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Catching up with the fashion designer behind Zimbabwe’s NATAi NATAi

By Mitchel Tanyaradzwa

Meet Cheryl Nyasha Johnson a designer based in Zimbabwe. Paving ways for the country’s fashion industry. Her pieces comes with an effervescent glow meant to make women feel confident and fearless.

Cheryl Nyasha Johnson

Here is a conversation we had with Cheryl:

Cheryl, your Fashion Brand is filled with statement making and sophisticated pieces. How did you start and why the name NATAi NATAi?

Cheryl: After quitting my job in sales in 2017, I started by reselling international name brand clothes at local flea markets in Harare, Zimbabwe. I had a strong desire to start a unique clothing line inspired by art, nature and the diverse beauty of African women, so with the money I had saved up from working, I created my first samples and launched NATAi NATAi in 2019.

My mother was my first introduction to fashion and so she is a major inspiration to me, therefore I named my brand after her name, Natai.

What’s your background as a Fashion Designer?

My background is actually in Business! I attained my Bachelor’s degree from Principia college where I majored in Business Administration and minored in Art History. I’m also a self taught photographer so I’ve always had a strong interest in creative expression and visual story telling. I believe my love for fashion was instilled in me from a very young age because my mother was a tailor and hairdresser and my grandmother always had a quirky and unique sense of style, so it was only natural for me to take that inspiration and combine it with my business and visual arts background.

I’m a self taught designer so I’m very much still learning with the help of our lead tailor, Benny.

How would you describe your Brand and what inspires you?

NATAi NATAi is a women’s clothing brand with a focus on figure accentuating day to night pieces that can be worn by women of all body shapes and sizes. I’m inspired by the modern African women that is confident, daring, unapologetic and isn’t afraid to voice their opinions and take over spaces.

Apart from being beautiful and made from local materials, NATAi NATAi pieces are also sustainable. How important is it for you sustainability in Fashion?

I believe the fashion world needs to be kinder and more intentional. Fashion has made a devastating impact on the planet and it’s garment workers and it’s my hope that the fashion world slows down and creates business models that respect the planet and it’s people.

What’s the most challenging thing about being a Fashion Designer?

So far my biggest challenge has been creating a healthy work-life balance. Being a creative is a huge part of me so much that it can be difficult to take time off and indulge in some self care away from work. Although the pandemic has brought its set of challenges, it has really helped me take a step back and spend time on other hobbies I enjoy.

As a designer what’s your take on the Fashion industry of Zimbabwe and what do you think should be done to improve it?

We have a lot of amazing designers and the Zimbabwean fashion industry would greatly benefit from government support and investment through grants and programs in order to help develop local talent. I believe this would also boost our local manufacturing industry and create employment.

Your hopes for Zimbabwean Fashion Industry?

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Processed with VSCO with a10 preset

My hope is that we invest in and develop our own textile sector so that we’re not heavily dependent on imported garments and materials. It would also be amazing to see our major retailers stock more work from local designers and introduce pieces that are both modern and trendy.

NATAi NATAi lovers what should they expect in the future?

Cheryl: We’d love to start incorporating more print and merging different fabrics so our supporters can expect to see more experimental, daring and bold designs which are modern yet still accentuate the feminine physique.

Since we’re on Lockdown how has this impacted your work?

We’ve had to close our studio and slow down production, but luckily we’re able to work from home. We’re taking this time in lockdown to come up with new designs we think people will love and to prepare for the post-pandemic world.

How do you balance being a mom and an entrepreneur?

I love my son - he keeps me energetic and creative! I launched NATAi NATAi when he was 6 months old so I learned from my first days as a mother to not be afraid to get help. This allows me to make sure that both my work and my family get the attention they need to thrive.

Do you have any plans to expand?

I’d love for NATAi NATAi to become accessible to people world wide, but restrictions & challenges in delivery make it difficult to cater to an international audience especially now that there’s a pandemic. Right now our pieces are only available to purchase in Zimbabwe and South Africa, but we’d welcome the opportunity to expand into other countries.

Collaborations between brands is the big thing in fashion now. Which other brand would you like to collaborate with?

It would be amazing to collaborate with a footwear brand such as New Balance or Vans!

What’s the current situation of African Fashion industry?

African fashion is an emerging market so it’s really cool to witness a new generation of African designers, for example Thebe Magugu and Anifa Mvuemba, taking center stage on the global fashion scene. I feel as if most African designers approach their work with a strong sense of ethics and a mission to revitalize their local industries so I believe Africa will play a huge role in the development of sustainable fashion.

Cheryl, what advice would you give to an aspiring African fashion designer?

Just start! Starting is always the hardest part because of the fear of the unknown. Remember that everything is a learning process so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Also, financial literacy and creating proper systems is such an important part of developing a brand, so I believe this knowledge would be beneficial to any aspiring designer or creative.

Lastly what are the best touristic places to visit in Zimbabwe you would recommend?

You definitely have to visit the Eastern Highlands! I love the mountains and how it’s so green and vibrant. I may be a bit biased because I grew up there, but I believe the scenery is just gorgeous.

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