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City of Banjul
Sunday, June 16, 2024

Is fashion important?

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With Aisha Jallow

What kind of vain question is that, you might ask, and the answers will have as many variations as the number of people you are asking this question. There has always been some kind of fashion, but it hasn’t been an industry for more than around 150 years. Thanks to the industrialization, the factories were able to distribute fabrics that were affordable to buy for common people. Before that you had to create your own fabric. You planted seeds, looked after the plants and harvested them later on. After that harvest, the plants had to be processed somehow to make thread. The thread was then used for weaving fabric for you and your family’s clothes. The process was long and tiresome, so when the factories took over it became so much easier.

Something that always has amazed me is how beautifully women in both The Gambia and Senegal are dressed. Even the poorest woman walks with pride, dressed in multi-coloured dresses, looking like an African queen. Women in The Gambia and Senegal look so lovely in their dresses, there is a huge difference from what you can see in many Western countries. Everytime I am visiting The Gambia, I go to the shops and buy fabric and bring it with me to Sweden. I prefer dresses, even here, and I am inspired by the African women. The way we are dressed is sending signals to our surroundings. Our appearance is the first thing other people notice, they look at us, how we are dressed but also our body language. A proud posture combined with nice and clean clothes is giving a good impression. Still you might think this is vain, but at the same time you have to admit that this is true.

Our clothing is sending signals to others, for example; look at a uniform of a police officer or a military. When you meet someone dressed in a uniform, you immediately treat that person with a different kind of respect than others. The uniforms have never looked exactly the same during the years, even in this branch there is a fashion that changes. The fashion industry is huge and a large part of the GDP for some countries. France is known for its fashion industry since centuries back. Fashion designers always look for new inspiration as they are expected to create new and exciting fashion at least twice a year.

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Senegal has a huge fashion industry and French fashion designers, like Karl Lagerfeld from the famous brand Chanel, loved what he saw in Senegal. There have been fashion shows in Senegal for several years, but now we also have French designers who come there to show their fashion.

Senegal is more or less embracing The Gambia, it is like an older sibling holding the younger sibling in their arms. I feel that this is also the mindset of The Gambia, that there is this feeling of being smaller that is narrowing the minds of many Gambians. It is like there is no use to try to do anything, because The Gambia is so small and will never succeed anyway.

This is a sad mindset, because what is in your mind can actually be changed. The only way to change it is to first be aware of your mindset and that it needs to be changed. Secondly, you have to find a new direction for your mind and do your level best to go there instead of following your old trace. It is possible, but it needs a lot of effort in the beginning. When I grew up, my surroundings were very negative. I was never encouraged to anything, instead I was made to feel that I was useless. It took a long time for me to understand that I was not useless, and then to begin to think about myself in a positive way. I was always compared to others, they were better than I, that is what I was told. Of course you begin to believe that about yourself if that is what you are always told.

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So what are your thoughts about yourself and your abilities? How can you influence your future? What small steps can you take to make something a little bit better, a little bit more beautiful? Most of our fashion designers didn’t begin their lives as rich people with endless means. Instead they began as creative people with small means, but with great ambitions. That is where we should find our inspiration and ambition. The Gambia has a lot to offer with a rich culture, but if you always look down on where to put your feet, you will never see the beauty that is surrounding you.

What saddens me is that so many of our government officials have studied and also worked abroad, but they seem to have been blind. Why didn’t they see how others have built up their societies and wanted to give this to their own people? The narrow minded thinking, the sense of ”there is no use because nothing will ever change” lays like a wet blanket over The Gambia. Throw it off and begin to use the means you have. Use your imagination, be creative, look at things in a different way and you will find a change in your mindset. Do you really want your country to look like a big dump with garbage everywhere? The mind is not static, it can be very flexible if you allow it to move freely.

Once I heard a very important message, but I have to explain it a bit for those of you who are not so familiar with the Holy Bible. The prophet Moses got the 10 commandments from God. These commandments tell us how to act as human beings, to respect our God, to not lie, cheat or steal. The lecturer I listened to said that there are 10 commandments we must follow, but there are 2 extra commandments that we should avoid. These extra commandments are: we have never done like this before AND we have always done like this. These two are narrowing our minds and don’t allow us to explore the possibilities.

Instead of comparing The Gambia with Senegal, begin to find your own position. Find inspiration in your own culture, in your nature and in your music. Make The Gambia a cultural hub where you encourage your own people to be creative. Market your assets and people from abroad will come to you to explore what you can offer. Start a fashion industry, have fashion shows, music festivals and invite creative people from all over the world to visit you. You don’t have the same language barrier as they have in Senegal, more people from Europe know how to speak English instead of French.

Market the beauty of your women, how they move with pride in their beautiful dresses. Even the poorest woman, selling peanuts along the roadside, is beautiful in her dress. The combination of colours and patterns is unique for Africa and it is so pleasing to the eye. Your music is the foundation of all the modern music. Remember your ancestors and their struggle, but don’t allow your mind to stay there. Instead look with pride at what they were able to create without having any means at all. Thanks to the African slaves we have so much beautiful and inspiring music. That music will never die, so don’t allow your own mind to do that. Be proud of yourself, remember the past, stay in the present and look into the future.

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