Tanya Mushayi is a talented surface pattern designer, stylist and blogger running her own business in Zimbabwe.
“It’s an amazing feeling when you see someone loving what you made,” says Tanya Mushayi with a shy smile. The designer and blogger started her own collection in Zimbabwe two years ago. “The majority of people who buy it are on my Twitter page,” she explains. “They see my designs through Flickr, they’ll tweet me and I’ll arrange to meet them. After they get the clothes, they’ll take a picture of it and tag me in it to show me how they look in it. It’s amazing.” She also makes a lot of things for musician friends. “If they’re going to an event they’ll phone me and be like, can you do something to make me stand out: an African print design, a waistcoat, a bow-tie. And I’ll make it and give it to them; I get exposure that way.”
Her collection is based on retro designs using African prints. “My mum used to say I’m an old soul because I never used to like the new stuff.” What drew her to vintage clothes? “It was the cut and the quality. The inside of the garment was as nice as the outside. Nowadays, the outside is nice but when you look inside the garment, you’re like - who made this? Things are nicer when you can tell that a lot of love went into making it.”
Tanya was born in Zimbabwe but moved to Manchester when she was 11 to join her mother who’d moved over to study and work. “I kind of lost my way a bit when I was a teenager cos it’s kinda hard when you move to a different country, you don’t know which culture to relate to. You don’t know which culture is your culture. Manchester is still home to me, I can’t say that it’s not home. In a way I have two homes,” she explains.
Even as a young child she was drawn to bright colours and prints: “In England you can’t really wear bright colours, especially if it’s not summer. I bought a coat from H&M and it was bright orange and everyone used to laugh at me: ‘You know it’s not summer, right?’ I got a bit of stick for it but I carried on wearing it. Then I kept on getting brighter and brighter and brighter.”
Her love of colour and design influenced her studies. She did a diploma in art and design at college and, inspired by hip hop culture, got into customising. “I used to do abstract pieces - repeat a pattern, or take sections of a picture and then repeat it and then put it onto shoes and jackets. But I didn’t know that I could actually do a course on surface design until my teacher said.” A degree at Huddersfield followed but two years into the course she decided to move back to Zimbabwe.
“My mum was talking about moving back to Zimbabwe but she wanted me to stay to finish the course as I only had one year left. But I didn’t feel I was learning much so I explained to her I wanted to start my own thing, I wanted to go back to Zimbabwe.” Tanya saw it as an opportunity to not only strike out on her own but also to build up the Zimbabwean fashion industry.
Tanya attributes that drive to her mum, who brought her up on her own. “When she used to say she was going to do something, she did it. She never procrastinates, she just knows what she’s going to do and she does it. I think I got that from her. It’s something that you’re not really taught - it’s something that you observe and start doing it yourself.”
In the future she wants to invest in a screen printer to make her own fabrics. Zimbabwe doesn’t have any national fabrics; the ones she currently uses are from Tanzania and the east coast. “We have a Zimbabwean bird - that’s our national symbol, so I would love to do something with that. I’ll make my own new print and then hopefully it’d be called the Zimbabwean print.”
“My mother’s my biggest inspiration; she’s a vibrant and encouraging woman. I love looking at all her old Polaroid photos from the early 80s when she was in London. The clothes, the hair and the confidence she exudes in those pictures is amazing. Besides, I feel that my mother is my backbone as she has taught me everything I know.”
“The best career advice I’ve ever received was that anything I put my mind to I can achieve. It won’t be easy but with perseverance and determination you’ll get there since staying power trumps will power. There’s no point in willing for success if you don’t have the stamina to stick through the bad times.”
“My favorite place to work and be inspired is by “the hill with a view” in the neighborhood I live in. I usually go there to feel inspired by looking at the Harare skyline and to breathe in the clean fresh air and to remember my main goal as to why I moved back to Zimbabwe - which was to make something of myself in the Zimbabwean/African fashion industry and to help it get recognition in the fashion world.”
“My dream fashion project would be to print and use my own designs on fabric to make garments and for it to be seen and recognized as a “Zimbabwean print” the way Nigerian Ankara is recognized. On top of using my own designs on fabric, the ultimate dream fashion project would be to collaborate with a world-renowned designer who doesn’t shy away from bright colours and print like Matthew Williamson or Christian Lacroix.”
“I’d love to dress Solange Knowles as she can wear anything and make it look good. Funnily enough, she’s my muse. Every time I design something I always think “will Solange wear this?” The woman exudes confidence and shows that being ‘Afrocentric’ doesn’t have to be full-on; you can mix and match with other plain materials. She also shows women out there that print isn’t a bad thing when worn right.”
David Tlale is one of my favourite designers from Africa. He is not exactly upcoming since he’s been showing at various Fashion Weeks and dressing African celebrities for quite a while now. I love the way he puts together his garments and designs with no constraints.
Gloria WavaMunno is another favourite of mine. She is a Ugandan fashion designer that uses “ bark cloth” and mixes it with other types of fabrics. Her designs are always outside the box and she is also very active in raising awareness that we are responsible for Africa.
Aisha Obuobi is my third favourite designer. She’s a Ghanaian. I love her clothes because she also uses wax print sometimes for her collections. Her first collection of African wax print cocktail dresses at Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg in 2009 was out of this world and beyond exquisite. She also mixes them with plain fabrics and has a very Afrocentric modern feel.
Afripop magazine is a African cultural website which focuses on showcasing everything positive that Africans within and outside the continent are doing. This includes fashion. (I had the honour of being featured on there once.)
Nancie Mwai is a blogger from Kenya. I came across her blog by mistake whilst looking for ways to style my turban (I was going through an Indo phase) and I found her turban tutorial. I love how her blog tutorials are very user friendly. Another thing that stands out about her blog is how she doesn’t alienate her readers by recommending garments she knows very few people would be able to afford. She recommends thrift store shopping and market sales which is very practical in Africa.
TrendyNicole is a Zimbabwean blogger that lives in the UK. I love her blog because she’s very different to most other fashion blogs out there that are carbon copies of other various fashion blogs I’ve seen. Her style is very unique in that, from her blog posts, you can see she’s posting her everyday looks and hair tips from her love of fashion.
“There are so many hidden gems in Zimbabwe; some I haven’t had the time to visit since I’ve moved back. My favourite places to visit when I was younger were Lake Kariba, Victoria Falls and the Great Zimbabwe ruins. The best kept secret in terms of things to do is a place called Chinhoyi Caves. Visiting the Eastern Highlands and also the Victoria Falls area for bungee jumping, camping, and other activities. I am always surprised by how few people outside the country and continent haven’t heard about them. For instance, there’s a lot of national history behind the Chinhoyi Caves too. There are a variety of natural pools within the caves - the stand-out one being the ‘Sleeping Pool’ which is a pool of cobalt blue colouring. Diving is possible in the caves all year round.”