African Fashion Designer: Chasing My Fashion Dreams in Diaspora

06/29/2016 06:00 pm ET
One of my suits I designed in Fashion Design School
Image by Mirneva House
One of my suits I designed in Fashion Design School

I will try and be very transparent with you, because my goal is to inspire someone out there with a similar flame that might be dimming out because of discouragement.

The Beginning: "A Dreamer"
People often ask me, "When did you decide that you wanted to be a fashion designer?" My answer is is always the same. There is no one specific occurrence when I decided that I wanted to be a fashion designer. It seems from the moment I could make sense of the environment around me, I naturally gravitated towards sketching garments and felt so compelled to bring them to life. I would sketch on anything I could find, and would spend hours and hours doing this. I remember very well that my parents discouraged me from spending time sketching. Instead they would rather have had me solve maths problems or balance complex chemical equations. I now understand where they were coming from though.

We come from a Neocolonialism society where back then there was no such thing as personal aspirations or dreams outside of the realm of accepted academics. Excelling in subjects such as maths, commerce and science were your only ticket to success. You mostly focused on those specific subjects at school during your O'Levels and A'Levels. Basically 6 years of High School in total. Upon excelling in these subjects, if you were luck and got the required minimum points, the local Universities would decide whether or not you qualified to pursue a degree of your choosing that complemented these studies. If you did not qualify they would qualify you for a degree of their choosing that was inline with your so called A'Level points.

After attaining your degree you got a well paying job and thus was considered successful. Oh! how proud your parents would be telling their family and friends that you were a Lawyer, a Doctor, a Professor, or an Accountant. But Alas!!, I wanted to become a fashion designer. What madness and foolishness that was back then considering the resistance that was around me against such a dream. Despite doing so great in both my O'levels and A'levels I was even more convinced that this is what I wanted to pursue in life. I had no one to look up to in this lonesome passion of mine, or a point of reference to know exactly how one becomes a fashion designer. All I knew is that I loved sketching clothes, fashion, reading fashion magazines, and cutting my t-shirts to make them look cool. I felt so isolated in this passion of mine that I could not figure out from where it had come from.
I knew in my heart that I wanted to be successful like all my peers and to make my family proud. I wanted them and the people around me to be proud of my accomplishments. I began to believe that indeed maybe success was having a well paying job, a big house, nice cars, and a beautiful family.

Lets pause here for a minute and acknowledge the pattern in many developing countries that kills so many personal dreams and aspirations. So in essence I was a dreamer in a dreamless society. No one identified my potential and passion to be a fashion designer and helped me cultivate that interest even further at an early age. This is the advantage that western societies have over third world societies. A dream/gift/talent is identified in a child or individual at an early stage in their lives and is cultivated and groomed for them to be successful in their later years.

This concept is so well explained in Malcom Gladwell's book "Outliers." On the contrary, I had to have a strong willed personality and self motivation to keep this dream alive in me despite the pressure around me to blend into what that society considered successful. If only I knew then what I know now about the true meaning of success. The truth is that some people on the outside look like they are successful, but they are constantly haunted by the things/dreams aspirations that they gave up on, or never had had the courage to pursue. They are not living as their truest self, but perhaps as the reflection of what everyone else wanted them to be. They might  also have ended up in a profession that was the right thing to do so that they could have security.

Pursing a dream or a passion takes a lot of guts and courage. To me that is true success, when you are able to harness that courage and go against all odds, even if those around you think you are insane for doing so.

"Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal." ―Earl Nightingale

"To the degree we're not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control of us than we have over ourselves." ― Peter McWilliams

The Turning point: "Giving it all up"
So to make a long story short eventually I ended up being offered an opportunity to study Journalism at the University of Zimbabwe because apparently that is all my 11 points at A'Level could afford me. I knew that if I took that path I would be even more and more further away from my fashion design dreams. After High School, at some point in every graduate's life, your parents start looking at you with this question in mind, "So if you don't go to University what do you plan on doing with your life?" I remember this period of my life very well. I would relax all day, and as soon as my mom got back from work, I would always start acting busy, fixing the couch etc, so that I did not look like a bum without a future. I laugh now when I think back to that time in my life. I also felt this conviction in me that there was so much more elsewhere for myself, outside my society, my city, my country, and my continent. I had no idea where this was, and how I would get to this place. I believed strongly that one day I would end up there,at this place, moment in time I was meant to be, and realize my dream to becoming a fashion designer. It did not even occur to me to research into local fashion design opportunities. In my mind at that point, to become a fashion designer meant I had to somehow spread my wings and fly away so I could realize my dreams elsewhere. I knew that no matter what, I had to hold on to that truth in my heart.

"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."― Paulo Coelho

An opportunity presented itself, and somehow I ended up in the U.S on a student exchange cultural program. I was only 18. I left the opportunity to study journalism at the University of Zimbabwe, left my home, my city, and my country all alone to go to a foreign country in which I knew no one. All I knew is that I was on the right path towards something that was so much bigger than myself. I knew that the road would not be easy, but I knew that despite the detours, the highs and lows that awaited me, as long as I stayed true to myself, my vision, and worked hard I would be a fashion designer one day. Little did I know that I was in for a roller coaster of an experience.

I ended in New York City. The fashion capital of the world as we know it. Here I was away from  my family and society, to be anything I wanted to be in the world. I looked into attending Parsons or FIT but the tuition was too much. At that point all I could afford was to go to a community college. So I ended up at Largurdia Community College studying Business. I knew that I could never go wrong with Business, and at the same time my parents would be proud. However in my heart I knew that I was living a lie. I had settled and was not pursuing a profession I always dreamed of. As an immigrant, working odd jobs, on a student visa, at that point the dream had to be set aside but not forgotten. 

I eventually ended up in Texas through a series of unexpected events in my life. I completed my business degree and majored in Accounting. Throughout the whole process I still yearned to be a fashion designer. I watched fashion shows, read magazines, looked at fashion programs across the country and wondered why this dream seemed so unattainable to me. However after working 1 year as an accountant as well as getting a divorce, I decided that the time had come for my true rebirth. No longer was I going to live a life based on the expectations of those around me, or my own fears and incapability to pursue the things I wanted in life. I decided to apply to the University of North Texas's Fashion program. I knew about it because I had gotten my Accounting degree from there. To my shock I was accepted into the program and thus my journey as a fashion designer truly began. I was awarded a scholarship for my work and won an award for my final collection. My family was there cheering me on, and ever so proud. 

What I learned from that experience is that you have to choose the kind of life you want to live despite your circumstances or many other factors beyond your control. Eventually you will get there as long as you do not give up on yourself. Society and family will come around at some point and understand your vision. If they never do, that is still ok. We only have one life so lets make it count. I am now a fashion designer and everyday that I am alive is a true blessing and an opportunity to make a difference in this world. I do that by designing clothes and dressing women and making them feel beautiful.

My Award winning design from my final collection.
My Award winning design from my final collection.
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