By Grant Moyo
Bag designer Nicolette Chirambaguhwa Sibanda (pictured), has been making use of self isolation to come up with brand-new designs for her award-winning fashion brand, NiKi J.
The gifted designer says despite the first three weeks of Covid-19 lockdown having been stressful and sales dropping dismally in the past months, learning how to utilise social media as a tool for marketing her brand has helped in bringing new clientele.
Chirambaguhwa Sibanda established her brand in 2012. Her unique designs are versatile, catering for every individual and occasion. She discovered her potential in designing while doing fashion and fabrics as a practical subject at Marondera High School. After completing her studies, she enrolled at a college to pursue a professional course in designing.
“Growing up, I was very playful and creative. I liked pretty things. As I became a teenager my creativity blossomed, and I took a serious interest in art,” Chirambaguhwa Sibanda.
“When I came up with the idea for NiKi J, I wanted to create a family oriented brand built around love, hope and support. The name of the brand is a combination of initials from my two sisters’ names and mine.
“The uniqueness of my designs comes in the personalising of the bags. I use a wide range of materials mainly genuine leather and faux leather to make hand, gym, overnight, clutch, laptop, nappy, and sling bags. It’s all about creativity.”
The fashion designer highlighted that though her career has been taunted by a series of mini breaks, she is grateful that her designs have featured in numerous fashion shows and prestigious events. For her efforts, she was presented with an accolade for the Best Bag Designer at the Fashion and Style Awards in 2016.
“I have an award in fashion and I’ve been a part of Bulawayo Board of Designers where I got to learn and understand the possibility of bringing designers who specialise in clothing, bag and jewellery together, to come up with a collaborative collection for a runway show,” she said.
Seeing designers from different backgrounds in one space, with one common goal, was amazing. Though at first it was a daunting task, with time the dream was realised.
“It was proved that there is room for creatives in the fashion industry to change the stereotype that we are full of pride, cannot work together, always argue, and back stab each other,” she said.
“I also familiarised with the business side of fashion, and found means to balance the glitz and glam with my charitable side.
“As far as showcasing is concerned, I have taken part in a number of fashion shows namely Matabeleland Fashion Week, Co-Fashion, Summer and Fashion Awards, Studio 8, House of Wall and Fusion Runway, to name but a few.
“I have exhibited at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, Bulawayo Marathon and also at quite a number of pop up shows.”
Admitting that designing bags was a gift from God, Chirambaguhwa Sibanda also acknowledges that her motivation comes from her passion and vision for the future.
She said continuously improving her current designs and incorporating the feedback she gets from her clients has helped her stay relevant.
“Versatility and customisation is what makes my designs stand out. That is why my clientele is every age group, both male and female,” Chirambaguhwa Sibanda said.
“The creative process and duration to make a particular bag varies with each design and the material used.
“A clutch bag can take me about two hours, and a hand or sling bag five hours. With each bag I make I always strive for excellence, it’s difficult to pick one best collection or bag design as they are all different and unique.”
The gifted designer declared lack of access to proper bag equipment and accessories as a major set back. She encouraged the government to assist in making the designers successful, and considers a collective collaboration with the private sector as a solution to making the fashion industry sustainable.
“There’s lack of adequate supply of material and machinery locally. Where there’s access, quality is not guaranteed,” she said.
“I’ve had to look beyond our borders to bridge this gap. To make matters worse, Covid-19 has affected my fashion brand as my sales have dropped. Since people are restricted to indoors it’s a challenge to import the materials needed.
“To escape the destructive situation, I’ve been coming up with new designs. Using social media as a major tool for marketing has been beneficial.
“If the government through Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation ministry partners with the private sector to come up with fashion development initiatives, it will provide a conducive environment for designers.”
With Chirambaguhwa Sibanda pursuing her ambition to own multiple fashion outlets in favourable locations, it is advisable for creatives in the fashion industry to use this time to improve and perfect their skills.
Adapting to the current business environment using the different social media tools available aid in building lucrative online presence.