Chimanye: Zim’s global style icon

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Zimbabwe’s global style icon, Joyce Chimanye (40), had to fight the negative tag attached to a career in fashion and design to become what she is today.

Chimanye has designed a wide range of clothing items and dressed Zimbabwe’s top models and personalities as well as the continent’s leading actors, business leaders, media personalities and singers.

She said her designs, which are chic and cosmopolitan, are inspired by her worldview, which is essentially African.

Her collection features women’s ready-to-wear outerwear, jewelry and accessories that she says are designed from her inspiration to tell the African story through clothing.

Her intricate detailing and eclectic approach to design combine to create dresses that perfectly embody the modern woman with a cosmopolitan touch to their outlook.

Chimanye told NewsDay that when she embarked on a career in fashion and design there was a dearth of black role models in Zimbabwe.

In addition, her parents were quite reluctant to accept her then unconventional career choice.

Chimanye said although she consciously decided to pursue a fashion career at age 18, her eureka moment visited her when she was aged only two though she barely remembers it.

“When I was two, I used to make stuff like t-shirts for dolls and myself. A friend to my mother recently said that to me but I don’t quite remember it. But it was when I was 18 that I decided to pursue fashion and my parents were not happy,” she said. “We don’t really focus on the arts in our country. That’s why there are a few successful designers locally.”

Because she could not afford to pursue further education in fashion and design after her high school studies, Chimanye took up a job with a company called Coh-Coh Taig in Harare as a trainee designer and merchandiser.

After working with them for a year, Coh-Coh Taig helped her to go and study at the South African Academy for Clothing Technology in Cape Town, South Africa. And so was the nascent talent of Zimbabwe’s leading fashion designer fashioned into life.

“It was an excellent opportunity — it was good exposure for me. I realised then that there were a very few black designers. The studies exposed me to a whole new world of fashion and design,” she said.

After completing her studies, Chimanye worked for Continetal Fashions and Barlana in Harare. In 1993, she got married to her high school sweetheart, David Chimanye, who incidentally was the CEO of David Whitehead in Chegutu.

“I reluctantly started my own business in Chegutu where we relocated to because there was no factory that I could work for. I established my first shop then called “The Hanger,” she said, adding that she received a lot of assistance from her husband who was a clothes cutter after hours.

Since then she has never looked back and she has supplied clothing lines to some of the leading clothing shops in Zimbabwe.

In 2004, she established her boutique Zuvva named after her late cousin. Zuvva, which derived from the Shona word zuva (sun), literally shines upon Zimbabwe’s fashion scene.

The boutique, located in Borrowdale, Harare, has a quasi-retro-rustic décor which transports visitors into a dimension of fashion designs that ooze with casual elegance and understated glamour.

Chimanye said that cotton plays a crucial role in her collections whose hallmarks evolve around natural elements.

Her designs have lines that are stitched to perfection and detailing that seem to perfectly emulate the soothing scenery of African veldts.

The colours of choice for her designs are not restricted to naturals but explosion of colour is evident in futuristic and plain tones.

“Denim and corduroy are also regularly used to offer a comprehensive fabric selection with stretch and diaphanous textures,” said Chimanye.

Chimanye’s groundbreaking boutique also features glamorous rings, elegant earrings, necklaces and bracelets, handbag holders and anything else that a woman could ever desire to pair with the cute dresses that make up her clothing line.

In addition, the boutique features an array of dresses perfect for the dreamed of wedding, maternity wear, urban street wear, contemporary ethnic designs, corporate wear and couture.

To cap it all, Chimanye’s collections have been showcased in various major international and regional shows, including the Kora All Africa Music Awards 2001 in South Africa, Ubbuntu: The African Heritage Afro-Australian Fashion Evening 2003 in Australia, Fading Cultures, Emerging Innovations 2003 in US, Southern Africa Fashion Festival 2003 in Namibia.

Chimanye has won many design competitions that are simply far too many to mention.

Outside her busy creative life, Chimanye finds time to do work for underprivileged children with an organisation she co-founded called Vana Vedu Children’s Foundation based in Chegutu.

The foundation is involved in feeding, clothing and educating approximately 90 children.