Windhoek-Local designer Donald Diergaardt was emotional last Saturday when models showcased his evening gowns at the Miss Namibia 2017 pageant.
Overwhelmed by it all, the self-taught designer shed a few tears during the prestigious pageant. He also paced up and down not far from where he was seated from the moment the first finalist walked down the ramp in the evening gown that he designed.
Diergaardt dressed the 12 finalists in cocktail wear. In fact, all designers for the Miss Namibia 2017 pageant were Namibian.
“It was a total dream come true,” the soft-spoken Diergaardt recollects as his face lights up. The 37-year-old reminisced that two years ago, he was one of the Miss Namibia designers, but not for the evening gowns.
“Last year I told myself that I wanted to do Miss Namibia,” he went on. As a devout Christian, that was when he started praying and fasting to reach his goal, Diergaardt attested. Fasting means going without food or drink for a period of time and is typically done to for health or spiritual or religious reasons.
He then contacted Miss Namibia 2012 Lizelle Esterhuizen, who gave him the email address of Conny Maritz, the national director of the Miss Namibia pageant. “I showed her (Conny) what I had in mind and she gave me the thumps-up,” recalled the ambitious young designer.
But it was not all plain sailing for him, because Diergaardt does not have formal training as a designer, he admits. He had to show examples of his previous works to prove his ability and skill with various fabrics and designs.
“I have been doing this for 14 years,” he adds. Immediately after Conny’s approval Diergaardt started working, by first getting the suitable materials for his ‘sandy red desert’ theme, which is inspired by Namibia’s natural scenery.
“I ended up with eighteen dresses and only needed twelve,” gushed Diergaardt.
He also had the privilege of dressing Michelle McLean-Bailey, the only Namibia Miss Namibia contestant to win the Miss Universe title. McLean-Bailey wore Diergaardt’s design towards the end of the pageant.
That too was a dream come true, Diergaardt says, as his face lights up again in delight. “When she was crowned Miss Universe I told myself that some day they will know my name,” Diergaardt recalls. He was only 12 years old when McLean-Bailey was crowned Miss Universe.
Before embarking on the challenge of becoming a professional designer, Diergaardt was occupied with sketching. “I was always sketching, [to the extent] that my grandmother had to pay me to come out of my room,” he laughs.
Later on in life, a friend of his – also a designer – spotted the potential in his sketches and encouraged him to use his skills to make something more valuable.
“I worked for my designer friend and I only started working on my own in 2008,” he said. The industry is definitely growing, he adds. “This (fashion design) is my everything. I sometimes even forget to eat because I am too busy in my studio,” he narrated.
Although he starts working at nine in the morning, the time he works best is usually in the evening when it is quieter. “I find myself here (in the studio) at two in the morning,” he says. He is able to devote so much time to what he does because he loves what he does, Diergaardt says.
Despite his love for dressing people, he says there are many challenges involved. “The struggle is that people always want to know where I studied,” he says. Also, there is a shortage of quality fabrics, he explained.
“I see the competition is picking up, but this is my hobby and I love it so much. Once you enjoy something it inspires what you do,” Diergaardt said in response to a question about whether he felt threatened by the competition in the industry.
He also stressed that it is important for people to follow their hearts when it comes to choosing careers. “There are so many obstacles that would draw you back, but never give up on your dreams,” he said, adding that after Grade 12 he thought of pursuing a career in medicine.
“I felt I would be forcing myself if I went that route,” he related. Diergaardt, who is the breadwinner in his family, believes that with hard work anything is possible: “Designing can bring you an income.”
Now that the Miss Namibia 2017 pageant is over and done, Diergaardt is hard at work in his studio on a project, titled ‘The break of dawn’.
“I’m planning and looking for sponsors and then I will give further details on when it will be,” said Diergaardt, whose is known in the industry as Don.
“It’s a new beginning for me,” he says about his new project. Without revealing too much on what his future plans are, Diergaardt said it would be a privilege to design the national garment to be worn by Miss Namibia at the Miss World pageant.
“That would be the cherry on top of the cake for me,” he enthused.