Fashion’s kaleidoscope celebrated in unique catwalk show of Perth designers

Lemmy Izengo has dedicated a lot of her life to creating fashion designs inspired by her Tanzanian heritage. 

Clothing is not only an expression of identity for her, it’s also about keeping her culture alive. 

“Clothing speaks to us, food, drums, storytelling, so all of that is a way of life and it goes together hand in hand,” she said. 

“So that’s how I was brought up and I had that passion for fashion, I had that passion for bold and stand-out outfits … that was just the way of life.” 

At the age of 23, she moved to Australia to find better opportunities. 

“Those days [there weren’t] many people like me…. I could jump in a bus and someone says ‘Hey, can I touch your hair?’ or ‘Where are you from?’,” the now 46-year-old said. 

“At least nowadays I can see a lot of people who look like me which is wonderful, that sense of togetherness and having people who they celebrate, or they have the same background as you … it makes a huge difference.” 

A woman wearing colourful clothing and a head scarf in headshot.
Fashion designer Lemmy Izengo moved to Australia when she was 23.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

While she left her country and family behind, she didn’t leave her rich culture. 

For the last six years, Ms Izengo has turned her love for fashion into a business, which helps promote African design. 

“For me, from the beginning, we started this for the kid who looks like me. We shouldn’t be ashamed, or not celebrate who we are in every different aspect,” she said. 

She was one of 12 designers recently invited to showcase their creations at Kaleidoscope World of Fashion in Perth. 

Event focused on diversity

The newly launched event was created by a group of industry veterans to highlight the importance of diversity and increase representation in the sector. 

“This is a huge opportunity for our communities, to have this platform and to celebrate,” Ms Izengo said. 

“It really encourages me to stand up tall, and to show the world that hey, we’re just the same as you. 

A model on a catwalk wearing an elaborate head dress.
Karen Elizabeth Young’s gown “Boola Bardip” is a symbolic representation of Western Australia and the artist contributor, Sammy Wyborn. (ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

“I hope the young girls who are dreaming to be fashion designers or models, whatever aspects of [their dreams], they should realise they can work hard on their dream and their dream can come true.” 

Model Jeraldine Nshimilimana, who walked Ms Izengo’s main design at the launch of the show at the WA Museum Boola Bardip on Sunday, said it was an honour to be a part of the ground-breaking event. 

“We’ve got people from across the world, and the native people of Australia as well [which] you don’t get that anywhere. It’s almost unseen and unheard of, so it’s great to have this platform,” she said. 

Fashion designer Lemmy Izengo with model Jeraldine
Fashion designer Lemmy Izengo and model Jeraldine Nshimilimana hope young women are inspired by the event.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

Model Raquisha Kearing, who wore an outfit by West Australian Noongar artist Peter Farmer, said being able to represent her First Nations roots always made her proud. 

“I think Indigenous fashion is very underrepresented in the modelling industry so it’s something really important for us as Australians to uphold,” she said. 

“To pay respects to Aboriginal people past, present and future is very important and by including it in the fashion industry, it helps to bridge that gap between non- Indigenous and Indigenous people.” 

Embracing multicultural design

Modelling for Australian-Indian designer Brinda Bajaria, 22-year-old Ashlyn Kaur said she hoped the platform would help multicultural design become more widely accepted in the mainstream fashion industry. 

“It means so much to look around the room and see so many different faces and so much diversity… because I think the modelling industry has traditionally been not as diverse as it should be,” she said. 

A designer adjusts a model's outfit backstage at a fashion show
Model Ashlyn Kaur (left), who modelled for designer Brinda Bajaria, hopes multicultural design will become widely accepted.( ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

Event founder Astrid Tshidibu, who has worked in the industry for decades, said she wanted to establish a platform to specifically provide a space for those who are often overlooked or misrepresented. 

“I wasn’t really having a voice as a black model,” she said.

Two women smiling, in headshot.
Event founder Astrid Tshidibu (right), with project manager Victoria Cappeau, says she felt her skin colour was sometimes a hindrance to her modelling career.( ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

“I didn’t have a platform to express my talent or even express my beauty or represent other young people who look like me. 

“Then I started to work with young people and train them, and I saw most of us losing our roots, our culture… and really I wanted to change [that].” 

Challenging under-representation

Originally from Congo, she felt her appearance and background as a woman of colour was often a hindrance in her modelling career in Australia. 

“For me it’s very important to showcase diversity in the fashion industry because we’re underrepresented, not represented or misrepresented and this needs to change,” she said. 

“I think most young people love fashion and this is the only way I can turn it and push it back. 

Models wearing brightly coloured outfits on a catwalk.
Fashion designer Lemmy Izengo modelled one of her own creations on the Kaleidoscope catwalk.(ABC News:  Herlyn Kaur)

“To bring young people together to see that there’s someone there who looks like me, someone there who actually has the same culture as me and she’s proud or he is proud to show that, why am I hiding?” 

The event’s project manager, Victoria Cappeau said she wanted all Australians, including migrants like herself, to see what representation and inclusion should look like. 

“What we aim to build is a platform for young and older emerging artists who haven’t had the opportunity or the stepping stone and we also want to be able to give that support,” she said. 

The group hopes to expand over coming years to include mentoring models and artists wanting to break into the fashion industry.