PRISCILLA Chigariro-Gessen is the founder of Zimbabwe FashionWeek (ZFW) which was recently held in Harare and is a renowned fashion designer and former model. NewsDay Life & Style reporter Anesu Mushawatu (ND) caught up with the fashionista (PC) and below are excerpts from the interview.
Sneak Peek: Anesu Mushawatu
ND: Can you briefly share with us how the ZFW was conceived?
PC: ZFW was conceived and founded by me in 2009. I have managed to create a platform for Zimbabwean and regional designers to showcase their work, but equally so to help rekindle what was once a thriving textile and fashion industry. In January 2015, Zimbabwe Fashion International was created as a conglomerate for upcoming global fashion festivals for Zimbabweans.
ND: You had taken a two-year break over the last few years. What has been happening?
PC: In the last two years, I launched The Sp_ce, a lifestyle and fashion concept store with a Middle Eastern-inspired restro-shisha lounge that offers quality shopping and lounging experience. The Sp_ce boutique carries various products with a strong theme of contemporary Africa; with items ranging from clothing, beauty products, furniture and other lifestyle items, bringing customers the latest brands, style and trends from an eclectic mix of African designers.
ND: What is your target market?
PC: The Sp_ce appeals to the sophisticated women and men who appreciate the value and authenticity of African-inspired design and exceptional dining and lounging experience. It is a proudly Zimbabwean establishment with a twist of international flavours. I also launched Africa Art Fashion Food Festival in Moscow where we promoted local designs and arts to the international market.
ND: You recently held a successful 2018 ZFW. How did the comeback experience feel like?
PC: The comeback experience has been an honour. There has been a huge demand from fashion designers and the public in general to bring back the original ZFW. It’s been a build-up of lots of hard work and looking back, it’s worth all the success.
ND: You indicated at a cocktail last week that some individuals had thrown spanners into your work and you decided to walk away. What made you reconsider the decision?
PC: I love what I do. When there is passion involved, it’s not difficult to follow your path. Detractors will always be there. It’s really a matter of truly believing that your work is significant.
ND: Compared to other countries, would you say there is real appreciation of fashion in Zimbabwe? And what are the reasons?
PC: Fashion is a presentation of who we are and how we express ourselves. There is no comparison with other countries. There is an appreciation of fashion in Zimbabwe. This was proven by how our guests who attended the ZFW VIP opening cocktail party and the rest of the shows. Everyone was impeccably dressed, stylish and individual.
ND: Fashion could mean different things to different people. Who determines the trends?
PC: Trends are an indication of the current style, whether it is straight off the runway or street style. Fashion magazines, designers, photographers, stylists and fashion weeks play a huge role in determining the latest fashion trends.
Personal style always wins over trends, though. It is important to have an eye where you are able to mix trends with your own personal style.
ND: How did you first venture into the fashion world?
PC: I have always had an eye for fashion since I was a child. My mother used to buy sewing patterns or I would cut out fashion patterns from magazines and create clothing. I would create costumes for my siblings and put on shows or plays for our family. So, yes, this has been a passion from childhood.
ND: What have been some of the high points for you in the industry?
PC: The high point has been knowing that I am playing a big role in promoting our culture and contributing to the local fashion industry.
ND: Can you share with us some of the challenges you have encountered and how you dealt with them?
PC: There will always be challenges in the process of putting together such a huge event like ZFW. I do not work alone. I have an amazing team, which has been supportive and assisted in making the event a success.
ND: Some world renowned figures have featured at various editions of the ZFW. What does this mean for you?
PC: Bringing world renowned figures to ZFW is really about us connecting to the international fashion world. We invite such individuals in order for us to share skills and knowledge with our designers and those interested in the fashion world. We try and vary our selection of guests; from fashion designers, photographers, stylists and fashion editors. We pride ourselves in ZFW young designer programmes, which are free workshops facilitated by international and local designers in order to transfer skills.
ND: How do you rate the success of those workshops?
PC: These workshops have been a success and left attendees feeling empowered. For instance, some of our workshops this year were hosted by Mapepa, a team of experienced and multi-skilled professionals in the field of sustainable development. They taught the attendees how to create paper and mix it with fashion. It was incredible!
We hosted Louis Philippe de Gagoue from Cameroon who is an international stylist and photographer working for Vogue magazine and other renowned high-fashion magazines.
ND: If you are not doing fashion, what other passions, if any, do you spent time on?
PC: I am a very creative person. I love interior designs, which was my first formal job. I also create my own range of bespoke leather products called Shoko Bespoke. I have a workshop where all leather goods are crafted. These include bags, accessories and shoes. All my designs are available at The Sp_ce boutique.
ND: From experience, are fashion trends synonymous across the globe?
PC: I guess this is where as Zimbabweans, have to really showcase our talent. We are creative like any other big fashion capitals. We have to come to our own, create our style, be proud and express ourselves. For example, in Johannesburg there has been many fashion movements and street-style movements such as Skhotanes. As insane as the style is, they are recognised for their eccentric style. It’s time we became brave. The world is watching Zimbabwe and it’s time we take charge and show who we truly are.
ND: In 2015, the ZFW was themed “Fashion Redefined” with a call to redefine the world’s perception of African fashion. Would you say this has been achieved, and to what extent?
PC: Yes, we keep pushing the boundaries. African fashion keeps redefining itself. We are recognised all over the world and are producing luxury goods to the world. It’s up to us to grow and keep refining our skills. It is also important that we create an industry that is economically viable amongst ourselves; supporting local designers is very important.
ND: As a fashionist, what kind of influence have you exerted upon those close to you, like friends and family?
PC: (Laughs). That’s a difficult one to answer. I dress according to my mood; from low key to high end. I support local designs as my boutique also stocks local designers. If I do influence anyone, that’s an honour. I believe in being me first and would not encourage anyone to be nothing else, but themselves.
ND: You are obviously one of the biggest names when it comes to local fashion. What did it take for you to get there?
PC: Tenacity, passion, refusing to take no for an answer, being diligent and focused. That’s what keeps you in the game. No matter which industry you are in, success comes with loads of hard knocks, but you always have to pick yourself up and persevere. Self-preservation is important too. Take time to reflect and keep working on your goals.
ND: Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years?
PC: In 10 years’ time, I see myself as a media mogul and successful businesswoman. I have also recently relaunched my magazine, Domino Magazine. It’s a lifestyle and high-end magazine with exquisite designs and aesthetics. The magazine is out now, available from The Sp_ce. I would like to keep championing and being at the forefront of fashion transformation in Zimbabwe.
ND: Any word of advice to aspiring and upcoming designers?
PC: My advice to upcoming and aspiring designers is that remember to be different always. No ideas are crazy ideas. Let’s break boundaries in all that we do. If you do not have formal education, then learn and research those that you admire. Get as much information as possible to better your skills.
The internet and social media are amazing tools where anything is possible. Promote your works, learn how to profile your business, know what you stand for and stick with it.