Powerful African Goddess: Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri
Meet Pam Samasuwo- Nyawiri – an Award Winning Designer, Fashion Journalist and African Fashion Advocate from Zimbabwe. Having always been inspired by fashion, she decided to go back to university and study Fashion Accessory Design. She has combined her first degree in Journalism and Communication, her passion for creativity and her insatiable curiosity to propel herself in the fashion industry. A mother, a wife and business owner, she stops at nothing until she gets results. ElleAfrique had the pleasure of catching up with her as she shares her journey and her hopes for the future.
EA: We recall not so long ago you were just starting out and now you are a multi award winning designer. Please tell us how you got to where you are now.
Pam: This is all a dream for me. Just 4 years ago I stepped into a university studio, with no knowledge of anything fashion related. The majority of the students had done foundation degrees and I did not even know how to use a ruler! The only weapon I had was the ability to write brilliantly. It all just developed very quick for me, and while I was in University, I was pretty much fast tracked. In my second year of studies, my husband and I were going back and forth deciding where in the industry we would fit as a brand. I was getting panic attacks seeing all the talent coming through, but staying in our own turf was the revelation. By the end of the third year, the newly launched brand was bearer of prestigious awards, and I can only credit everything to timing and the ability to recognise the opportunities that were ours and walk away from those that were not. I am very thankful for this journey.
EA: What’s the passion behind Vanhu Vamwe and the collections?
Pam: Vanhu Vamwe was born out of a concept my husband Simba and I formulated. We work very well together and while his creativity is in music, he has a cleaner and more business approach to the design aesthetic. I am very over the top, and always think about the shock aspect of our work, which does shock, but does not sell. Having said that we are both global humanitarians and love to work with people in general. We made our won bags in the first year of VV launching in order to raise enough money to afford a business plan based on working with artisanal communities globally. Recently, we were presented with an opportunities that made us realise that our work was borderless, and while we are Africans, we should be able to stretch far and beyond and leave a little bit of the spirit of Africa in other places. We are passionate about people, about their hearts, and about their survival. Our products povide a basis for social development through fashion. Our latest collection is called ” A non existent tribe” and came by as a result of an International fashion award by ABURY a social Enterprise Brand, based in Germany in collaboration with Harpers Bazaar Germany. I spent two months in a remote village in Ecuador working with local artisans and creating a high end luxury handbag collection. It was a very heart warming experience.
EA: Did you ever feel like it was difficult for you to launch because you are African?
Pam: I have been asked this question many times and the answer will always be no. Hardship comes when we place ourself in boxes and from the beginning of my career, I have always refused to be identified acccording to my place of birth or ethnic origin. I have always proclaimed the quality of my work first before anything. I think there is a lot of self entitlement as well amongst designers, I find that a lot of my African friends, feel that we should get some sort of special treatment in mainstream fashion, but the truth of the matter is, only those who produce quality will get the attention. The color of your skin or your origin does not matter. Many will stand up and say my experience is biased because I am speaking from the diaspora experience, however I can name many designers, based in Africa, who have done exceptionally well. Consistency, quality, visionary attitude, that will get you launching anywhere you want in the world.
EA: In your opinion, are African designers finding a world market?
Pam: I think the global market has become open for pretty much everyone. This idea of becoming ”global children”, has allowed people to appreciate cultures, traditions and differences. Also the internet and social media has brought about many opportunities. I think Africa as a continent is trending at the moment for many positive things, there is a lot of appreciation for the vibrancy and the inspiration, opening up global markets. There are still a few discrepancies, where we perhaps do not understand that certain design aesthetics do not appeal outside our neighbourhoods, or family circles. I have had friendly debates with collegues, where I ask if they think their clothing would sell outside of their church family. The realisation that we should research more, learn more is becoming more apparent. Understanding trends, colour stories and looking more to global visuals is evident on pur catwalks in Africa. The recent LFDW ( Lagos Fashion and Design week) is a very good example of an event that embodies what the global market is about. Very relevant designers, fresh and innovative. That is the new Africa!
EA: Are you designs affordable and where can we get them?
Pam: I guess it depends what is affordable to individuals. They are currently selling between 190-450 Euros, but I can justify the prices as the work the artisans put in is very admirable, and also the fact that 50% of the profits go back into the communities I work with. I am working on a more affordable collection for the every day man and woman.
EA: What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
Pam: You know I am so grateful for the last year, a year after I graduated from University, I have pretty much achieved things I wanted to be doing in year three of being operational. I am, however, in such focus mode at the moment and want to develop others as well. I love designing and making handbags, but I want Vanhu Vamwe’s Legacy to be much more than that. I am working on a few projects at the moment, which I am hoping will be the basis of the achievement I hope in the next five years. I hope that deisgners see the relevance and importance of walking away from the made in china products and start having conversations about the made in Africa products. I want to be able to build a revolutionary empire of designers, who care about the way their clothes are made and more so challenge consumers to have good buying habits. That is my goal.
EA: Name us five African women that inspire you.
Pam: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Waris Dirie, Tsitsi Masiyiwa, Minna Salami, Vivian Onano.
EA: Message to all those budding African designers.
Pam: Always do your research first, there is no rush to set anything up especially in this fast pace era of fashion. being consistent is a disciplinary act, learn it, live it. Always stay in your own lane and be uniquely set apart from what is already there. Your presentation of self and your work will always attract the right opportinities. Do not fear, Heavens got you!!
EA: What does female empowerment mean to you?
Pam: Empowerment is having a voice and the freedom to speak though it, BUT also making sure that the female next to me has a voice too and can use it equally the same way I do.