Lilly Alfonso is a perfect fit to satisfy the growing demand for fashions in Malawi and around the world. Her inspiration for designs comes from her feelings at any particular time. She has become a household name in Malawi and is quickly gaining notoriety all over the world. She has graced runway shows and stages of many fashion shows in Malawi, London, Milan, Barcelona, Washington, D.C. and Sydney, Australia.
Lilly’s love for designing evolved from at an early age, she would never accept clothes as they were presented to her â€” she always had to put her own stitch on them. Â Her friends and relatives quickly began to admire what she did with her clothing and requested her to do the same for their clothes. She started out humbly, with one tailor and 2 machines. The love for her work grew and very soon she was sewing and designing for a multitude of people â€“ mostly for free.
She got her big break when a participant in the Miss Malawi beauty pageant asked her to design a dress. The quality of the design was noticed by many and the organizers of the pageant asked her to design dresses for all the models in the pageant the following year.
In 2006Â the Director of Fashion Model Malawi Edition (FAME) asked her to design clothing for all the pageants in Malawi. Â Initially, she was hesitant and did not want to take on this huge project because she was not confident about her abilities. The Director kept on asking her and other individuals encouraged her to do it. She did and she won in 2010, her confidence grew and she continued to grow in her business. She travelled to Milan, Italy to do research and attended workshops in order to learn more about her craft. She entered FAME I 2011 and also attended the London Fashion Week 2012, these events began to further broaden her horizons and her work. People were very supportive and motivated her to soar even higher.
She sources most of her fabrics locally and this allows her to get the distinctive Malawian look and colors in her designs. Lilly’s continued support of the local textile industry will continue to provide economic benefits to Malawi.
She works closely with a business that hires young girls who have dropped out of high school and also given job opportunities to the blind and physically challenged.Â She lauds their work because of their effort and skill, art, and professionalism. She plans to put more investments in these communities in order to play a role in providing jobs and economic opportunities for the less fortunate in Malawi.
The many challenges â€” economic, inventory, transportation, training â€” have not deterred her growth and success. Lilly intends to build a huge factory (not necessarily in the fashion industry) in Malawi to provide jobs which will help in revitalizing the economy. She desires to help the growth of Â the fashion industry in Malawi; she is humbled by her success and wants to create jobs and more opportunities through her work which will in turn help the Malawian people and the economy.
Lilly’s parents were always supportive of her work but did not understand why she had to dress half naked most of the time, and always seem to be cutting clothes into different pieces. Eventually they learned the business and became even more supportive.
Lillyâ€™s father died in 2008 and this has saddened her even to today. She regrets that her father did not live to see her success, but she always remembers him telling her mother, â€œThere is something special about her.â€ Her spirit of humility and family unity came from his teachings. She also gains great strength from her religious faith and the love for her children. She imparts the lessons learned from her father onto them. Lilly is often reminded by one lesson that her father taught her â€” always be a leader and always appreciate what you have â€”
At age 33, one of her driving forces is the fact she has made it this far and people around the world are buying her designs. She is even more driven when she learns that young girls are aspiring to be like her. She practices doing things the proper way so that others may learn correctly.
Lilly is inspired to motivate people to believe in themselves and that they can succeed in whatever field they choose. She told a CNN reporter, â€œIâ€™d advise everybody who has any talent – it’s not only in fashion – Iâ€™d advise everybody to believe in themselves, and do whatever it takes to make it happenâ€
By: Karl A. Haughton
Photos courtesy of Â lillyalfonso.com
Some facts about Malawi
Malawi is in Southern Africa, east of Zambia.
The size of Malawi is 118,480 sq km, slightly smaller than Pennsylvania, US. The terrain is made up of a narrow elongated plateau with rolling plains, rounded hills, and some mountains. Lake Malawi, some 580 km long, is the country’s most prominent physical feature.
Just over 13 million people live in Malawi. Life expectancy is around 41 years. Birth rate is on average 5.9 per woman. 14% of the population is believed to have HIV/AIDS. Literacy rate is just over 62%.
Chichewa 57.2% (official), Chinyanja 12.8%, Chiyao 10.1%, Chitumbuka 9.5%, Chisena 2.7%, Chilomwe 2.4%, Chitonga 1.7%, and other 3.6%.
Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, and European
Christian 79.9%, Muslim 12.8%, other 3%, and none 4.3%
Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu Banda the country held multiparty elections in 1994, under a provisional constitution which came into full effect the following year. Current President Bingu wa Mutharika, elected in May 2004 after a failed attempt by the previous president to amend the constitution to permit another term, has struggled to assert his authority against his predecessor, who still leads their shared political party.
Landlocked Malawi ranks among the world’s least developed countries. The economy is predominately agricultural, with about 90% of the population living in rural areas. Agriculture accounted for nearly 36% of GDP and 80% of export revenues in 2005. The performance of the tobacco sector is key to short-term growth as tobacco accounts for over 60% of exports. The economy depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from the IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor nations. In 2005, President Mutharika championed an anti-corruption campaign. Malawi’s recent fiscal policy performance has been very strong.
The long years of colonial oppression and oppression by the Banda regime have ended their negative influence over the educational system. Education no longer stresses academic preparation leading to access to secondary school and universities, rather the stress is now on agriculture and practical training since few students go on to high school or university and most begin work immediately after primary school.
Photos:Â www.armstrong.edu & www.infoplease.com