An interview with Malawian fashion designer Lilly Alfonso

An interview with Malawian fashion designer Lilly Alfonso

June 03, 2016

By Timothy Ntilosanje

Ever since she launched her eponymous line a couple of years ago, business has been growing steadily for Lilly Alfonso. She’s been busy developing her own signature mix of top class designs with distinctive prints on luxurious fabrics to make clothes that are elegant and practical. Alfonso talked to us about her last Amsterdam showroom, her favourite name in fashion and where she sees herself in the near future.

Lilly Alfonso is like any other ordinary person you meet on a regular day. She leads a very simple life and believes anything is doable if you’re determined. Lilly Alfonso doesn’t follow where the wind is blowing. As an artist normal doesn’t exist to her. When she sees something normal that’s when she changes it.  Her designing skills started early in her age. She would cut and stitch clothes together which used to get her in trouble as a child. As she grew older her interest in fashion grew more and more. That’s what led her to become what she is now. Here is more . . .

Why did you decide to become a fashion designer?

I did not wake one day and decide to become a designer. The word designer wasn’t exactly what I used to describe myself with. It was in-born. However, after getting so much attention from people that’s when I thought of expanding my production. In 2010, I was invited to participate in Fame Edition Malawi (FAME) where I emerged as the Top Designer.

What is your favourite part about being a fashion designer?

You are able to create anything you want. The satisfaction of creating clothes that brings confidence in our clients. 

Are you computer literate in relation to fashion design? Would you be able to use software to produce designs?

No. I do not use any of them. I have always used free-hand ever since I started designing.

How do you select the materials you use?

It’s a big challenge to source the right materials or fabric in this country. Initially you design something and decide which material to go with the design. But that’s not usually the case; we source the material, study the details in the material then come up with a design. 

How do you stay up to date with fashion?

Since we deal with different clients, having a one-to-one chats with them to find out more of how we can improve our products. Other than that, we do research to keep up with the trends. Being in Africa our collections do not exactly follow seasons of the East or West because we have different seasons. Our designs are tailored to suit a particular season during that time. 

Last year you went to display of her designs in Amsterdam, Netherlands during the I am Fashion Weekend, how was the season for you?

In this industry one needs constant growth and that’s exactly what I learnt from the show. It gave me insight on where I need to give more attention in order to improve.

What kind of feedback did you get on the collection?

A good number of people and other designers came to me for mentorship, motivation or inspiration. 

Do you feel there’s a significant interest for young designers at the moment?

There are a lot of young emerging designers who are promising. We even took some young promising designers to mentor and give designing lessons.

How do you balance creativity with commerce?

I am more creative at night when I have had a long day at the studio or handling other related businesses. During the day there so much that needs my attention and to come up with a design the mind has to be free from any distractions. 

Everything you do is produced here. Are buyer’s sensitive to this?

The fashion industry in Malawi is still in its early stages so is the production. If we do not produce in Malawi who will build this industry? By producing here, we give chance to different people to improve themselves and realize their talents. Our team works hard to give our clients best products. And we get support from our buyers and most do not believe that the products are manufactured right in the country.

Do you have a specific research process when you start a new collection?

Our research is usually based on our clients’ demands unless we are preparing for runway then the collection is inspired differently. For instance, when it comes to women, they have different body types and different tastes in colour and all sorts. Our job is creating a collection that will consider those factors and add in our art in order to produce garments that are more than satisfactory. 

Was there anyone in your family who made you feel like designing?

My late Father.

Who inspires you the most in fashion? Anyone who stands out?

Anyone who puts their all, passion and hard work in fashion and tries to make a difference inspire me. And those people stand out for me.

What do you think of eco-fashion?

Recycling or re-using of materials is one way of not only preventing wastage of resources but also preventing harming the environment. For instance, using a cloth from garment to make earrings or using an old garment to produce something new out of it. This way you are sustaining the environment.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

The plan is to build a stronger brand and improve the quality of our production with time. In 5 years, Lilly Alfonso will be everywhere. We want Lilly Alfonso to be a household name and to be a competitive brand on the global market. 

See more of her work on her official website/store: 


Timothy Ntilosanje is a Malawian freelance writer, poet, social media guru and arts enthusiast. He specializes in art, music, tourism, culture, entertainment and youth empowerment.

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