Homegrown fashion emerges in troubled Somalia

Rahma Abdullahi Mohamud, right, and Hani Hussein take selfies pictures, after buying clothes designed by fashion designer Muna Mohamed Abdullahi, at Peace Garden in Mogadishu, Somalia. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2019

Homegrown fashion emerges in troubled Somalia

  • For decades, war and upheaval left ordinary Somalis focussed on the daily matters of life, death and survival

MOGADISHU: Every time young fashion designer Hawa Adan Hassan makes a new gown for a paying customer, she also makes her dreams come true.

“My whole life, fashion design was a dream,” says the 23-year-old university student, who last year began running a cottage business out of her family’s home in Hamarweyne, the historic heart of Somalia’s coastal capital Mogadishu.

For Hassan, it began with art, when she found herself drawn to sketching clothes rather than the animals and landscapes preferred by her peers.

Then she set to work on tailoring to turn her images into reality.

“I realized this could be my field of expertise,” she says.

For decades, war and upheaval left ordinary Somalis focused on the daily matters of life, death and survival.

Bombings by Al-Shabab militants still dog Mogadishu today.

But a creeping cosmopolitanism is challenging entrenched conservative attitudes and many Somalis are undaunted by wanting a look that stands out.

Somalia’s clothing stores traditionally adhere to a simple formula: Imported garments for the well-to-do, locally made clothes for the rest.

But Hassan and others are starting to alter that picture with locally designed, handmade attire for the high end of the market.

In such a nascent industry, Hassan is, by necessity, self-taught. “I used to watch fashion design shows on TV, and every time I watched one, I tried to grasp the ideas by drawing what I saw,” she says.

Her favorite was “Project Runway,” a US-made reality program fronted by German model Heidi Klum.

“When I started I had no one as a role model. It is just something I dreamed up,” she says, adding that she now finds inspiration in the likes of Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab.

In her home studio, Hassan sketches and inks new designs of abaya gowns and hijab headscarves, in a variety of black or bright colors, tight and loose fittings, with plain or embroidered finishes.

Fashion has also become a family affair, with Hassan’s father — a tailor by trade — and older sister helping cut and sew the clothes.

Visitors to the workshop can hear children playing in nearby rooms and cooking smells waft in from the kitchen.

Her elder brother has been an investor, helping to buy sewing machines and other equipment.

Now the business is taking off, she says.

“In the beginning, it was my father, elder sister and brother who helped me start but now I’m self-reliant and can make a living out of my work,” she says proudly.

Like many Mogadishu residents who have become inured to violence, Hassan dismisses the city’s frequent bombings and shootouts, describing them as an “inconvenience” that can mess up her delivery schedules.

Muna Mohamed Abdulahi, another startup fashion designer, is on a mission to encourage local people to take pride in products made in Somalia.

“Some people come to my shop and, when they realize that these clothes are designed and made locally, they run away because they have a negative impression about locally made clothes,” says the 24-year-old.

Like Hassan, Abdulahi is self-taught — “I was my own role model,” she says — and insists she is more than just a tailor aping the work of others.

“A designer creates clothes with a story, but a tailor makes it without thinking, they just duplicate,” Abdulahi says.

The designers’ customers are mostly young, like them, and affluent.

“I like clothes designed by Somalis because they fit and make you look attractive,” says 22-year-old student Farhiyo Hassan Abdi. “Imported costumes are mostly out of shape and don’t look good on you.”

“I don’t go for imported clothes anymore,” she adds, pointing out that the price of local fashion is often cheaper than the imports and it is easy to have alterations done.

But these young designers and customers, seeking out unique fashion and wanting to look good, seem to live in a world apart from others in the city.

Dahir Yusuf, a 49-year-old father, is appalled by his teenage daughter’s love of designer clothes, which he considers immoral.

“These young girls are crazy about designer clothes, which are mostly fitted and reveal the features of their bodies,” he says, tutting. “Morally, it is not good to wear such things.”

As a male fashion designer, Abdishakur Abdirahman Adam faces down double-criticism in pursuit of dreams.

“In Somalia it is very difficult for a boy to become a fashion designer, because people believe this is women’s work,” says the slim 19-year-old, who was introduced to fashion by watching catwalk shows on satellite TV.

Nevertheless, he plans to continue, designing for both women and men, hoping to compete with foreign imports.

“What I do is just to create fashionable clothes with the material I have here without spending more money so that it looks like something from overseas.”


Plastic particles in drinking water present ‘low’ risk — World Health Organization

Updated 2 min 27 sec ago

Plastic particles in drinking water present ‘low’ risk — World Health Organization

  • WHO issues first report on microplastics in drinking water
  • Reassures consumers that risk is low, but says more study needed
GENEVA: Microplastics contained in drinking water pose a “low” risk to human health at current levels, but more research is needed to reassure consumers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
Studies over the past year on plastic particles detected in tap and bottled water have sparked public concerns but the limited data appears reassuring, the UN agency said its first report on potential health risks associated with ingestion.
Microplastics enter drinking water sources mainly through run-off and wastewater effluent, the WHO said. Evidence shows that microplastics found in some bottled water seem to be at least partly due to the bottling process and/or packaging such as plastic caps, it said.
“The headline message is to reassure drinking water consumers around the world, that based on this assessment, our assessment of the risk is that it is low,” Bruce Gordon of the WHO’s department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health, told a briefing.
The WHO did not recommended routine monitoring for microplastics in drinking water. But research should focus on issues including what happens to chemical additives in the particles once they enter the gastrointestinal tract, it said.
The majority of plastic particles in water are larger than 150 micrometers in diameter and are excreted from the body, while “smaller particles are more likely to cross the gut wall and reach other tissues,” it said.
Health concerns have centered around smaller particles, said Jennifer De France, a WHO technical expert and one of the report’s authors.
“For these smallest size particles, where there is really limited evidence, we need know more about what is being absorbed, the distribution and their impacts,” she said.
More research is needed into risks from microplastics exposure throughout the environment — “in our drinking water, air and food,” she added.
Alice Horton, a microplastics researcher at Britain’s National Oceanography Center, said in a statement on the WHO’s findings: “There are no data available to show that microplastics pose a hazard to human health, however this does not necessarily mean that they are harmless.”
“It is important to put concerns about exposure to microplastics from drinking water into context: we are widely exposed to microplastics in our daily lives via a wide number of sources, of which drinking water is just one.”
Plastic pollution is so widespread in the environment that you may be ingesting five grams a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said in June. That study said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish.
The biggest overall health threat in water is from microbial pathogens — including from human and livestock waste entering water sources — that cause deadly diarrheal disease, especially in poor countries lacking water treatment systems, the WHO said.
Some 2 billion people drink water contaminated with faeces, causing nearly 1 million deaths annually, Gordon said, adding: “That has got to be the focus of regulators around the world.”