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Jan Malan- Passion for Africa- Ladybrille Man of the Month July 2011 (Ladybrille Exclusive)

Among fashion circles on the African continent, Jan Malan truly needs no introduction. But, since Ladybrille Magazine is based in the USA and this is Malan’s first USA exclusive interview, it only makes sense we make a short introduction of our brilliant and dynamic Ladybrille Man of the month, July 2011.

A producer’s producer, director, choreographer and entrepreneur, Malan began his career over twenty five years ago and is today recognized as the leading name in fashion event productions on the continent of Africa. Passionate about showcasing African beauty to both Africa and the world, in 1997, Malan conceptualized the highly popular Face of Africa Model pageant competition; and in the process discovered Supermodel Oluchi in 1998.

Malan also conceptualized and successfully worked with MNET (one of the largest TV network in Africa) to launch ‘Africa Designs’ for MNET and AngloGold. ‘Africa Designs’ gave African designers their first opportunity to showcase their talents at New York Fashion Week. In 2002, Malan followed up with ‘Afridesia’ for AngloGold which also gave African designers the chance to show their designs at New York Fashion Week in front of highly influential fashion and media audience.

Malan has worked with diverse and celebrity fashion designers, models, pr agencies and fashion brands. He has also produced shows for clients at India’s Delhi Fashion Week, Africa’s Capetown Fashion Week, Joburg Fashion Week, Africa Fashion Week, Swahili Fashion Week and Arise Magazine Lagos Fashion Week. He has also produced shows for clients at New York Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, Ford Models, Elle Magazine and the list goes on. He is the owner of Umzingeli Productions and a co-owner of Oluchi’s O Model Africa. We are truly honored to celebrate him as our Man of the Month in this exclusive interview. Enjoy.

Jan Malan – Personal Background

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Jan to say at the very minimum a, one month, celebration of your accomplishments is long overdue would be to put it lightly. First things first, how are you?
Jan Malan:
Hi Uduak! We just successfully completed a mammoth production last night in Sandton, Johannesburg. The L’Oreal Professionnel Colour Trophy hair show. I am exhausted but proud that me and my team pulled off such a big event flawlessly.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Congratulations. I know we will be talking about those many big productions later. But, I know you have a crazy schedule globe trotting to produce shows. . .have you been able to find a little time to relax?
Jan Malan:
Not really! Before the L’Oreal production, I had to attend a fashion business expo in Rio for Fashion Business Angola, completed a recent trip to Cameroon for Kreyann’s 10th Anniversary in November, as well as staging the Durban Homecoming show on a pier on Durban’s beachfront with designers Craig Native, Fundudzi, Gavin Rajah, Dax Martin, Malcolm Klûk and Christiaan Gabriel du Toit. I am off to my beach house in Paternoster on Friday to relax and plan for future projects.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Good on ya) I want to know as much as possible about you and I bet it is not unique to me given your immense influence in Africa’s fashion industry. Let me take you as far back as you can remember. You were born in Namibia. How did your family come to reside in that part of the world?

Jan Malan: My parents moved from the Western Cape to the then South West Africa in the fifties. I was born in the little town of Keetmanshoop which is located in southern Namibia.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Very interesting. Where did you spend your early childhood?
Jan Malan:
Otjiwarongo, Johannesburg, Omaruru and Windhoek.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Share with us some of your fondest childhood memories?
Jan Malan:
Helping my dad in his movie theater in the tiny town of Omaruru. Watching the river come down the dry Omaruru river bed, the whole town would gather on the banks of the river to watch the wall of water approaching. Sand surfing on cardboard boxes down the worlds highest dunes in Swakopmund. Riding my bicycle through the busy Joburg traffic and spending hours listening to music at the legendary Hillbrow records in the early seventies.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As a child, what was your favorite African dish to eat?
Jan Malan:
Definitely pancakes with cinnamon and sugar. I also love Indian curries. My favorite childhood memory of food is my step-mom frying mushroom that would grow overnight in our garden where we were living in Okakarara in Northeast Namibia. I guess it can qualify as an African food. (Laughs)

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) I guess so too. (Laughs) What about your favorite fruit in Africa to eat?
Jan Malan:
I absolutely adore prickly pears, they are easy to find in Namibia. We would peel off all the skin, and keep them in the fridge so we can eat them cold. Yummy! Try it, just watch out for the thorns.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I sure will. I want to get even more sense of your childhood as we make our way to the present. Within Africa, in (your youth), what was your favorite vacation spot?
Jan Malan:
I would have to say going camping up the skeleton coach. There is small village called Henties Bay. I would stay in a tent for up to three weeks on the beach. You do get used to swimming in the cold water.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: For me personally, being near water or on the beach is heavenly bliss, so I can imagine. As an adult is that still your favorite place?
Jan Malan:
I have been so busy with my career that I have not had the opportunity of returning there. The last time I think I was there was when I was around eleven years old.

Jan Malan’s – Educational Background

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I hope you do too. We must try to stop and smell the roses.) Where did you attend grade school?
Jan Malan:
My parents got divorced when I was very young, I attended many schools, with my dad in Namibia and my mom in Johannesburg. The schools I have memories of are Dagbreek Primary School in Windhoek and Omaruru and Joubert Park Primary School in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Did things stabilize later?) What about high school and college? Where did you attend?
Jan Malan:
It was the same (situation). I attended Windhoek High School, Helpmekaar High School and Randburg High school in Johannesburg. Dirkie Uys High School in Durban, Belville High School in Cape Town and Helderberg College High School in Somerset West. Otjiwarongo High School in Northern Namibia. You wanted to know everything! As you can see my parents moved around a lot! (Laughs) I attended Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) Yes! We want to know everything. Lots of schools you attended. We are warming up to our discussion on African fashion and your amazing contributions and the direction you see the industry. But first I really want to enjoy uncovering a bit more about you that many who have done business with you have no clue about! (Laughs)

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Do you have any siblings?
Jan Malan:
Yes, one brother, Gabriel, living in Henley-on-Klip, Gauteng, the same town as Oprah Winfrey’s School for girls, and my sister Delmarie, she lives in the Strand in the Western Cape.

Jan Malan- The Professional Genesis of an African Fashion Influencer

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Well thanks for sharing. Let’s get into the business of African fashion. Where were you when you realized you had this larger than life love for Africa and African fashion?
Jan Malan:
As a teenager I became obsessed with black beauty. I had pictures of Iman, Grace Jones and Donna Summer on my walls. I produced fashion shows at the Jabavu Festival in Soweto in the early eighties. This was not a time for white people to be seen in townships. It gave me a very different perspective than my peers. I decided there and then that I will make it my life’s work to promote fashion and beauty from Africa.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Very intriguing.

Jan Malan: It took me a lot of hard work honing my craft as a show producer, staging fashion shows and beauty pageants in shopping malls all over South Africa before being given the opportunity to travel to another country in Africa. I was asked to stage a fashion and music showcase in Accra, Ghana. That was way back in 1996. This is where I realized that there was a whole exciting world out there with beautiful people with talent and creativity. How refreshing to realize that the world did not end at the borders of South Africa.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) Indeed. While our issue this month is about African designers, it was extremely important for us to celebrate, this month, the people behind the scenes that give these African designers their shine. Before we delve more into your contributions in the design industry, let’s talk about the model industry.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I know you have changed the lives of African models the world over, including that of Supermodel Oluchi with the Face of Africa model competition. Tell us the genesis behind the show?

Jan Malan: I was fortunate enough to be chosen to scout and stage the regional Miss South Africa competitions after our first democratic election in 1994. The format of the competition was changed to included winners from each of the new 9 provinces in South Africa. The organizer of Miss South Africa at the time, Doreen Morris, suggested to M-Net that I stage a show called M-Net’s African Showcase in Ghana. After this successful show M-Net asked me to conceptualize a show that will encompass the entire Africa as M-Net started their drive into Africa at the time.

I was dabbling in staging various model searches in South Africa and here I was presented with a perfect opportunity to start a Model Search that would include the entire Africa! I also instinctively knew that it would give me the opportunity to meet fashion designers from across the continent. I presented the concept of Face of Africa to M-Net and the rest is already history.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Indeed. Face of Africa has taken you to over 30 countries. What is your conclusion about the beauty and talent African models have to offer to both Africa and the Western fashion industry?

Jan Malan: I must say there have been many ups and downs. It has certainly not been an easy road. I left New York very disillusioned after my first trip as I realized how difficult it was for woman of color to break into the modeling industry in America and Europe. My wake up call to this was being told by a New York Agency, after I presented several gorgeous women to them, that they already had a black girl on their books. Go figure!

My conclusion is that all of us must work very hard on establishing our own fashion and modeling industries in Africa and creating our own markets, not slavishly emulate everything in the West. Once we have created something special they will be coming after us!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Very interesting because that is what Black models experience in the USA and Europe. Are you able to give us a forecast of what is to come in the Africa’s modeling industry?

Jan Malan: I remember when I started scouting for models in the 90s that there was no modeling industry to speak of in most countries. Some countries frowned upon it and had the misconception that it was akin to prostitution. I believe we have made huge strides. Modeling agencies and fashion events are popping up all over the continent. We are definitely still in our baby shoes but this baby is going to grow up. As I said, lets create our own industries and markets.

Jan Malan on Africa’s Fashion Design Industry

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s talk about Africa’s design industry. Jan where do I start? You helped AngloGold, a company traded on Johannesburg stock exchange, and many African fashion design companies showcase at New York Fashion Week way before Arise Magazine Fashion Show even came on the scene. That was monumental back then (2002) and gave a designer like Deola Sagoe much publicity. How did that project come about?

Jan Malan: Since the inception of M-Net Face of Africa, I naturally had a similar concept in mind for fashion designers on the continent. I eventually persuaded M-Net to back the ‘Africa Designs’ project in the year 2000. This gave many fashion designers from the continent an opportunity to be noticed. I am immensely proud of being instrumental in presenting African fashion designers for the first time ever, at New York fashion week on schedule. We also had an amazing show in Johannesburg with 16 designers from all over Africa. The beginnings of what is part of the course today.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I have watched you produce shows both for designers and organizations. Paint for us the kind of work that goes into producing a show like Africa Fashion Week and Arise shows, for example?

Jan Malan: You need a lot of passion and patience. It is 80% organization and 20% creativity. It is about relationships and working together with a team. You need to respect and acknowledge everyone on the team to pull off a successful show. The work is certainly not glamorous. I say “if you want to be successful surround yourself with the best in their respective fields.” And then allow people the space to create.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is “African fashion?” Should that term be used?
Jan Malan:
The term conjures up all the cliche’s of Africa, I see costumy folkloric images. We must celebrate our roots but keep it practical. After all, we are living in the 21st Century. I would go with “Fashion from Africa”

Jan Malan on the Business of Fashion in Africa

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let us turn to the business of fashion in Africa. How has the business of fashion evolved within the past 10years?
Jan Malan:
We have a long way to go, a lot of groundwork still needs to be done to truly create a successful cross continental fashion industry. We need to find ways to come together. The little pockets of industry to be found are very fragmented. Then we have to take into account globalization and the dreaded Chinese imports. It is shaky territory.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Given that answer, in a nutshell, where is Africa’s fashion industry and what direction should it be taking, if any?
Jan Malan:
We need to learn from what the West is doing but find a niche for ourselves, create our own homegrown product, be proud of it and encourage our people to buy locally and support their own designers. Build our own markets, lobby governments to support fashion initiatives and garment manufacture.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As one who has studied fashion, modeled the designs of fashion designers, produced shows and now report fashion, I must say I get fatigued with the so called “African” fashion or “African” designer. There are lots of designers claiming to be African designers or doing African inspired work because of their use of the fabric Ankara. How do we become a lot more innovative in a very competitive global fashion industry to make clothing that any woman or man (irrespective of ethnicity) can resonate with?

Jan Malan: This difficult question can have many answers. I would say you need something that is unique about your design. You don’t have to force an African aesthetic on it. Designers cannot simply rest on their laurels, they need to constantly find ways of empowering themselves with knowledge and new techniques that have become available internationally as to stay ahead of the trend.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are the strengths of Africa’s fashion industry?
Jan Malan:
Our uniqueness and creativity and the rise of the middle class creating buying power.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Its weaknesses?
Jan Malan:
At the top of my head, I would say, lack of skilled labor, high production costs, the lack of local quality fabrics.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Where can the industry improve?
Jan Malan:
Designers must find innovative ways of tapping into their local markets and fight for their turf through quality and unique design. Seduce people in buying local; make local desirable through clever marketing.

Jan Malan Speaks On His Business Philosophy & Value Systems

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let me bring it back to you as we prepare to wrap up this interview. You’ve conquered Africa. What next?

Jan Malan: Slow down Uduak, I have a long way to go! (Laughs) I believe I still have a lot to do in Africa. I am continuing on this path. I am working on assisting others in establishing various fashion platforms in different countries.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Hmmm . . . “slow down.” You are allowed not to you’re your horn. I, on the other hand, can do exactly that. (Laughs) Where do you see next growth professionally for you in your career?

Jan Malan: I staged shows in 19 countries on 4 continents in the last twenty years. I would like to add a few more countries and a continent of two. (Laughs) I am always up for new challenges but I am comfortable with the body of work I have built up. My new focus is to develop and help others in creating careers for themselves as I would like to leave a legacy.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As a businessman, what are the daily principles you live by?
Jan Malan:
Transparency, integrity, taking responsibility, going the extra mile and never to give up.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you Jan?
Jan Malan:
The fear of failure and the exuberance of achievement (laughs)

LADYBRILLEmag.com: When Africa’s fashion history is written, what is the one word you hope is used to describe your contributions and legacy to the industry?

Jan Malan: Passion for Africa

LADYBRILLEmag.com: How do you define a brilliant man?
Jan Malan:
A brilliant man is a man with honesty, integrity, a sense of humor and empathy for others.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: How does it feel to be celebrated as Ladybrille Man of the Month for July 2011?
Jan Malan:
Humbled and honored, thank you!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you Jan for a splendid interview!
Jan Malan:
Thank you Uduak

-Uduak Oduok

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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