women who do not have slim body shapes or who are not under 30.

Started in 2010 by clothing designer Clarice Rebelatto and run by her son Luiz Rebelatto, Lehona was started out of personal need.

“Honestly, the problem went way beyond just bikinis. In Brazil, it used to be that if you were even a little chunky, finding any kind of clothes in the right size was a real problem,” said Clarice Rebelatto, a size 10, to The Associated Press.

“And I thought, ‘I’m actually not even that big compared to a lot of women out there, so if I have problems, what are they doing?’”

The approach to the swimsuits is counter to many other brands targeting plus-size women. They are bold and emphasize the shape rather than try to cover it up and hide it.

The brand sells itself through specialty stores for large and tall women in Brazil. A bikini sells for around 130 reais (US $66).

“Some brands, they don’t want their image to be associated with chunky women= Only the thin, the rich and the chic,” Luiz Rebelatto told The Associated Press.

“We’re working from the principle that bigger women are just like everyone else: They don’t want to look like old ladies, wearing these very modest, very covering swimsuits in just black.”

The plus-size market has even been taken up by conventional Brazilian swimwear manufacturer Acqua Rosa (http://www.acquarosanet.com.br/site/). It released its plus-size line in 2008 and claims sales now account for 70 per cent of their total sales.

One woman frequenting Copacabana beach copacabana.info) in Rio de Janeiro is Elisangela Inez Soares. She is happy and confident with the new swim suits.

“It used to be bikinis were only in tiny sizes that only skinny girls could fit into. But not everyone is built like a model,” concludes Soares.

Resources

1) Start a Fashion Business: A website packed with step-by-step advice on starting a fashion business. Website: startafashionbusiness.co.uk/

2) A website compiled by an American fashion expert on how to run a fashion business for profit. Website: http://fashionforprofit.com/about-us/

3) The catalogue for the Lehona swimsuit line. Website: http://www.lehona.com.br/pdf/lehona_moda_praia_plus_size.pdf

4) Miss Brazil Plus-Size Beauty Contest: Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHLflIgXqgM

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Putting Quality and Design at the Centre of Chinese Fashion

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Awareness of the sourcing of materials for fashion has been on the rise in the past decade. Concerns about how the global fashion industry functions and its impact on the environment have given rise to savvy retailers who take care over the sourcing of their materials and the working conditions of their employees. Consumers have shown a willingness to pay a little more to know that a garment is sustainably produced and has the lowest possible impact on the environment.

The global textile industry is the second biggest consumer of water in the world. The dyeing processes used by these manufacturers do extensive damage to the water table that is used for drinking water.

In China, there have been violent demonstrations over working conditions and increasing concern over the health consequences of many modern manufacturing methods. In order to get change, new business models need to emerge, and consumers and customers need to be educated and to demand better-quality, low- or non-polluting products.

One business has accomplished something remarkable: it has succeeded in producing high-quality, ethically sourced products while also employing vulnerable people who have significant care duties and need a flexible and understanding employer.

NuoMi (http://www.nuomishanghai.com) has three stores and a store/design studio in Shanghai, China. NuoMi means “sticky rice” in Mandarin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandarin_Chinese). It was founded by Filipino fashion designer Bonita Lim, a mother of four, who uses her business to help single mothers and the less fortunate.

NuoMi is also pioneering sustainable and green goods for the Chinese market. This is unusual in a country more known for its sweatshop, low-wage manufacturing industries that have propelled the country into an economic powerhouse.

NuoMi sells women’s clothing made from sustainable sources while creating jobs for people from disadvantaged communities. There are organic cotton, bamboo, silk and wool garments, and no artificial dyes or synthetic materials are used.

The design team works on colourful knitwear, dresses and baby clothes. They also offer a custom order service.

“When I was 13 or 14 years old, I dreamed of building a special company that could help people who have trouble finding a job,” Lim told the Global Times.

“I called the name of my brand NuoMi, which is (the) Chinese name for sticky rice … Our company works like sticky rice; we support and love each other.”

Born in the Philippines and educated in Canada, Lim had become frustrated while working with the Filipino government and wanted to help the poor. She started NuoMi in 2006 in Shanghai, a city booming as China’s economy continues to grow. It is also a city with a population with long-standing sophisticated consumer tastes. Shanghai had been home to various foreign concessions before the Communists took power and its population was exposed to foreign languages, cultures and tastes.

Lim became a single mother after she divorced, and this experience made her sympathetic to how hard life is for single mothers. Drawing on her passion for fashion, she hired a designer to work with her on designing a line of clothing.

“I was surprised that many of my friends really liked my designs, so they asked me to design clothes for them and introduced some clients to me,” Lim told Global Times. “I tried to design and sell clothes abroad. I got a lot of good feedback, but it exhausted me so I decided to work in Shanghai.”

Despite starting out as a hobby, the business had built a network of 20 clients. It had become impossible to just do it part-time so she formalised the business as NuoMi.  She began hiring single mothers in prison in the Philippines and designed clothing that could be easily made by them.

“Those single mothers in prison were very anxious because they had no way to help their children. Most of them committed crimes because they needed money for their kids,” Lim said.

By 2008 she had built a professional design team and now had 60 clients. With the brand NuoMi growing, she opened its first store. This has grown to four stores in Shanghai. Most of the company’s workforce is now in Shanghai but they are still people living in a vulnerable situation.

Nuomi’s newly opened store in 2008 carried a spring and summer collection of long dresses made from bamboo, cotton and soya. These fabrics were chosen for their breathability in the hot, steamy Shanghai weather.

One of the employees is 52-year-old Zhu Linfang, who takes care of a stroke-damaged father and a mother with liver cancer. “I was introduced through a friend. They paid me more than other companies. At my age almost no company wants to hire me, but working for NuoMi, I earn between 2,000 yuan (US $300) and 3,000 yuan per month,” she said.

Other employees look after ill children and have care duties that occupy much of their time. They do sewing and make toys for NuoMi.

Lim takes the time to train the employees to make sure they can do the work to a high standard.

“I tried to design products that were both suitable for them to make and could be sold in the market,” she said.

NuoMi also sells environmentally friendly glycerine soaps in flavours from mango to chocolate, jewellery made from recycled industrial materials and bathwear, pillows, and purses. The stores even carry matching mother-daughter and father-son clothing.

Wisely, service is offered in Chinese and English to customers – Shanghai is a popular destination for tourists. NuoMi is clearly a trail-blazer and a business to watch.

Resources

1) Ecodesignfair: Eco Design Fair is a bi-annual grass-roots community event whose purpose is to showcase eco-conscious designers and products to general consumers. Website: http://www.ecodesignfair.cn

2) Nest: Another eco-conscious design company in Shanghai. Its motto is “design with a conscience”. Website:http://www.nestshanghai.com/nest.html

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Ger: Mongolia’s First Web Magazine (And A Pioneering Web Project For The United Nations) | 12 January 2016

Ger Magazine was hosted on the http://www.un-mongolia.mn website from 1998.
  • Editor-in-chief: David South (1998-1999)
  • Logo design: P. Davaa-Ochir

“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000). pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

Ger Magazine was launched on September 9, 1998 (Ger is the Mongolian word for both the traditional tent dwelling and home). The theme of youth in the transition was explored by a combined team of Mongolian and foreign journalists. The Ger Magazine project had basically three goals: first, raise the quality of journalism in the country, secondly, introduce the country to a wider global audience and, thirdly, by being the country’s first online magazine, prove the internet was an effective way to communicate.

Issue 1

Issue 1 of the magazine investigated what life was like for youth during the transition years (post-1989). Stories tackled the struggle to find work in the free market, the booming pop music scene and how it is leading the way in business entrepreneurship, reproductive health, the basics on Mongolian culture, and vox pop views from Mongolian youth.

Issue 2

Issue 2 of the magazine investigated modern life in Mongolia during transition. The team of journalists were hitting their stride by this issue. Stories probed the proliferation of bars and the problem of alcoholism, corrupt banking practices and the loss of savings, how the young were the country’s leading entrepreneurs, Mongolia’s meat and milk diet, “girl power” and the strong role played by women, the burgeoning new media, the rise and rise of Buddhism, and Mongolia’s dynamic fashion designers (this article inspired foreign fashion designers to embrace the Mongolian ‘look’ in the next season’s designs).

Editor-in-Chief: David South, UNDP Communications Coordinator
EditorA. Delgermaa, UB Post newspaper
TranslationA. Delgermaa
Photography: N. Baigalmaa, David South
Design and layout: B. Bayasgalan, UN Homepage Webmaster

“This is the second issue of Ger. We have chosen the theme “Modern Life” to introduce people outside of Mongolia to the complexities of life in today’s Mongolia – the good, the bad and the ugly as a cowboy film once said. Ger is a project that draws upon the best journalists of this country. Under democracy Mongolia enjoys a flourishing free press, with over 800 officially registered newspapers for a population of 2.4 million! Ger has chosen A. Delgermaa of the UB Post newspaper to edit this issue. The UB Post is one of two English language newspapers in Mongolia and is owned by the Mongol News Company, a publisher of five newspapers, including the daily Today newspaper. Ger is a project to improve the quality of journalism in Mongolia, while introducing the people of the world to Mongolian journalists and this wonderful country. We hope you enjoy this issue of Ger. Please send us your comments. 

Ger is not an official UNDP publication but a project to improve the quality of journalism. Opinions expressed in the magazine do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the United Nations Development Programme. Articles may be freely reproduced so long as credit is given and the editors are notified. Ger is published in English and Mongolian. 

Contributors

Ms. A Delgermaa: A reporter with the UB Post English weekly newspaper, which enjoys a good reputation among readers. Delgermaa is a young journalist and started her career in 1997, after graduating from the English Department of the Foreign Service School, Mongolian National University. She is a regular contributor to UN publications and has been published by Inter Press Service. She thinks Mongolia needs more psychologists to give courage to those many who are yearning for a better life. Like many young Mongolians she also wants to study abroad, to learn how journalism is practised in other countries.

Ms. N. Oyunbayar: Also a reporter with the UB Post newspaper, Oyunbayar, is a graduate of Ekaterinburg University in Russia, where she qualified as a Russian language teacher. She left her pupils in Sukhbaatar aimag, where she was born, some years ago and decided to undertake a personal crusade against wrongdoing by becoming a journalist for the UB Post. She is an award-winning journalist and a member of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association. She loves to cook and enjoys learning about new cuisines. 

Ms. T. Mandala: A historian and journalist, she is a reporter with the “Weekend” weekly newspaper. She has been a journalist for two years, has written several interesting interviews with politicians, including the Mongolian parliamentary speaker R. Gonchigdorj and MPs Da. Ganbold and E. Bat-Uul. She explores issues like life after death and she wants to be a public defender in a court one day. 

She is a successor of her grandfather Khodoogiin Perlee, who is a famous historian in Mongolia. And studies religion, especially Buddhism and Shamanism. 

Mr. D. Dorjjav: A psychologist and a lecturer at the Administrative Management Department of Mongolian National University, he is married and has two girls and a boy. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis. His wish is to help people to open themselves up and discover their abilities. His plan for the future is to contribute to the psychological understanding of life in Mongolia. Dorjjav’s hobby is to talk to people and exchange opinions.

G. Enkhtuya: Born in the year of the pig (there are twelve years in the lunar calendar), a professional in marketing, trading, journalism, she is currently studying law in the Institute of Legal Studies, Mongolian National University. She is also a reporter for Odriin Sonin independent daily newspaper, once the largest state-owned newspaper until the start of 1999. She likes to cook when she is liberated from her official duties.

Jill Lawless: An Honourary Foreign Member of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association, Jill has been the editor of the UB Post newspaper since 1997. Jill regularly contributes to Agence France-Presse, Far Eastern Economic Review, Deutsche Welle and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She is happiest riding camels in the Gobi desert. 

Michael Kohn: Michael is the editor of the Mongol Messenger and contributed to the first edition of Ger. He is a regular contributor to Associated Press and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Michael is an avid traveler and is an expert on hitchhiking across Mongolia.  

Ms. N. Baigalmaa: Photo journalist for Onoodor (Today) newspaper, the number one independent newspaper for three years. “Photo journalism is always interesting. I really enjoy taking action photos.” She is fed up of taking photos of static photos of people standing or sitting and has devoted her life to photo journalism. One never boring thing for her is her two sons and a girl. Sometimes she loses her sports jacket to her oldest son, now taller than her.”

Stories

Depositors’ blues: Banks fail to reform and become solvent.In the absence of a trustworthy formal banking system, Mongolians are sticking to an elaborate informal banking system driven by pawn shops

by G. Enkhtuya

“Mongolia is currently in the clutches of a full-blown banking crisis. On the surface life appears normal on the streets of the capital. Workers busily renovate apartments to open as shops and restaurants, while other workers march to the many building sites throughout Ulaanbaatar. But there is no doubting the situation is serious.”

Young Mongolian entrepreneurs lead the business revolution

By Michael Kohn

“Under communism, L. Bayasgalan studied fungus. Under capitalism, she’s used her scientific knowledge to build her own organic vegetable business. The 35-year-old is in the vanguard of a budding army of Mongolian entrepreneurs cashing in on the impoverished landlocked country’s nine year transformation from the world’s second oldest communist state to a free-market democracy.”

Meat, milk and Mongolia: 
Misunderstood and often maligned, the Mongolian diet does make sense

By N. Oyunbayar

“A stroll down any Mongolian residential street is usually the first introduction to a visitor of the savoury odours of the traditional meals of this country. If you are invited into somebody’s ger (or traditional tent dwelling) or apartment, you will probably have an opportunity of tasting buuz, khuushuur and bansh.

“These Mongolian national meals are made with minced meat seasoned with garlic or onion (it can be anything from mutton to beef to camel to horse to gazelle) covered with flour and steamed in boiling water, fried in oil and boiled in water. For many visitors to the country the vast quantities of meat consumed can at first be surprising. But it is not long before a visitor finds their favourite Mongolian food, be it buuz, khuushur or a number of other treats. A Canadian living in Ulaanbaatar once told me, “the Mongolian national food contains a lot of meat, but I like the buuz.

“The meat-dependent diet arises from the need for hearty food to stave off the cold and long winters. Traditionally nomadic herders, Mongolians have for centuries been dependent on mostly animal products for their dietary staples. Now after over nine years of transition, the traditional diet has been used as a shield against hunger and for the wealthy, subject to the influence of imported foreign foods and cuisine. When the Russians pulled the plug on Mongolia’s aid in 1991, the economy went into a severe crisis. For many Mongolians it was their first experience of serious hunger. The staple traditional diet of meat, milk and flour saw many people through this crisis, when food imports from the former Soviet Union dropped off.

“Mongolians traditionally have turned to foods that are high in protein and minerals, relying less on more seasonable foods like vegetables and fruits. This means a diet heavy on meat and dairy products, the latter when sour in the summer time thought to clean the stomach. It isn’t just about meat though. Mongolians do also eat cereal, barley and natural fruits and plants native to the country.

“Out of necessity Mongolians have found creative and ingenious ways to use the milk of all five of the domestic animals in the country: sheep, cattle, goats, camels and horses. Orom is the cream that forms on top of boiled milk; aaruul are dried curds and can be seen baking in the sun on top of gers in the summer; eetsgii is the dried cheese; airag is fermented milk of mares (female horses); nermel, is the home-brewed vodka that packs a punch; tarag, is the sour yogurt; shar tos, melted butter from curds and orom, and tsagaan tos, boiled orom mixed with sometimes flour, natural fruits or eesgii. The method of drying the dairy products is common in preparing them. The Mongolians prepare enough dairy products for the long winter and spring.

“The traditions of using, producing and preparing these foods are stronger outside the main cities, where the population is more reliant on the vast herds for food. B. Baljmaa (Mongolians generally use their first names), a dietitian and nutritionist at the National Nutrition Research Centre, says there is a genetic compatability for the food.

‘Before 1992 there wasn’t much research in this area. But now we know from our research that Mongolians are better able to absorb foods with more acid. So, traditional food should be kept in the country.’

“Since 1997 Mongolians have seen a substantial increase in the variety and quantity of imported foods, many of which were only thought of as exotic 10 years ago. Since the start of 1999 the Soviet-style market stalls now compete against western-style supermarkets, with trolleys and shelves proudly saying “Made in Mongolia.” In markets like Dalai Eej, Dorvon Uul, Food Land and Mercury it is possible to buy delicious prepared and canned foods, candies, biscuits, and unknown and unused before by Mongolians, products like oranges, bananas, plums and American chickens.

“On top of the canteens and cafes serving Mongolian food, there are now many restaurants, canteens, bakeries and tea shops which serve meals from Russia, Italy, India, China, Japan, Korea, England, France, Senegal and Turkey. Most of these restaurants are located in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Mongolians have taken to the new tastes. “I think Mongolians like roasted chicken and fish when they go to the foreign sit-down restaurants, and hot dogs and pizzas in the fast foods shops,” says I. Narantsetseg and her husband J.Battulga. Both were dining in the Seoul restaurant, and are happy they can go out for food: “it is a very good thing that there are opening a lot of restaurants where friends and family can go and enjoy food in comfort.”

“Isobe Hiroshi, manager of Seketei, a high-end Japanese restaurant, told me “only 20 per cent of our customers are Mongolians. The vast majority of our clients are foreign, especially Japanese people who are working and traveling here. I think Mongolians have still not grown used to sushi and sashimi, the raw fish prepared in our restaurant. But I hope we will welcome more and more Mongolians in the future.”

“The traditional diet in the cities is more changed, more european. And with comes its own dangers for Mongolians says the Nutrition Centre’s Baljmaa:

‘There is a big problem of importing poisonous foods and food which probably will cause the nutrition-related diseases common in more developed countries,” she continues.”While the trend around the world amongst health-conscious people is towards natural products for their food, some Mongolians use some food which can cause troubles for their health. For example, fast food made with more oil, salt and sugar are considered the biggest dangers for human health. On the plus side prices for these imported foods are higher and only the wealthiest people can afford them; the poor people can’t buy and eat it no matter how much they desire. This means their poverty is protecting their health. We should boost our efforts to raise awareness on what foods protect your health.’

“Help in improving nutrition awareness a poster portraying a ger details the food habits of Mongolians and the nutritional value of common foods.

“Now I want to present to you recipes of processing and preparing some Mongolian national products and meals:

“From ancient times, Mongolians use abundant and peculiar methods of processing meat and preparing food.. One of the more popular methods of processing the meat is to prepare borts (dried meat) for use in winter. Borts is made from the meat of cows, goats and camels. Here is a recipe for camel borts presented by Dr. Sh. Tserenpuntsag who engages in the research of the meat.

1. Separate the meat from its layer of fat, as fat will spoil in drying.
2. Cut meat into strips about 20-30 centimeters long and two to five centimeters thick.
3. Hang to dry in a well-ventilated room.
4. Leave for four to five months.
5. Cut into small strips for use in any dish you like.

“If soaked in water, the meat will expand up to two and half times in size. It should then be cooked for 18 minutes.

“The main method of cooking the meals of the Mongolians is boiling and steaming, considered the most healthy method in cooking by researchers the world over. Here is a recipe for buuz from the Nutrition Centre. It is considered one of the national meals of the Mongolians and is cooked by steaming and is a good fast food.”

Girl power in Mongolia: What is the status of gender after nine years of transition?

By D. Dorjjav

“As American author Arthur Schlesinger once said, the main breaker of peace in our time is social differentiation. It is unfortunate that, despite developments in human civilisation, modern times have brought only new manifestations of this phenomenon, based on people’s mind, feeling, life style, goals and dreams.”

Money may be tight, but Mongolians are still going online, booting up and sending emails

By Jill Lawless

“Inside Mongolia’s former Construction College, a slab of brightly painted concrete overlooking Ulaanbaatar, murals on the peeling walls still depict beefy workers engaged in heroic labour. The stern visages of Marx, Engels and Lenin loom above the central staircase.

But students these days have neither communism nor construction on their minds. The building is now the School of Computer Science and Management of the Mongolian Technical University.”

The real Mongolian gets the nod from Western fashion designers. Mongolia’s top fashion designer, Solyolmaa, gives Ger a quick lesson on Mongolian clothing

By A. Delgermaa

“Last year’s fashion runways were dominated by one influence: Mongolian traditional design. If a designer wanted to show they were boldly embracing natural fibers and furs, then the refrain ” my show is all Mongolian” would be proudly boasted to the media. The country has become a synonym for sartorial flare and rugged beauty. It also doesn’t hurt that one of Mongolia’s top exports, cashmere wool, is in vogue, from Japan to Europe to the United States. After years of being isolated from the west under the umbrella of the Soviet Union, Mongolian fashion is proudly strutting the catwalks of the world.”

Cashmere is king but Mongolia still struggles to reap the benefit

By A. Delgermaa

A Mongolian cashmere designer once opined that Mongolians are lucky that most goats in the country are capable of producing fine cashmere. And while Chinese cashmere dominates the marketplace, Mongolian cashmere is by far the purest and finest.

About 30 cashmere companies contributes tens of millions of dollars a year to the country’s wealth (though nobody is quite sure how much because most cashmere sales go unreported to the government). But the revenue isn’t what it used to be due to problems in the domestic industry and a drop in the world price. Z. Ayur, chief secretariat of the Gobi company, thinks it doesn’t have to be that way. “Unfortunately we lose half of our raw cashmere to China,” he says.” The Chinese buy cashmere at a high price, not depending on the quality. This means national manufacturers lack raw cashmere to process into garments.” He thinks raw cashmere exports should be banned or subject to a duty of 100 to 150 per cent. Mongolia’s weak infrastructure plays a part as well. It is cheaper for herders to travel to the Chinese border with cashmere than to bring it to the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Often when they are at the border with China, they are subjected to some hard bargaining by Chinese brokers, who exploit the fact herders can’t afford to walk away empty handed. 

Cashmere has always been considered a luxury and expensive. But in the past two years it has lost its fusty image as only for old people. Trendy designs have attracted a vast market of younger cashmere consumers. “I guess in the past it was dear and expensive and designs weren’t very appealing to the younger set,” thinks Gerelmaa, the chief designer of Gobi company. 

The Gobi company is one of the few state enterprises left over from the socialist period that still makes money (and is due for privatization this year – a prime pick for foreign investors). 

In 1972 the United Nations funded projects to experiment with starting a cashmere garment industry in Mongolia. This innovative thinking led to a joint Japanese-Mongolian venture in 1981 to start the first cashmere manufacturer, Gobi. These days it still produces one third of the country’s cashmere products. 

Mongolian Wool and Cashmere Federation head Tsendmaa is optimistic about the drop in the world market price.” It will soon go back up again,” she says with confidence. “The reserve of cashmere in the world will run out soon. What happened with the drop in prices is typical of any industry when it overproduces.” What worries her most is the flood of Mongolian cashmere going to China, where Chinese workers process and knit the garments and reap the job benefits.

While cashmere is still known for its use in classic turtle, crew and v-neck jumpers, things have changed. “Before we mostly exported classic styles in off-white, brown, grey, black, bark, blue or dark red to Japan or Germany,” continues Tsendmaa. “Now Americans order more fashionable cashmere for the young. The designs of short jumpers that expose bare chests and waists are cheap to produce (less material) and suitable for young fashions.” 

Italian, French or Belgian customers are fussier and demand greater variety in designs. These countries determine the vogue for cashmere wear and use the most high tech knitting technology.

Contemporary cashmere fashion in France or Italy can combine fur or silk. Colours have also been revamped, with the young going for light blue, light pink, snow white, off-white and light green. Italians and Americans like metal grey with rose or pink. Mixing up the colours in sporty stripes and lines is also popular.

Cashmere is very practical, warm and light. “It is not suitable for the office,” says Gerelmaa.” Cashmere wear is more suitable to wear for a night out or just for hanging out. But of course it is not for sport!” 

Fashionable Mongolian cashmere is becoming a strong competitor to Chinese, Italian, Scottish or American cashmere. “The raw material is pure and the design is more fashionable.” And a happy Gerelmaa likes the sound the cash register makes in Japan: “In Japan classic Mongolian style is sold for more than US $1,200 in the Takashimaya Store, in GINZA.” Now if more of that kind of hard cash found its way back to Mongolia, the country would definitely be better off. 

Mongolians call them mannequins, but this model has something to say and a good head on her shoulders

Interview by A. Delgermaa

It could be said that there is no girl who does not dream of becoming a model. Many Mongolian girls, particularly Ulaanbaatar city girls, are flocking to attend courses in modeling in the last few years. Some say models are mushrooming in Mongolia, a country known for its fresh-faced people and robust physiques. 

Ger interviewed S. Ikhertsetseg, one of the twin top models of Mongolia.

When did you first appear on the fashion stage?

“When we were 15 we played piano for the state concert on International Women’s Day on March 8. The ( Best Fashion) company was in trouble and they did not have anyone to wear some leather fashions for the show in the concert. It was fortuitous that we were asked to be the models. We kept it secret from our parents until we received a prize from Mongolia’s top fashion show, Goyol (or beauty) , in 1988. That was a year after the state concert. Being a fashion model was not considered so desirable as it is now. We were busy studying at music school and our parents did not know what we were doing.”

What do you think of today’s models?

“In the early days of fashion shows in Mongolia in the 1980s, we did not have many competitors. These days there are many beautiful Mongolian models we have to compete with, but only a few are very good. If someone is lucky, they have the potential to compete at the world level. Personally, I don’t like models who are too trained by courses.”

Do you think becoming famous is pure luck?

“Of course it is luck. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of hard work. You must send photos to agencies, and then only then, will someone see your photo – that is luck.”

What about design and fashion in Mongolia? Are Mongolians fashion sensitive?

“I can not say Mongolians are sensitive to fashion. I think our designers should work harder. Design is not a dress or a suit. It is everything, the whole cornucopia of details. I do not think we are going to compete with Europe, which has a long history of making clothing, rich in colors or designs. There is a big difference between fashion in the West and in Mongolia.”

Mongolia has a lively free press who sometimes step over the line when it comes to gossip and scandal reporting. These so-called “yellow” newspapers have damaged many people’s reputations. This had also happened to you. Some newspapers called the two of you the Barbie girls in Beijing, earning a lot of money.

“Yes, they did say those bad things. We replied to them.”

Was it before the court?

“No, that is a personal question.”

What was the result?

“The newspapers didn’t do that again.”

What do you do now?

“Both of us keep up the fashion work and also teach piano. Music is our profession and love. We founded the Association of Models of Mongolia to protect their rights and strengthen their position in the society.”

Impact

The stories have been featured in many books on the country, and the magazine was recommended as a good resource by the Lonely Planet guidebook. 

This was not only the first publication of its kind in the UN, it was also a pioneering online venture and remarkable for a country lacking the advantages of wealthier countries.

An online survey of the state of Mongolia’s media and its history (www.pressreference.com/Ma-No/Mongolia.html), had this to say: “An interesting variation from some of the other publications available is Ger Magazine (published online with guidance from the United Nations Development Program, UNDP), which is concerned with Mongolian youth in cultural transition. The name of the magazine is meant to be ironic because a ger is the Mongolian word for yurt—a yurt being traditional nomadic housing—but the magazine is about urbanization and globalization of Mongolian youth.”

Citations

A Complete Guide on Celebrations, Festivals and Holidays around the World by Sarah Whelan, Asteroid Content, 2015

Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media by Jeff Summer, Gale Group, 2001

Mongol Survey, Issue 8, The Society, 2001

Mongolian Culture and Society in the Age of Globalization by Henry G. Schwarz (editor), Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 2006

Nations in Transition: Mongolia by Jennifer L. Hanson, Infobase Publishing, 2003

Teen Life in Asia by Judith J. Slater, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004

World Press Encyclopedia: A Survey of Press Systems Worldwide, Volume 1 by Amanda C. Quick, Gale Group, 2003

Some of the team behind Ger:

Editor-in-Chief: David South

Logo Design: P. Davaa-Ochir

Layout and Online: B. Bayasgalan

Contributors: A. DelgermaaMichael KohnJill LawlessPeter Marsh, and N. Oyuntungalag.

Read the Wikipedia entry here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ger_magazine

Read the full content by searching the www.archive.org wayback machine via the http://www.un-mongolia.mn website: https://web.archive.org/web/19990420090143/http://www.un-mongolia.mn/

Ger Magazine contributor Jill Lawless’ book Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia here: https://wildeasttravelsinthenewmongolia.wordpress.com

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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African Fashion’s Growing Global Marketplace Profile

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Tales of African global fashion successes have multiplied in the last few years. African fashion is seeing its profile rise as more and more shows and festivals boost awareness of the continent’s designs, designers and models. In turn, African fashion and design is being taken more seriously as an income and job generator, and as a sector able to weather the ups and downs of the global economy: people always need to wear clothes.

If the global fashion industry were a country, it would rank 7th in global GDP (gross domestic product) (Fashion Performance Network).

In 2011, the apparel retail industry was worth an estimated US $1.1 trillion, and that could grow to US $1.3 trillion by 2016. And the sector is expanding in the global South. It is forecast that India and China combined will be as big a fashion market as the United States by 2015.

One visible aspect of this is the plethora of African fashion weeks that have sprung up.

Launched in 2011, African Fashion Week in London (africafashionweeklondon.com), or AFWL, is a reflection of how far things have come and how much higher the profile of African fashion now is.

The mission behind AFWL is “to promote emerging and established African designers and African-inspired designers from across the globe.” The number of attendees grew from 4,700 in the first year to 20,000 in 2012.

In 2012 it partnered with Côte d’Ivoire Fashion Week (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cote-dIvoire-Fashion-Week/364950310210789), which will hold its third annual event in December 2013. This partnership has meant fashion designers from Côte d’Ivoire can benefit from the higher international profile of appearing at African Fashion Week in London. The theme in 2012 was “Ivorian Textile Products on the American Market.”

“London is one of the most important fashion capitals around the world,” said Côte d’Ivoire Fashion Week’s founder and CEO, Coulibaly Severin on the AFWL website. “It is a great honour for us and the African continent to have a professional international platform to promote African Fashion industry actors, African heritage, African values, African textiles through Africa Fashion Week London.”

The idea is to use the fashion week as a bridge to access the European market.

With the right support, African fashion businesses have huge potential for growth.

A distinctive “Afropolitan” aesthetic (http://afropolitanaesthetic.tumblr.com/) has grown as a phenomenon since 2005, influencing global urban design trends. It can be characterized as urban, sophisticated, tailored and boldly African in its use of colours and patterns. British designer Paul Smith (http://www.paulsmith.co.uk/uk-en/shop/) has been one of many designers to be inspired by the afropolitan look.

While African fashion trends have always influenced the global fashion business, the challenge has been to create viable global African fashion brands that can compete in the global marketplace and in turn create sustainable jobs in Africa.

Pioneers are showing that it can be done.

Featured at Africa Fashion Week in London in 2011, the Nigerian fashion brand Mmabon (mmabon.com) is now looking to pioneer new ways to buy and sell clothing in Africa. The company, which sells affordable casual and custom apparel, is launching a mobile phone app for all devices and is building its own Internet e-commerce website as well. Mmabon had been engaging with customers through Facebook and the BlackBerry smartphone, but realized it could offer a much better experience for customers through an app and an e-commerce website. This shows the future for fashion in Africa is going mobile and going online.

Founded by Elizabeth Idem-Ido, Mmabon is capitalizing on the fact Internet access is improving in Nigeria and is turning to online advertising to drum up customers. The fashion brand is trying to reach 16 to 34 year olds, of which 8 million are believed to be currently on Facebook in Nigeria, according to Idem-Ido.

There is a cultural change underway in the country: people are increasingly feeling comfortable doing commerce online and on mobile phones.

“Nigerian youths are now more willing to buy products over the Internet, unlike five years ago, with the likes of konga.com and jumia.com revolutionizing the online retail scene in Nigeria,” Idem-Ido, who is also a trained lawyer, told VC4Africa (https://vc4africa.biz/).

Konga (Konga.com) is Nigeria’s largest online mall. Opened in 2012, it offers a wide range of products for order across Nigeria. Jumia.com calls itself the “the biggest online shopping mall in Africa”, operating in Morocco, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Kenya. Another player is Ecwid (ecwid.com), which bills itself as an e-commerce solution for small businesses that “is a revolutionary shopping cart that seamlessly integrates with your existing website. It can also be added to your page on social media networks, such as Facebook or mySpace”.

Idem-Ido’s experience with Mmabon over the past two years shows how online marketing can be an effective – and cost-effective – way to broaden a company’s customer base.

“As a business, we have not physically met with 80 per cent of our current customers,” she said. “Orders have been achieved from referrals, BlackBerry Messenger contacts and our official Facebook page. Online marketing improves our visibility without owning a prime-location store and reminds, assures our already existing customers on why we are their preferred brand.”

Her fashion business began humbly as a part-time t-shirt printing hobby for her friends. Then people started ordering custom-designed t-shirts, and so she began a journey exploring fabrics in local and foreign markets.

Mmabon is now the official merchandiser for the Calabar Festival 2013-2015 (calabarfestival.com), the biggest street carnival in West Africa. Taking place in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, it attracts a million people.

Mmabon is receiving help from Venture Capital for Africa, or VC4Africa (https://vc4africa.biz/), a community of entrepreneurs and investors helping to build companies in Africa, to raise further investment to grow the brand and the business.

Another success benefiting from international exposure is Malian designer Boubacar Doumbia (http://www.ndomo.net/english/index.html), who is currently making fabrics for design-savvy British furniture and home furnishings store Habitat. The prints with African themes have proven a hit with Habitat customers.

Working from a new studio in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, Doumbia (https://www.ashoka.org/fellow/boubacar-doumbia) is a leading advocate of bogolan (http://www.malimali.org/what-is-bogolan/), a Malian traditional textile dyeing process using mud.

He uses locally grown cotton, which is first dyed using plant-based dyes. A chemical reaction occurs when the iron in the mud is applied to the fabric and turns the existing plant dye black after three applications, or grey after two applications. The mud is washed off and the fabrics are placed in the sun to dry. It is a sustainable and chemical-free approach to dyeing fabrics and also creates vibrant patterns that have caught the attention of people in Europe and elsewhere.

Other outlets who have become enamored with African patterns and themes in Britain include Darkroom Boutique, House of Fraser and the V&A Museum, The Guardian newspaper reported.

As an Ashoka fellow (ashoka.org) – Ashoka is the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide – Boubacar is using the craft as a way to boost skills and opportunities for youth in Mali. He has “overhauled the traditional model of youth apprenticeship in Mali by putting young people in a central, entrepreneurial role from the outset. Rather than simply train students in the methods of textile production, he teaches professional, people and life skills, and encourages his apprentices to become self-sufficient, creative, and innovative”, according to the Ashoka website.

Elsewhere, African fashion style pioneer Gilles Belinga (https://www.facebook.com/GillesBelinga) has become a fashion phenomenon in China. The former communications engineering student had a deeply personal conversion to fashion and style upon arriving in Beijing; the buzzing and vibrant Chinese capital captured his heart.

“I discovered my talent and passion for fashion in China,” he told China Daily.

“I’ve also been given many opportunities here, so I want to pursue my fashion dream in China.”

The Cameroon native has a distinctly afropolitan take on fashion – elegant, tailored suits, strong colours, and a gentleman’s manner – and this fashionable posture landed him modeling work in fashion shows.

He arrived in China in 2008 after his parents divorced and he went from being in a wealthy family back home to having to do any job he could get to survive. He started out in Tianjin, China – an industrial city with a large high-technology sector – and then moved to Beijing to study.

It was there that he fell in love with the city’s fashion scene and hasn’t looked back.

“I never attended fashion school in Africa, but in Beijing, in this fashionable environment I realized that I like drawing clothes, matching colors and mixing fabrics,” he said.

“There are so many fabrics here, which has given me the chance to try out different things. Sometimes you might have a talent in you, but you might not discover that talent if you’re not in a place where it can come out.”

He now designs clothes and has them made by local tailors.

“When I design clothes for clients, I look at the whole person and what kind of message they want to deliver to people,” he said. “Then I check their skin color and think about style and fabric.”

He defies the elitist take on fashion that can be promulgated by fashion magazines and thinks good fashion is for everyone.

“I believe the way you dress sends a message to people about how you want them to think about you.”

He finds Beijing is full of opportunities and he is regularly stopped in the city’s trendy Sanlitun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanlitun) neighbourhood and asked to be in fashion shows.

“In China, you don’t know who you are going to meet. You could be anywhere and meet someone who can change your life.”

And he plans to perfect his skills and designs in China and then take them back to Cameroon one day.

And maybe, in time, Belinga will be the next big fashion thing.

Resources

1) African Fashion Week London: AFWL celebrates London’s unique and diverse cultural heritage, topped with the flamboyant mixing of Western and African culture through fashion at the same time promoting Africa’s rich ethnic culture and interpreting it into contemporary designs. Website: africafashionweeklondon.com

2) Gentlemen of Bacongo by Daniele Tamagni, Paul Smith and Paul Goodwin, Publisher: Trolley. Website: amazon.com

The Afropolitan: A magazine and website from South Africa packed with content from an afropolitan perspective. Website: afropolitan.co.za/

Association of African Designers in Diaspora: The Association of African Designers in the Diaspora is the non-profit social enterprise arm of Africa Fashion Week London that supports emerging designers with the aim to make a positive contribution to society through fashion and creativity. Website: http://africafashionweeklondon.com/africafashionweek/association-of-african-designers-in-diaspora/

The Creative Economy: How People Make Money From Ideas by John Howkins, Publisher: Penguin. Website: creativeeconomy.com/book.htm

Creative Economy Report Website: This annual report offers a snapshot of the state of the global creative economy and its key trends. Website: http://unctad.org/en/Pages/Publications/Creative-Economy-Report-%28Series%29.aspx

7) Copyright + Creativity = Jobs and Economic Growth: WIPO Studies on the Economic Contribution of the Copyright Industries (WIPO 2012). Website: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/WIPO-Copyright-Economic-Contribution-Analysis-2012-FINAL-230-2.pdf

8) The Afropolitan Shop: The Afropolitan Shop is an online boutique founded by Beverly Lwenya, that desires to tell an African Design Story. It began as a blog in 2007 called The Afropolitan Network, which highlighted stories and images of the African Diaspora. The Afropolitan Shop is now a growing global brand, specializing in handmade and designer accessories such as jewelry, bags and shoes. Website: theafropolitanshop.com/

Published: October 2013


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021