Thirty-four-year-old change practitioner, traveller, and foodie, Shamiso Catherine Ruzvidzo, relocated from Australia back to Zimbabwe in 2012. She had been in Australia for 12 years, where she did her degree in Information Technology and worked for Rio Tinto before finding her love and passion for the fashion and design sector.
She is the founder of Catherine Ruze, a boutique modelling agency which was first set up in Australia and later on moved to Zimbabwe. Catherine is also the founder of Fashion Weekend Zimbabwe and now Kusika Design Centre which is based in Doon Estate, the design district in Harare.
Kusika is a hub that supports the economic development of small businesses in the fashion and design sector. As if that is not enough, Catherine is the regional director of programs for a local NGO. She juggles these two passions with her everyday life.
From IT to fashion, why fashion?
I started in the fashion industry when I was 16. My mom sent me to Medusa, a modelling agency in Harare, where I did a modelling course and ended up modelling for them. That is how I plunged into fashion.@ShamisoRuze started in the fashion industry when she was 16 at a modelling agency in Harare Click To Tweet
Fast forward years later, I was doing freelance work with photographers in Australia and I got introduced to local designers who I started working with. Australia really lifts up its local talent and this is where my love for local design and supporting local designers came from. I produced my first fashion show for Betty Tran, then Betty Sugar.
I just brought together a pool of models and publicists I was working with and we made it work. I realised that there are many designers wanting to see progress in their businesses but as start-ups, they normally don’t have the resources to hire models, or even create a full fashion show because they are putting all that they have into their collections. This idea gave birth to the Catherine Ruze modelling agency.
When was Kusika birthed?
Kusika is a new initiative which was born from pivoting my other businesses; Catherine Ruze Modelling Agency and Fashion Weekend Zimbabwe (FWZ). It was officially birthed in July 2015. As an entrepreneur, you are always pivoting until you kind of get to that place where you feel like you have finally found the right model.
We had outgrown what we thought we wanted to do with FWZ and therefore took a step back. We then decided to slowly transition into Kusika using FWZ as the face. Fashion Weekend Zimbabwe paved way for Kusika; we will not be doing annual events anymore but we will be doing pop-up shops instead. We have hosted a variety already, both in and outside Zimbabwe. In 2016 we did four pop-up shops and this year we are looking at six.
Why Kusika as a name?
Kusika means to create so it’s all about creation. But there is more to creating and creations. People can create, then what? We go beyond that, we design, create and develop.
When one looks around Zimbabwe, everyone is creating something but a lot of people are copying creations that have been done by various other people.
So what does Kusika do?
We are pretty much a design incubator. By design I mean if you use your hands to create something, then you definitely fall under our mandate. We are trying to support the economic development of designers and artisans in Zimbabwe. It’s a 50/50 partnership where we put our resources to get the product line going. We work with them on three levels:
- Production/development of their collections, be it clothing, home décor, bags, and accessories. We provide artisans with access to information on what’s trending, how the market is like etc.
- Training- on product quality and how to run a business. We want Kusika to be a design hub where people come to learn new skills and get inspired to use their hands for livelihood. One may have had skills in the past but times and people’s needs change. So we are bringing in new skills and ways to develop these old skills. Currently, the products we have been exposed to are not very impressive and therefore we saw a huge gap on quality assurance.
- Marketing, the final level is taking the products to markets. At the moment Zimbabwe is lacking a market. There is not enough local consumption for someone to live off their talent but we are trying to change that narrative, to say to them, no you can use design to pay your children school fees, to put food on the table.
So Kusika is a place you come to create and we help you to take it a step further.
How have people received this type of business in Zimbabwe?
Kusika is a medium scale business and our target market is not local. Our customers are people outside Zimbabwe who currently have lesser problems than we do and have a different appreciation of the product. Zimbabweans have bigger problems at the moment and furnishing their homes and themselves is not one of them.
How big is the team?
We have four local people working at Kusika and other external contractors including one buying agent who is based in France. She is the one who helps source out the buyers.
What are some of the challenges of running a business in Zimbabwe?
Remaining inspired in present day Zimbabwe is a challenge, it’s very easy to be stagnant. The world is moving so fast right now in terms of innovation, and unfortunately, we are being left behind. It’s important to step out of Zimbabwe from a leadership point of view to get inspirations, new ideas, and concepts.Remaining inspired in Zimbabwe is a challenge, it’s very easy to be stagnant @ShamisoRuze Click To Tweet
The hijacking of concepts or business ideas is another huge challenge here. You can start on something and the next moment you realise everyone is doing the same thing. We don’t allow ourselves to fully develop concepts that are solely ours. I wish people would believe in their concepts more and not hijack other people’s concepts. Maybe if copyright was a huge thing in Zimbabwe then we would not have these kinds of issues. Just take a look at the streets of Harare, that’s a perfect example of people hijacking concepts. You can meet five people in the street selling the same thing.
Then there’s access to capital. If we had access to capital like other young people in Africa, we would be able to develop our businesses a lot faster and be able to grow them quicker. In Kenya for example, entrepreneurs are being supported by the government, which is huge. It takes a lot of time and relationship building to grow a really great idea.
What more can the government do to support entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe?
Open up more capital channels for young people. It is very difficult to access finance because we have ridiculous interest rates. And by the way, capital doesn’t have to be loans. We can have crowd-sourcing, set up government structures or successful leaders who can plunge in.
We need to build on what I like to call the knowledge economy. Many people do not know how to run their businesses but they are starting businesses anyway. 70% of these people don’t even have a business plan but I believe there are so many leaders and government entities that can help people run their businesses. It doesn’t necessarily have to be government but as I mentioned before a supporting plan or structure put in place will do.Many people do not know how to run their businesses but they are starting businesses Click To Tweet
What lessons or advice would you give your younger self?
It’s important to get an education on something that you can fall back on while building your passion. Know where you are going and what you want to achieve. What value your business going to bring?
Stay in formal employment longer, this is where you learn some of the ropes of running your own business.
Be wise about how you use your money. Don’t waste so much money on the branding of your business, instead use that money to understand your business.Don’t waste so much money on branding, use that money to understand your business @ShamisoRuze Click To Tweet
How do you stay true to yourself?
I have a lot of quiet time to myself and I make sure that I start my day with prayer. I exercise a lot too. This gives me an opportunity to step away from everything. I have realised that I do not have to carry things with me to sleep.
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