Award winning Cathy Wanjohi 's bold African inspired designs.
Self taught designer, Cathy Wanjohi, has taken the local market by storm with her vibrant, sophisticated and bold brand, Zinge Afrika.
Sixolile Mboza chats with her about her journey from Book Keeper to Fashion designer, her aesthetic, and environmentally sustainable clothing.
Born in Mt Kenya, Kenyan designer Cathy Wanjohi has spent many years developing her craftsmanship.
Her designs are vibrant, sophisticated and bold , inspired by various African tribes, textiles and cultural elements.
When I asked about growing up in Kenya, Cathy’s love of family and her country is palpable.
She smiles from ear to ear and the change in her body language is evident.
“I had the BEST childhood! Growing up in the 80’s inspired me – the bright colours, shoulder pads, large faux gold earrings, pearly necklaces and clothing covered with sequins and diamantes.
Of course much of those fashions were unaffordable, so I started copying clothes and styles, using my old garments – using copper wire, fur, feathers, sisal, old buttons – pretty much anything I could lay my hands on, to embellish them.
I guess that’s what sparked my creativity.
In 2014, my husband and I holidayed in Ballito, and fell in love with the town.
By the time we returned to Nairobi, we had made a decision. To move to Ballito permanently and make it our home.
We found our piece of heaven.. A respite from the frantic pace of the city.
Somewhere where we could raise our kids – A family oriented community.
It wasn’t something we planned on when we set out on holiday. But of course life had other ideas for us”.
Although fashion would ideally have been Cathy’s first choice, she , like so many of us, chose practicality over passion.
“ I needed to choose a career that would allow me to make a decent income. Of course family played an important role in making the decision.”
After studying Accountancy at College, she qualified as an “Accounting Technician:, and took up a position as a Book Keeper.
“But that wasn’t my passion. It didn’t make me happy.
I then went on to do a Bachelor’s Degree in Education – I thought that teaching would be fun, but I was only interested in sports or being in an art room. It was quite clear that fashion was my first love”
When her and her husband moved to Ballito she took a leap of faith, and opened Zinge Afrika, and embarked on a mission to create an authentic brand that provided growth and opportunities for the local artisans and stakeholders.
“ Fashion has not only empowered me to be the strong woman I am today, but it is something that drives me to excel.
I love to help people bring out their personality in their outfits. . I understand how frustrating it is to go through shopping malls trying to find something that fits, that’s why Zinge Afrika is there to provide convenience for those customers who appreciate bespoke clothing and save them shopping time.”
The name Zinge Afrika came about when Cathy asked her housekeeper, Cynthia, to translate a word from English to Zulu (Zinge meaning “it’s all about” in isiZulu)
Cathy added Afrika to this, and Zinge Afrika was born!
In 2018 Cathy won best designer for the Ballito pro with the theme retro fashion and was a finalist at the 2018 ilembe Chambers of Commerce’s Entrepreneur award.
Cathy’s style fuses African craftsmanship and European design with a dazzling range of not only Clothing and accessories, but incorporates jewelry, bags and sandals, using printed cotton fabric in vibrant and bold prints and traditional craftsmanship.
This is a brand not driven by trend but personal preferences and taste.
“The designing process is easy. I am able to discuss details one on one with my clients, and give them something that they want.
Our focus is one sustainable fashion – meeting the clients expectations while minimizing the impact on the environment”
Cathy is a huge fan of natural fabrics- printed cotton fabrics sourced in East and West Africa, and recycled fabrics.
With her being a mother of three, I asked Cathy about her secret to balancing her role as mother and her career.
“The secret is setting realistic goals” she responded. “Understand your limitations and remember that you don’t need to compete with others. You answer only to yourself”
Making it her mission to mentor others in the industry, Cathy is collaborating with 3 designers in the iLembe district, and firmly believes in the development of local artisans and craftsmen.
“We bring in young artisans into the Zinge Afrika studios and help them develop their skills. They are the social agents in the development of fashion.”
Cathy has a fantastic new range she released in honour of women’s month.
“women’s month always bring exciting things! We have a limited edition range of accessories – Hand bags, earrings, doeks (head bands), and necklaces. My clients are going to be able to shop to their hearts content”