Born on the 20th March 1993 (23), Crystelle Natasha Khan is an emerging, innovative and aspiring mind in the fashion industry. Crystelle recently graduated from LISOF (Leaders in Science of Fashion), where she had been studying since 2013. Prior to chasing her dream of being a fashion designer in South Africa, Crystelle completed her A Levels at Heritage School in Harare, Zimbabwe. She represented Zimbabwe as a 100m-hurdle athlete during her high school years. Crystelle also took part in the Penn Relays in the USA in 2010.
She attributes her mother’s contagious “drive and ambition in retail” as a major contributing factor to what she describes as her “love and passion for clothes”. She looks up to style icons such as Angela Simmons, whose sense of style inspires Crystelle daily.
Her indisputable beauty has also enabled her to pursue a career in modelling. Through her contracts with Model Management in Zimbabwe, she most notably featured in an advertisement for Edgars in 2013. In recent times, Crystelle’s fashion sense has also been highlighted in Grazia magazine (Issue 27 Feb 2015).
In 2015, Crystelle set her sights on showcasing an exquisite collection in the ZFW (Zimbabwe Fashion Week). Her participation was a success as she won Emerging Designer of the Year. She describes her participation in the fashion week as a “blessed opportunity” to express her inner-self to her homeland and introduce something “new and refreshing to Zimbabwean taste”. At the end of 2015, Crystelle was privileged enough to dress the Starbrite finalists and showcase her work once again at the very first Starbrite Fashion Show in Zimbabwe.
With family support and mentors like the highly reputable Patience Lusengo, Crystelle believes that “the sky is the limit”.
INTERVIEW ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY with CRYSTELLE:
1. What sparked your interest in fashion?
My mother is involved in the fashion industry – she’s into retail and manufacturing. Her work ethic and passion definitely grew into me as I was growing up. I would always notice different trends in fashion and my analysis was made clearer from actually working in the shops during the holidays. I noticed how the fashion industry actually plays a huge role in individuals, families and society as a whole.
2. What is your view on retaining a fashion diploma/degree and the necessity or irrelevance of having formal tertiary education in that respective avenue when pursuing a career in fashion?
It’s a highly debated topic – even in my circle of friends. My view is that it is extremely vital to attend a fashion school if you can get the opportunity and if the career path interests you. It’s like walking – one can’t walk without crawling. Likewise, in the fashion industry, one of the key elements of going through a design journey is going through the process. In every process, there are fundamentals. I have taken the creative path in my studies at fashion school. I have been exposed to pattern making, garment construction and I have also had access to fashion forums such as WGSN, which has a vast array of information. Just like any other industry, there are many successful people who don’t take the formal path. For example, in business, look at Richard Branson and Bill Gates. In fashion, we have Michael Kors, who left fashion school with in a year. He says he had a firm idea of what he liked and often found himself fighting with his lecturers. Today, he is one of the most successful designers. Other notable and successful designers who didn’t have a formal background in fashion include Alexander Wang and Kanye West. However, if you have a chat with Bill Gates and Michael Kors, they will always tell you the importance of fundamentals. And a good fashion school provides you with those fundamentals.
Fashion is very aspirational and it’s a pretty easy avenue to enter. As a result of this, plenty of people have the dream to be a designer but never see it through – and they quit! The experience of fashion school also provides you with a backbone of character. The demands and standards are high and one has to be responsible, time conscious, and hardworking. Most importantly, fashion school pushes you to the limit. In my experience, you learn to have a thick skin because when you are preparing a garment, your lecturers are looking for “close to perfection”. They may criticise you a lot, but you just keep going until you have met those high demands. These are the experiences that prepare you for the “real world” and help you survive in the future.
3. What inspired the pieces you have in your collection(s)?
I was inspired by clean minimalistic fashion. I believe that less is more; I created something simple that stood out with the use of print. I wanted my collection to appeal to a broad range of women.
4. Any critiques/ compliments/ comments for the Zimbabwean Fashion Industry?
I think that the Zimbabwe Fashion Industry is growing through platforms such as Zimbabwe Fashion Week. As a young designer, I am pleased to be a part of it and excited to see what the future holds for the fashion industry.
There are challenges regarding employment, as the levels of unemployment in the textile and clothing industry continue to increase. But by having more local designers with more to offer, it could help create employment and uplift the economy.
5. There seems to be a surge in the number of designers in the country and their success is arguably dependent on their access to adequate exposure in the right circles. What do you think can be done to assist designers in climbing the fashion ladder and securing success based on the integrity of their designs?
There are indeed a large number of people pursuing fashion design today. One common characteristic of designers is their tendency to dream big. While that can be inspirational, it is important to remember that NOT EVERYTHING IN YOUR IMAGINATION WILL BRING YOU SUCCESS. While you are creating something from the bottom of your heart, you must also consider if it is financially viable and if it will appeal to a broad base of consumers. Young designers need mentorship to increase their awareness of external issues such as consumer behaviour, legal issues such as copyrighting, import and export laws, manufacturing and marketing strategies, and economic conditions. Having a greater consciousness of these issues, or lack thereof, can determine the success or failure of your brand. Thus, mentorship could be a solution to assist young designers in climbing the fashion ladder and securing success. This could be done through periodic networking events and knowledge-sharing platforms.
In a notable act of charity, Crystelle showcased her new collection, “Honey”, at the 3rd annual Ladies High Tea, a charity event organised and hosted by the Dignity Foundation Trust in Botswana on the 22nd of April, 2017. The collection, true to her minimalistic style, was stunning and simple with a variety of clean-cut patterns laid out on unique textures on a combination of nude and white material. Crystelle has grown in her craft over the years with an unmatched consistency and dedication to her passion. I have no doubt that her label, 9 Lives, will be a force to be reckoned with on a global scale!
Interview done by Cheryl Musimwa