Joyce Chimanye is one of those simply extraordinary people you can only hope to meet and interact with at least once in your lifetime and when you do, you experience a life-changing shift in ways you could never have fathomed.
Dressed for the interview in a simple black shirt, paired with dark blue jeans and a pair of black flats, a vision of elegant modesty, she shared with us a wholesome, conscious and dynamic perspective on fashion that reflected how intelligent, well-read and knowledgeable she is on issues of life beyond fashion.
Read more to be just as impressed as I was!
How did you manage to convince your parents that you wanted to study fashion?
My parents refused to let me study fashion. They wouldn’t pay for it so I had to figure out a hustle to pay my way through fashion school in Cape Town. At the time, people had no real understanding or exposure to the fashion industry beyond knowing fashion to be tailoring. When I entered the industry, it was predominantly white. Black Zimbabweans were not exposed to the business side of fashion so my parents couldn’t see a career in fashion being feasible for me. I got my first job straight out of high school at Coh Coh Taig then I did an internship at Continental Fashions when I came back from school. I wanted a global viewpoint of fashion and being in Cape Town afforded me that opportunity.
After working for Coh Coh Taig, Continental Fashions etc., what prompted you to start your own brand?
After I finished fashion school, I moved to the small town of Kadoma and I worked as a P.E. teacher until my husband encouraged me to start my own brand. We started the business in the house before I had my babies and we started expanding from there on till we had a staff complement of about 30 people. We began supplying Country Road, doing 80% of their ladies’ production in addition to doing corporate wear. We ended up moving to Mutare and my husband again encouraged me to open my own retail store. I was a little hesitant but we ended up opening our first store in Chegutu and then another at Doon Estate in Msasa. After opening my store at Sam Levy’s Village, I partnered with my brother in Johannesburg and we had a Zuvva store running for some time but we had to close because the constant back and forth travel wasn’t sustainable. It’s been challenging but I wouldn’t change any of it at all because for me, being in fashion is a both a passion and a job that’s fuelled by my love for the craft.
You’ve been in the fashion industry for about 23 years now; has your perspective on fashion in Zimbabwe changed at all?
Not really and that’s due to my exposure in the factories. I’ve been led to open a fashion school because I realise that there is a need for training. When I started out, hardly anything was being imported into the country and our factories were taking care of 70% of our domestic consumption. In the 90s, as a country, we were making our own fabrics and we had some factories actually exporting to the United States to JC Penny and Little Woods in Europe so we had a stake in the global market. Because I saw it happen back then, I know that it’s something that’s possible for us to do again with the right funding and training.
Is your perspective on the aforementioned what inspired your involvement with the Wear Zim initiative?
As Zimbabweans, we have to change our mindset when it comes to fashion. We need to look good but at what cost? There is a need for trade between countries but there is an even greater need for us to produce things for ourselves for the sake of job creation.
David Whitehead used to produce fabric under the brand “Java”, which he would export to Mozambique and Zambia and we were consuming that brand locally. I’ve just been to Rwanda where I was training some women as a consultant under the International Trade Centre. I bought fabric there that was African print, but I later found out that it wasn’t manufactured in Rwanda. Most of our “African print” fabrics are actually printed in Holland, Germany and China, etc.
I’m only aware of African print fabric being manufactured in Ghana and South Africa, and the rest comes from countries off the African continent. It’s odd, considering the bulk of the consumption of African print fabrics is in Africa, which makes me wonder where the design, origination and inspiration of these prints comes from if it’s not coming from African countries. There needs to be a balance where some of the production of fabrics and garments happens on the continent.
Our aim, with my partner Chenesai as Wear Zim, is to encourage fashion with a purpose, where not only the garments but also the textiles come from Africa. We are working on marrying the different Zimbabwean cultures and translating them in print for a national dress. We want to promote the spending of money on garments made by local tailors/designers knowing that we are giving back into our communities and that the money we are spending is sustaining the families of local tailors/designers. This desire has pushed the Wear Zim campaign and Zuvva Fashion School.
Tell me about Zuvva School of Fashion and the services it offers?
I started the school in my home garage but as the class grew, we moved into my store space at the end of 2016. The school is not fully fledged but in the future, we’re looking to introduce a certification, diploma and a degree programme that will cater to students who can’t afford to go abroad, but who still want the same quality of fashion education that they would get abroad and is also globally competitive.
Currently, we’ve got Zuvva Fashion Club that caters to people between the ages of 7 to 19. Then we’ve got the Zuvva short courses, which we offer to adults or school leavers who are usually fashion conscious and want to learn how to stitch up something without having to get someone to do it for them. We’ve also got Zuvva workshops.
We did our first partnership with a stylist from the UK, Elika, who styles the royal family and she spoke to us about the different facets of styling. We’ve also got the Zuvva Fashion Hub, which isn’t launched yet but it’s a space we want to create where our students have the opportunity to sell their creations. Finally, Zuvva School of Fashion also has a non-profit section (fashion for development) that offers training at no cost for young girls, school dropouts and women. We’re looking at doing the rounds and going into communities to train and set up projects that they can run, make money from and sustain.
What five facts would you like to share that people don’t know about you?
- I LOVE BEING A MOM…I’m such a loving mom. I am sure my sons can attest to that. I just love kids.
- I love prayer…I believe the Lord led me to start a Whatsapp prayer group (On My Knees prayer platform), which is a prayer group that has just under 600 ladies globally who, due to some of the challenges I’ve faced in my own life, led me to want to stand in prayer with other women. We have about 11 subcategories in that group and we share prayers and the word of God and personal testimonies. I’m really such a Jesus freak.
- I’m passionate about orphaned and abandoned children. I’m co-founder of an orphan care programme in Chegutu called Vana Vedu and I believe that as Zimbabweans, we have the capacity to look after our own disadvantaged children. It really breaks my heart to see children on the street and in Chegutu. With the help of the police, we are able to move children physically off the streets and with the help of a company called David Whitehead, AFIDA and a group of women, we managed to set up a shelter for the kids We have also bought land that we want to use to build a home for the children.
- I love exercising…I am part of a boot camp run by Barbra Jambga and whew, she has us doing things we never thought we’d be able to do in terms of exercise but she really pushes and encourages us.
- My hair is not a hairstyle but it’s actually a hair condition. My hair started breaking off in 2011 and I decided to shave it bald in 2014. I’m in the process of setting up a Facebook page called “Self Embrace” to encourage women to love themselves as they are. We should accept our bodies and our features by changing what we can but embracing the things we can’t. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, I’ve come to terms with the situation I’m in.
What do you value most in people?
Truth. People should not be false. We should never go out of our way to portray what we are not. Living your truth is very important. We should show who we really are and never be ashamed of it. We should always be ourselves and we must never feel less of a person because of what the next person has.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with us on fashion in general?
I see fashion as an art and not a sexual weapon. I find myself disheartened by the rise in nudity in fashion and fashion trends. Modesty is something that’s fast dying in the present world and as a result, I always encourage my students to make garments that flatter the body, rather than exposing it. Most of this stems from how impressionable we are and I encourage my students to inspire global trends rather than waiting for the trend body in New York for example, to set trends. As African designers, we have the power to inspire and create and we must come up with an African trends council for our own consumption and for global consumption as well. We have our own minds and the power to create, so create we must!
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