Sabina Mutsvati is a young costume designer on the rise, making waves in the local and international fashion industry. She is leading a new generation of Zimbabwean fashion designers who are expanding the ideas and concepts of fashion, with a self-styled and unique approach.
Mutsvati’s path to fashion designer began very untraditionally. She studied fine art at Harare Polytechnic where she says, “My lecturer always said you can make your own canvas. You’re not limited. You can make your art anywhere.” She took painting, sculpture, textiles and screen printing. When she left however, it was difficult to sell her paintings in a male-dominated industry, but instead of being limited by this challenge, she took a very unconventional approach. “I decided why don’t I put my art on clothes. Then it’s like an exhibition but on a daily basis and you get a chance to show it off every single day. It becomes walking art. That’s how I started.”
From then on, Mutsvati delved deeper into the world of fashion. Although she does not have training in sewing or pattern design, her sense for shapes and movement were an important guide. After entering a Cottco competition in 2004, her designs and sketches gained her recognition. She met jazz singer Dudu Manhenga who admired her work and she started making clothes for her. Working together with long-time friend and former fashion designer Hope Masike, Mutsvati says, “Dudu was our first paying customer. And for someone in college, the money we received for that work was a lot of money! She was very encouraging and she would wear our clothes every time she had a gig.”
It was not long before Mutsvati and Masike approached the late Chiwoniso Maraire: “She really loved our clothes and we got a lot of clients through her.” The two moved from strength to strength, before working with the Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ) designing clothes for the International Images Film Festival (IIFF). Then Soukaina Edom from Dance Trust Zimbabwe (DTZ) invited Mutsvati to come and train as a costume designer where she began to learn all the elements of sewing and pattern making.
“Now, when I create a design, what inspires me usually depends on the person I am designing for and what it’s for. I sit with the person and chat with them to find out what sort of person they are. I like to make exclusive pieces for individuals. I would describe my work as more haute couture. Things that make a statement without you saying anything.”
In keeping with that ethos, Mutsvati has named her fashion label Cheukwa, which means ‘head turner’ or ‘get noticed’ and has successfully pursued her passion to create clothes with a unique and different feel .
Of her creative process she says, “When I started initially, I would just buy white fabric and bury it in the ground for a couple of days to give it a different texture. And then you paint it and put things on it. And it’s still a dress, but with different textures and different colours. I have noticed that most women don’t dress for themselves. They want to be noticed.”
Mutsvati’s work has not gone unnoticed. This year she designed all of the costumes for the HIFA Opening Show while also showcasing her own collection as part of the HiFashion show. In June, she was invited to exhibit her work in Jamaica as part of Caribbean Fashion Week to critical acclaim. In September, she showcased at Zambian Fashion Week and in November she took part in Zimbabwe’s first ever Fashion Weekend. An extraordinary talent and one to watch.