Fashion journalist turned highly successful global accessory designer, Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri, understands the power of story-telling in African culture. She is drawing on that inspiration to create highly sculptural, extraordinarily beautiful handbags that are deeply rooted in her African heritage, yet have a fresh, contemporary look. These are unique accessories to treasure.
Following on from our focus on women in design month in February, we spoke to Pam about her background in Zimbabwe, her inspiration, her interesting journey to becoming an entrepreneur, and her exciting future foray into the world of couture fashion….
Tell us more about your fabulous accessory brand, Vanhu Vamwe, and where it gets its inspiration from.
Vanhu Vamwe’s style focuses on a simplistic approach to design by embracing the value of minimalist aesthetics. Our handbags are created using a blend of different materials, but mainly using Veg Tan leather. We also place great emphasis on upcycling, crafting our handbags using materials which are not usually associated with the creation of accessories. Our work is impeccably and proudly handcrafted, using different ancestral techniques, each one showcasing the beauty of the materials used. All Vanhu Vamwe's products are infused with a clean perspective, manifested through irregular shapes, subtle colours, and stitching, all of which references our African Heritage.
What inspired you to start your company?
After a fruitful career in journalism, I decided to explore my more creative side. I created a makeshift studio in my home where I started making bold knit accessories. A conversation with my husband, Simba, led me to Nottingham Trent University, where I discovered they had just launched a new course in accessories. Although knitwear is a big passion of mine, I was so excited to know that it was a handbag design course specialising in leather luxury goods. During the course of my degree, I started to do research into different concepts, and suddenly everything made sense - I began to appreciate that fashion was indeed a global and very powerful phenomenon, affecting everyone regardless of colour culture and language. This provided the inspiration for my brand name, Vanhu Vamwe, which is Shona for ''One people''. I had this idea of creating handbags that were hand-crafted and with a common thread of ''African inspiration behind them, yet which were also fresh, contemporary and relevant to current world markets.
"Vanhu Vamwe is Shona for 'One people''. I had this idea of creating handbags that were hand-crafted and with a common thread of African inspiration behind them, yet which were also fresh, contemporary and relevant to current world markets."
What makes your accessories so unique and appealing to buyers?
I pride myself on being a storyteller. My products are not just handbags - instead, they are made to inspire and reveal a deeper story than at first meets the eye. I am very big on concepts and spend months before I even design anything undertaking in-depth research, design development, and ensuring that I deliver products that touch someone's soul. I resent mass production, and therefore even when I make three versions of the same bags, I always ensure there is some detail that is different from the others. That humanness should be reflected (mark of the hand), and I feel in this way people connect more to the product.
Tell us a little about the Vanhu Vamwe team
Actually, I have been working on my own. It has been so overwhelming over the last few months, where my collections have been sold out and I have been working tirelessly. However, my husband is great to work with. He is a creative himself, and although handbag design is not his area, he is a quick learner. When the brand was launched, our idea was to join the ethical fashion community, which we are now pleased to say we have. it is important for us to work with communities who have a wealth of knowledge of traditional craftsmanship. I think that instead of African designers resigning themselves to using China to produce their pieces, we should instead train our own people. Africa is so rich in talent and I am so excited to be part of developing thriving communities through fashion.
"I think that instead of African designers resigning themselves to using China to produce their pieces, we should instead train our own people. Africa is so rich in talent and I am so excited to be part of developing thriving communities through fashion."
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I am not an entrepreneur by choice - entrepreneurship chose me. I have always been able to get what I need just by communicating with people. I was raised in a household where everyone was very hard working - my grandfather always used to say, if you want anything done, do it yourself. I am very self-motivated and I always see an opportunity, even in dust. My best lessons were learnt when I had nothing. I realised that I could create something out of nothing, I didn't need money, all I needed was an idea and some calculated risks.
I have over the last few years learnt that an idea comes instantly and disappears instantly, so I write everything down. In fact, I have a notebook in my bag, under my pillow and in my kitchen!... No lie.. and I capitalise on every idea and opportunity. At the same time, I am aware that not every apparent good opportunity is in reality a good opportunity. To be successful you have to have the discernment to say no, even when the proposal is so good. The problem is many people want to be driving the high flying cars without walking the long narrow road which teaches you discipline in business.
Being successful is not about the money. Money is the enemy of creativity, one should not worry about it. Once you get the idea right everything flows in.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Vanhu Vamwe will hopefully be running itself in the next five years, continuing with its storytelling at a global level. This year, I am venturing into a couture clothing collection for high fashion editorial, consisting of just 15 unique pieces, each one available only as a precious sole item. I will be experimenting with yarn into knitwear, exploring that other side of my fashion design interest which I love the most. I have many other opportunities coming my way. However, away from the brand, I am working on a programme with emerging African designers, that focuses on the business of fashion. The programme is called 54faces, and I have been working on it for the last 3 years. I am very big on young people learning life changing skills at an early stage, thus my passion to help develop young designers in fashion.
"I pride myself on being a storyteller. My products are not just handbags - instead, they are made to inspire and reveal a deeper story than at first meets the eye."
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I love being disciplined, and being an entrepreneur definitely ensures that you stay on the straight and narrow. It is satisfying to be able to keep a routine and be consistent. The seeds you sow develop before your eyes and it is such a beautiful feeling.
"Money is the enemy of creativity, one should not worry about it. Once you get the idea right everything flows in."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Do not stop knocking on the doors. I think the best thing that ever happened to me was having doors closed in my face. It planted a foundation within me, and I knew that it was my own strength and perseverance that was going to carry me through. Three words... Differentiator, Application and 'Bounceability.'.. Let's go!!!
Contact or follow Vanhu Vamwe
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why LoA loves it….
At Lionesses of Africa, we love those days when someone introduces us to an amazing new woman entrepreneur of Africa, and this month it has been our privilege to get to know the incredible design talent of global accessory designer, Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri. Her designs are not only unique and truly beautiful, reminding one of pieces of contemporary art, but they are reflective of a design personality and aesthetic that is confident, bold and happy to stand out from the crowd. The world of accessory design needs more women entrepreneurs like Pam, and we feel confident her work is destined to reach even greater heights in the very near future. Definitely an African women design entrepreneur to watch! --- Melanie Hawken, Lionesses of Africa founder and editor-in-chief