Johanna Swartbooi launches Vaalgras Collection

Johanna Swartbooi

Model and entrepreneur Johanna Swartbooi has teamed up with various talents to launch the Vaalgras Collection, which is inspired by the small Oorlam community of Vaalgras.

The collection is an artistic interpretation of the Oorlam community’s black and white polka dot traditional attire, representing the guinea fowl, the Vaalgras landscape and the animals found in the area, she says.

Swartbooi is the chief executive in charge of the project. Other members of the team include chief operating officer Elaine Konjore, chief creative officer Agatha Konjore, accessory design consultant Romancia Plaatjies and photographer Amore Swartbooi.

“Vaalgras is a village in Namibia’s //Kharas region. The name describes the pale grass found in the area,” she says.

For the collection, the body accessories represent the various traditional aspects of the dynamic community, from earrings representing donkey cart wheels to face pieces representing horse harnesses, says Swartbooi.

The collection consists of various statement earrings, belts, as well as face and body accessories.

Swartbooi says the collection is intended for all fashion-forward people who want to elevate a dull outfit while embracing Namibian culture.

“This collection was created to be an artistic celebration of the Vaalgras community. Located 60 kilometres north-east of Keetmanshoop, it is home to a community of Oorlam people, in particular a group descended from the Ovaherero and Nama people. Our aim is to teach not only Namibians but also the world about our culture and to preserve our heritage through modern designs influenced by tradition,” she says.

The colour scheme consists of black, white, blue, bronze and red.

Swartbooi says these colours stem mainly from the guinea fowl and complement the theme of the collection.

The accessory pieces are made of glass beads, black and white polka dot fabric and pearls.

The pieces also serve as a tribute to her grandfather Willem Konjore, who dedicated his life to community development and cultural preservation, she says.

“Additionally, the materials and traditional techniques used to create the collection pay homage to our grandmother Theresia Konjore, who taught us everything we know about bead work,” she says.

Swartbooi says the voorskoot [apron] pieces are used by women while cooking to prevent messing on their traditional attire, while the kellies are shawls used to cover the shoulders of married women. This represents the horse harness, while the !Khaib pieces are earrings that represent the traditional head wrap worn by the women.

Swartbooi says she is passionate about helping to keep culture alive.

She says through the collection, she aims to achieve her vision using a modern medium that allows us to connect our traditional history with fashion.

“In our upbringing, our elders demonstrated the importance of preserving traditional practices through their actions and the stories they shared with us. This instilled cultural pride and a sense of duty to continue preserving our tradition. To achieve the brand’s primary goal of teaching the world about Namibian languages and cultures and expanding our clientele, we saw it fit to begin by sharing and exposing our Oorlam culture and community in Vaalgras to the nation and world at large.

“We intend to expose more Namibian cultures in due time,” she says.

Fashion lover Angelina Iiyambo, who attended the launch, says she is pleased that Swartbooi is bringing out tradition in modern times.

She says she is proud of Swartbooi for working hard to showcase culture through fashion.

“I liked the fact that the team infuses modernity into tradition to appeal to the younger generation. I do believe this collection will inspire others that there are so many stories that can be delivered through local crafts. The team’s efforts strive to keep the heritage alive and to inspire fashion designers to make pieces that are highly valued,” says Iiyambo.

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