Heather: When did you realise you had a passion/knack for designing and making bags?
Sharon: Well, I started sewing almost by accident. I was in my first year as a law student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and the university was shut down for about six months (these were the days of repeated strikes and riots at the UZ). I was sitting at home as a bored, unqualified, unemployable stu- dent with a lot of time on my hands. I happened to buy a magazine which had a pattern inside and I decided to give it a try on my mother’s old sewing machine. It wasn’t great but it was a first step so I was quite pleased with myself. Since then, I’ve tried my hand at just about everything from clothing to bedding and curtaining.
I came to a place where I needed a viable alternative for what was on the market. My first real bag was a diaper bag for my first son who is now five-years-old. The ones in the shops didn’t appeal to me and they were overpriced, and I didn’t have the money to go and buy one in South Africa, as was common practice at that time.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, so I had to invent a third option for myself. I figured that if I needed it, other women out there might need that too. Thus, Bags by Sharon was born.
Have you had any formal training in making bags?
There has been a lot of expe-rimenting and learning by ob-servation, a lot of trial and error. I’ve had no formal or informal training in sewing apart from an interior decor course that I did a couple of years ago, which had nothing to do with bags.
Do you employ someone to make them or are you hands on?
I do everything on my own for now, from designing the patterns, buying the materials through the whole process of producing each item. I am now working on finding someone to assist me though, because as demand increases, my time decreases significantly.
Do you make bags as per customer’s needs?
There is always room for custom-made items and I often do orders like that, within reason, of course. I love the look on someone’s face when they get exactly what they wanted or something even better than what they thought.
How would you describe your collection?
Practical and stylish. To me, if a bag is not practical and does not meet your specific needs, it’s not serving its purpose.
Do you follow international trends?
I keep a casual eye on them but I can’t say I follow them because I believe our environment is very different, we as Zim-babweans have unique tastes and preferences which are still developing, and we don’t necessarily need to try and be like the rest of the world.
How would you describe the Zimbabwean market for handbags?
Conservative, but definitely open- ing up more and more.
What materials do you use?
I aim to use materials which are strong and durable because the product must last longer than two weeks!
I don’t do leather at the moment, I have been using the best quality leatherette/rexin that I can find locally for some of the bags and wallets, as well as strong cottons such as denim and drill.
Any words of advice to the women out there concerning handbags?
Don’t try and carry your whole house in one handbag, that’s the fastest way to ruin your bag and your back. Be ruthless with yourself about what you really need to carry each day. A bag with enough pockets of different sizes will also help to keep the contents of your bag organised. If you don’t have a black or brown bag in your wardrobe, don’t buy a pink one. Basic neutral colours are must-haves, especially if you are in any kind of corporate or professional set- ting, so invest in those. Save the bright and colourful ones for the weekend when you can freely express your individual personality.