Fungai Nembaware: I am not your average fashion designer, I am a cultural ambassador

Drawing on ancient Africa, Fungai Nembaware creates accessories from African fabric Click To Tweet

Fungai Nembaware, a mother of two boys, a five and eight-year-old started Zuwa Re in 2008. It started as a hobby and building it into a company was something that was just playing in the background. When her son was six months old she decided to go for it, and make shoes, earrings, jewelry, from African fabric. She terms herself a cultural ambassador.

Zuwa Re officially started in 2008. Fungai had no formal training but believes what she does is is part of her gift. “African fabric celebrates who we are, and Africa is bright and full of life”, Fungai says.

She was looking at re-living and preserving our culture and history. Read on to discover how Fungai Nembaware is teaching people about this history through her art.

Where does your name come from? And what does your logo signify?


Most of my influences are from ancient Africa.  The name is both Shona and Egyptian, Zuwa which means “sun” in Shona a Zimbabwean dialect, and Re which means “sun” in Egyptian. So it basically means Sun of God because I believe every gift comes from a higher source.

My logo is a scarab beetle, from ancient Egypt made from the shabaka stone. You can see the sun’s rays from the back shining.

What distinguishes your business offering from the competition?

I am not your average fashion designer, I am a cultural ambassador. My work comes from well thought out research and isn’t the same as the work out there. For example, when I started the totem earrings, people were skeptical about them and they thought they IMG-20170222-WA0000were anti-religion.

Being in the Diaspora, the totem earrings were a way of bringing people together because the family nucleus is diluted. It was to re-emphasize the importance of our culture through oral and creative tradition and educating people of our culture and the importance of togetherness. The totem earrings will help in identifying another sister in a foreign land.

It is hard to keep our culture alive because there is so much diffusion. Putting this across in wearable art was very personal. It involved the reawakening of people to a certain level of consciousness and understanding of our histories and culture. This was also a way for me to contribute to the writing of the story of our ancestors as this identifies us as a people. I would like to restore and reclaim our position as African people.

I would like to restore and reclaim our position as African people - Fungai Nembaware Click To Tweet

How would you describe your business model as you are based in the UK, but have a presence in Zimbabwe?

My umbilical cord is in Zimbabwe and therefore I try and work with a few tailors in my home country.

I believe every woman’s hands are gifted, and with the use of our hands, we will never be found lacking. We should always think of how we can create our own work.

What more can government do to support small businesses?

The government needs to find more sustainable ways of supporting women in Zimbabwe. They should speak to young girls and identify people that they can teach and or give loans to. There are a lot of people with visions but they lack resources.

What business advice would you give your younger self?

Firstly, I would say to parents don’t discourage your children if they want to venture
in a particular field. When I was younger I wouldn’t dream of saying I want to go to dress making but had I gone there, I would have achieved my dream a lot sooner.

To younger me, I would say do not be ashamed of following your passion, go in and go hard. Be resilient and focused and know that every time you send a positive vibe or word into the universe, a positive vibe will come back to you. Zuwa-Re-Fashion-Model-Main12

Find a tribe of like-minded people, who can encourage you. Know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses but improve your strengths. When you get into business, you should know what you want, and believe in yourself 100%.

Pursue good business practices, research, have a mentor, get inspiration from people who have done it before, and find out what made them different, what made them survive? You shouldn’t just wake up and want to do a business without a plan.

You should remember that we are all unique, even if there are a 100 people making the same thing that you are making. Improve your skill every time. Don’t limit yourself.

Fungai Nembaware - You shouldn't just wake up and want to do a business without a plan Click To Tweet

How do you achieve a work home balance?

I am a mother of two boys, studying and running a business. I won’t say that is easy but I will say that I am a strong person mentally.

Then I have a great support system, which is really important, we pray and encourage each other. I have a lady who helps me with school runs and the children when I am overwhelmed with work.

How do you market your business?

I haven’t done a lot of marketing, it has mainly been through word of mouth and via my facebook page.

However, I do plan on going bigger this year, 2017. I want more and more people to understand what my work is all about and be able to relate to it.


Where can people in Africa buy your creations?

Online. I have quite a number of loyal customers in Zimbabwe and I have been shipping to the US and Canada and recently Dubai. There was and still is a huge gap in shipping.

What should we look forward to in the next 5 years?

In one word, it will be diversification. I plan to do a lot more charity work and incorporate this into my art.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Koena Selolo: Every woman is a queen in her kingdom

Kgošigadi aims to create accessories that befit every queen's beauty - Koena Selolo Click To Tweet

Born out of a family of only girls and being the youngest, Koena Selelo had great inspiration from all women around her yet she had to find her own voice. Koena refers to herself as a queen in her own “kingdom”. She is a well oozing strength and courage; Koena has managed to rise against at all material cost and whatever failures she encountered.

A servant at heart and passionate about women, Koena Selolo is the founder of Kgosigadi, an accessories brand.

Tell us about Kgosigadi, what does it mean in general? And what does it mean to you as its founder?

Kgošigadi means a Queen in Sepedi because that’s what every woman is; a queen in their own “kingdom “. This is a brand that affirms every woman, reminding them to never leave their throne to be enslaved in another woman’s “kingdom”. I affirm this through their standard of life and preferences in how they wear their accessories.

Kgošigadi therefore aims to create accessories that befit every queen’s beauty. Kgošigadi embraces every woman’s authenticity and her reign over her dominion.To me, that means I can empower women through mere accessories and acknowledging women from all walks of life.

How did you become an accessory designer?

I became an accessory designer from my love of making earrings from any clutter I found lying around at home. I am a creative at heart, so I would collect old buttons and wires, I also had a scrapbook and would sew my clothes etc. It was all part of my hobby.

Koena Selelo used buttons and copper wires to create her first sellable accessory range Click To Tweet

In 2015, I made my first sellable accessory range from buttons and old copper wires and I have never stopped since. That has generated income to grow Kgošigadi as I never got funding or any capital to start. In that same year, I entered the university business pitch hosted by the The Hookup Dinner and I was a winner for Tshwane University of Technology.

My first sale generated income to grow Kgošigadi, I never got funding to start - Koena Selelo Click To Tweet

I was then part of the top 3 start-ups competing with various universities in South Africa which has been a stimulus for my growth. My somewhat naive 22-year-old eyes were opened to the competitive world of business.Koena Selolo 3

What is your favourite part about being an accessory designer?

My favourite part about being an accessory designer is seeing my customers happy with what I have made with love for them with my hands. That to me is fulfilling. Having them post beautiful pictures on social media of themselves wearing their Kgošigadi crowns, on its own shows that the Kgošigadi tribe is full of assertive women.

One can’t say Kgošigadi without understanding the true power and strength that comes with being called Kgošigadi.

How do you approach a new collection? Where do your ideas evolve from?

I approach any new collection first by drawing and wandering around material shops for idea inspiration.

It is also important that I keep my creative juices flowing and I do this through looking at what is trending. One has to keep bettering their craft and evolving as they grow.

Koena Selelo: One has to keep bettering their craft and evolving as they grow Click To Tweet

Do you have a favorite accessory designer that you admire?

My favourite accessory designer is Ntozihle, whose work ethic I admire so much more than anything! I also admire the likes of Maria Mccloy and Koketso Mohlala —Ditsaladesigns.

I draw a lot of inspiration from different accessory designers, even the informal ones whom I admire for reasons such as their resilience etc.

Koena Selolo 2

How do you define luxury?

Luxury is something expensive and extravagant one can live without but can afford live with it.

Would you say you’re a realist or fantasist?

I am a realist and fantasist because in my world the two can co-exist if a balance is maintained.

One can’t live on reality alone, one also needs to believe in the unseen. That is what faith and dreams are for. Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t happen!I believe dreams are wings that one can

I believe dreams are wings that one can fly, with them one can reach the unthinkable and unimaginable.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt in life

My most valuable lesson is from a Bible scripture in Joshua 1:8 that says; “Be bold and courageous”. This scripture has been the anchor that has kept me from being washed by the waves. It helped me maintain my authenticity in this business and has made has bold as a lion.

When my parents still had not yet bought the whole idea of Kgošigadi out of loving concern and security, I had to be courageous —even though my courage might sometimes be interpreted as rebellion!

What would you choose; lipstick or lip gloss?

I’m a lipstick lady.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Dede Reelia Kouevi: It’s okay not to have it all & still make your vision come to life

Dede Reelia Kouevi: I bought a Christmas ornament from a $1 store & turned it into an earring Click To Tweet

When your grandparents, mother and aunts are tailors, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a fashionista. Dede Reelia Kouevi was born in Togo to a fashion-forward family, now she’s made her mark as an accessories designer. Her brand UniqueByReelia features vibrant, colourful jewellery and accessories but Reelia isn’t limiting herself to accessories.

In the three years since UniqueByReelia launched, Reelia has showcased her designs in shows such as Black Fashion Week Montréal, Fest Africa 2014, African Fashion Week DC and Ankara Fashion Week Miami. Now she’s trying to host her own show in Italy, the Afro Expo Fashion Week. Reelia is very familiar with the difficulty that comes with getting into shows as a young designer and wants to provide a platform for designers like her.

Why start Unique by Reelia?

I started UniqueByReelia because I always knew I was going to be a fashion designer. I started showcasing at different fundraisers since I was in high school with clothes my mother used to make me from Togo. I knew that I wanted to move to New York to pursue my dream and find a way toward my goal.

When I moved to New York, I was hoping my school will have a few designing classes. But that wasn’t the case! It was just a regular private university. In my sophomore year, I decided to start making accessories. One day, I went to a $1 store, bought a Christmas ornament and turned it into an earring.

I wore it around my campus and my friends loved it. That was the beginning of UniqueByReelia. I thought to myself if I can start with accessories and make my way up, in the future I will be able to dress people from head to toes.

Dede Reelia Kouevi: I wanted to be ambitious and a go getter, somebody who empowers others Click To Tweet

What was the spark that lead you down this path?

When I was in high school, I attended modelling and acting classes at John Roberts Power. I wasn’t getting gigs and I met other young dark-skinned African girls who were in the same boat as myself. There are people who are driven to be models and willing to learn, yet they were not given the opportunity to do so.

I thought to myself; instead of waiting for other people to give me the opportunity I’ve waiting for, I can create that opportunity for others. I loved the idea of being a designer and helping other young models live their dreams. Since I started UniqueByReelia, I have inspired other girls to find confidence through modelling as well.

I’ve worked with all types of models, curvy, skinny, tall, starters, pregnant women, as well as some super models and top models.


Tell us about being at the Black Fashion Week in Montreal. How did you get there?

The Black Fashion Week in Montreal, was an amazing experience. I’ve been looking up to Adama Paris ever since I started my brand. Adama is ambitious and fashion icon, I felt like that was the woman I wanted to become. I wanted to be ambitious and a go getter, somebody who empowers others.

So, when an opportunity presented itself, I did everything to make it happened. I’ve became friends with her on Facebook and Instagram. She posted about the Black Fashion Week event and was looking for designers.

I applied, they loved my designs and accepted me in. The show participation fee, the transportation and my accommodation came up to a total of $3000. My school refund checks, my fiancé and my dad helped me go to the Black Fashion Week project.

Reelia realized at an early stage that many people don’t really value accessory designers Click To Tweet

Do you believe you’re limiting yourself by focusing solely on accessories?

No, I am not limiting myself by solely focusing on accessories. I recently launched my clothing line 6 months ago and I’m currently working on my swimwear collection for spring/summer 2017, which am very excited about.

I just wanted to push my accessories line to the top. First, because I get to create them myself and I wanted to do something different through my brand. I realized at an early stage that many people don’t value accessories designers the way they value clothing designers.

So, I promised myself that I will be the best in order to inspire other accessories designers. Being an accessories designer is not easy, we brainstorm too, we sit down and create stuff. We use our hands more than machine. How can you not value something like that?

Sometimes I cry when I bring some of my designs to life. I remember going to shows where I had the privilege to showcase my pieces on my own. At these shows, other accessories designers had to pair their pieces with clothing designers. Don’t get me wrong, pairing up designers is not as bad as it sounds. Still sometimes you just want the stage to yourself, you know.

Sometimes Dede Reelia Kouevi cries when she brings her @UniqueByReelia designs to life Click To Tweet

We stumbled upon your IndieGoGo page for the Afro Expo Fashion Week Italy. Can you tell us how you first heard of this event?

Well, Afro Expo Fashion Week Italy, is my own fashion show. This is a show I’m organizing in Italy. My initial idea was to tour Europe and to do shows like I’ve been doing it here in the States. I wanted to start with Black Fashion Paris. But I thought about it and realized that, with all the experiences that I have already acquired, it was time to do my own show.

Then again, most of my friends have had their shows here in the States already. I wanted to do something different, so I decided to bring my fashion week to Italy. The idea is to bring the celebration of diversity and culture, and to give a platform to young designers to showcase at this event.

It is hard for young designers to showcase at events that I showcase at. This is because entering these shows can be pricey and unaffordable for some young designers. I wanted to break that barrier and give the opportunity to other designers to showcase their talent.


Why did you decide to go the crowd-funding route to make Afro Expo Fashion Week Italy a reality?

I didn’t have all the fund necessary for this project. Plus, I didn’t have the luxury of time where I can sell and save the money for this project. Being a full-time student and managing a business is frustrating, especially since I am in my last semester. I knew it was going to be a tough year for my business as well as for my education.

However, I wanted to get my networks involved in my project, I wanted people to contribute in a project they will be proud off. I wanted to inspired my peers through this campaign, as well as let them know that it is okay not to have it all and still make your vision come to life.

Being the first person doing a crowd-funding campaign from my country, it was also a way for me to put bring more awareness to Togo. I was raised in a community where we don’t ask for help, we are too proud. Even though we might need help, we let our pride get hold of us, so my crowd-funding was meant to break barriers.

How has growing up in a family full of tailors influenced your business choice?

To be honest, I think fashion chose me because I was born in a family full of creative tailors. My maternal grandmother was a tailor, my mother was a tailor, my mother’s sister is a tailor, my father’s mother was a tailor, my dad’s father was a tailor…so for me I think it was more like a calling.

Looking back at my mother making my clothes, and how she used to dress me up and how stylish she was, growing older I knew I had no other choice but to follow that path. It was a shared passion of ours.

Do you think it’s necessary for women who want to work in fashion to go to fashion school? Why?

Personally, I will say yes. Even though some people grew up in an environment that enables them to know how to sew clothes on their own, I do value education. It makes everything perfect and teaches you different strategies.

Things are improving everyday so in order to be at the top, you must keep your game up. Today, I look back and wished I just went to a fashion school instead. The good news is, it’s never too late to rewrite my story!

Going to school to perfect your passion helps you master it!

Tell us how you live your dream through your business?

The best part of my business is when I get to inspire other young women to pursue their dream. I often receive messages that say, “because of you I want to do something”.

And when I go to fashion weeks and hear Togo read next to my name, I get excited and feel fulfilled. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to live my dream.


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