The whims of fashion collided with some of life's harsher realities when, during a recent fashion show in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, condoms were the fabric of choice on the catwalk.
At the Condom Clothes Fashion Show - held in January and organized by social marketing group DKT with the Zalef Fine Art and Fashion Design Institute - 10 spectacular dresses made exclusively from 10,000 male and female condoms of all colours, shapes and sizes were on show.
"In Ethiopia, condoms have a bad image; people are afraid when they want to buy condoms at the supermarket - they even try to hide the condoms quickly after they have bought them," Emebet Alemu, designer of the dresses and organizer of the shows, told IRIN/PlusNews. "We wanted to change that by using an art event; [maybe] the show will open people’s minds a little ... maybe it will make them [condoms] seem more normal for people."
The latex garments were later modelled at a show - held under the theme, "Abstain, Be faithful and use Condoms" - at the Hilton Hotel in Ethiopia's capital; there is also a plan for the event to be taken to Adama, a major regional city.
The fashion initiative is the latest move by DKT to try to break the stigma associated with condom use in Ethiopia; in 2009, it set up a condom café in Addis, and ran a two-month campaign to distribute condoms and kerosene to house helps in the capital.
Despite such campaigns, however, condoms remain highly stigmatized in Ethiopia; a 2008 study published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Development and conducted in Adwa town, about 1,000km north of Addis Ababa, found that 46 percent of respondents believed that people who used condoms were promiscuous.
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"Instead of teaching one-to-one relationships, they promote condoms," Gelila Ejigu, 24, said of the condom fashion shows. "When people see it they will think they should have the type of relationships where they must use a condom."
However, Emebet Abu, DKT Ethiopia's head of communications, explained that the condom fashion campaign was tailored to the youth, with a view to highlighting condoms as an additional option and not a replacement for abstinence or fidelity as methods of HIV prevention.
"The idea of the show was to target young people, who like fashion and design," she said. "We also teach abstinence and to be faithful, but some young people will not abstain or be faithful; they may have more than one partner already so they must use condoms."