Toast to the Queen

Two weeks ago fashion and style pundits in Zambia toasted a living icon; Karen Nakawala.

 Karen Joyce Nakawala Chilowa turned 42 but you would never believe it by looking at her, she has the effortless timeless grace of a human who is beautiful inside and out.

Having been featured in Vogue and African Woman magazines for her contributions to the Zambia Fashion Industry her birthday indeed deserves to be toasted.

She was also recently appointed  African Fashion Reception and African Union coordinator.

For many she is a TV and Radio personality but in Zambian fashion circles she is god mother of sorts.

To me she is my mentor, my other mummy, my friend and above all she is among the few who has always guided me , believed in me so much that I now believe in myself.

For many people, its hard to understand why we call Karen mummy but spend an hour in her beautiful company and you will leave smiling and motivated to take over the big bad world.

This is an individual who has achieved a lot of things and has helped shape the Zambian Fashion industry yet she is still as humble as they come treating everyone as an equal worthy of respect.

Anyway let me introduce you to her.

Karen is the Chairperson of the Zambia Fashion Week (ZFW) which has been running from 2011 in its current edition.

Her motivation to take it up came from the passion that she has for the fashion industry and creative industry crediting her mum for fanning the flames of her passion from an early age.

Karen with Mimi and Owami , little Owami is a budding model who walked the ramp last year at ZFW

 “I grew up with a mother who still is one of the most fashionable women that I know, watching her work her way on the machine, singing all the while. “

Her mother rarely bought clothes for her BUT created them even making Karen a beautiful black and white pin stripped dress with a red bowtie.

“She still makes dresses for me though we fight about how high a slit should go and how short the dress should be.”

Her other motivation lies in her immense belief in the creativity of Zambia’s designers and the knowledge of the bright future the industry has.

Karens passion also lies in the belief that the fashion industry is a ‘sleeping giant’ which can contribute to the growth of this economy and create employment.

She attests to this been a challenge for her, to convince immensely talented designers that they can make a living when everyone from their peers to their parents believes that it is a hobby and not a ‘proper career’.

She says that after talking to National Arts Director Adrian Chipindi who told her about talented pupils attesting to the same, she would like to bring together a group of creative to encourage these future artistes and designers.

Karen also highlights the inadequate support from the Government and corporate sector.

“In other countries, the creative industries are contributing to the GDPs because government is in the forefront of supporting the industry. 

I find it odd and ridiculous that the only dress allowed in parliament is Suits. Why can’t they be allowed to wear our own chitenge shirts and jackets?

 If anything I would like them to set aside a day when they can all wear locally made stuff to support the designers. It may seem like a ridiculous idea but just imagine the kind of boost it will give to the young designers and the industry as a whole. 
She says that even the President and his wife Esther should start wearing local designers more.

Remember that they employ other people as well so it has a ripple effect. For instance when the president is opening parliament that would be the perfect opportunity to have all of them in local attire which by the way isn’t just chitenge as most people think.”

This is a concern that must be addressed because Zambia has been steadily losing talented fashion designers and models to more lucrative and support markets.

Karen has a very unique style and she really is the epitome of ZFW, she describes her style as follows.

“It took a while for me to transition to wearing locally made outfits, especially the chitenge fabric. 

When I got in the industry full time, I realized that in order for me to make an impact and change people’s attitudes, I had to walk the talk. It was a very personal decision for me and I don’t regret it one single second.”

She says that the chitenge is a very feminine and flattering fabric and that she has embraced  her African-ness and which she expresses through a sense of dress which even she cant to describe.

“My style is very uniquely Karen. I like to play with the fabric, experiment with it, I love bright colours which compliment my skin tone. The beauty with chitenge is you can wear it anytime and any day. 

She reveals that she has a personal tailor who understands her body and knows her wants because that is very important. One needs to know their body especially when you want a chitenge outfit and understand that what looks good on others may not be for you 

I love her advice about how style is not about trends.

“Remember that the chitenge is an already busy fabric so you are better off keeping the design simple and smart or else you end up looking like a badly decorated Christmas tree.

 Most importantly wear YOU not someone else, be happy, bold and beautiful. As Elizabeth Arden says.
”It’s the birth right of every woman to look beautiful”.

This requires no further addition ladies and Gentlemen, this is where I leave you but follow Karen on Twitter @karen_nakawala and congratulate her appointments and achievements.


  1. lovely........inspirational woman..........


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