For many consumers, when they think of Mozambican fashion and fabrics, they immediately think of Capulana. And that unique design heritage was the inspiration for Uzuri, founded by entrepreneur Paula Matsinhe, a growing fashion accessory and clothing business in the country.
LoA chatted to Paula recently to find out where the inspiration for her business and her unique collections comes from.
What does your company do?
Uzuri is a company dedicated to making fashion accessories and clothing with a strong base inspired by African fabrics with a strong focus on capulana. Uzuri is a word of Swahili origin which means Beauty, and it appears as a form of exaltation of beauty, celebrating Mozambican identity and the rescue of African roots.
My entrepreneurial story began with a peasant’s movement, together with my mother and siblings, leading to today and a company that is making accessories and clothing with a particular afro style. Without being oblivious to the tendencies and trends of the world, we always try to be ourselves in our design and creations, so that people look and say, “It's UZURI”!
The Uzuri range of accessories consists of necklaces, earrings, pochets (a traditional clutch), bracelets, bags with handles, etc. These are all handmade in a traditional way, with local materials, always having the unique incorporation of capulana and other rustic materials.
“Uzuri is a word of Swahili origin which means Beauty, and it appears as a form of exaltation of beauty, celebrating Mozambican identity and the rescue of African roots.”
What inspired you to start your company?
I fell in love with Afro Fashion in 2010 when I moved to Luanda - Angola, at the height of my school career, and then onto my work career (in the banking sector) to join my companion who was already working there. At the time I had dreadlocks, and to my disillusionment nobody understood or cared about dreads, and I saw myself having to hide poorly cared-for hair with handkerchiefs and bandanas. And so, my personal adventure with capulana (which was the fabric used to make the scarves and bandanas) began. I started looking for tutorials of turbans in order to find an easier and practical way of tying them. But it was not enough, I needed to create my own identity to differentiate myself from the other women in Luanda, and the African style would be the most appropriate. I started by importing the accessories from Brazil, but it was not viable, so I decided that I would do it myself. However, I did not understand anything about business or these accessories, so the need arose to associate myself with my mother and my sister. Besides making the accessories, they sold the capulanas from Luanda for resale. During this time, I discovered that I was in love with the capulana, which is the main element even in my own clothing. Later in 2014, I travelled to Brazil where I did training in art, sewing and assembly of semi-precious jewellery, as well as turban workshops with experts. They taught me easier ways to use a practical turban. I was finally able to do this correctly after several attempts, frustrations, and money.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
TURBANTE UZURI was our first service, and with it came other forms of "Africanization", such as the clutches’ in their various shapes, sizes and as a complement to other accessories. Our products are special because they are made in a traditional way, which makes them unique. They are innovative, traditional and tell our African history, they remind us of the roots, identity, ancestry and affirmation of our history. We are the pioneers and have an original product. Today we have several followers in the type of service offered, but because we put our seal, perfume, essence, DNA on what we do, it makes us unique. The competition made us innovate and we ensure that we are always few steps ahead.
Our items are created with our customers in mind, and we are committed to creating quality, innovative products and services without neglecting our traditional side. When buying a product of ours, people will also be buying our African history.
“Without being oblivious to the tendencies and trends of the world, we always try to be ourselves in our design and creations, so that people look and say, ‘It's UZURI!’”
Tell us a little about your team
Today we have a team of 10 people, of which incorporates 4 Dressmakers, 1 Administrative Assistant, 1 Auxiliary, 1 Designer / Marketing Director, 2 Creatives Designers and 1 manager. All are team members are effective and committed to the objectives of the company, which allows us to be in tune with the ceaseless desire to extend the limits of our knowledge.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I fell in love with what I do, which made my trip easier through the journey of entrepreneurship. When I leave home, I do not feel like I am going to work, instead I'm going to have fun. My maternal grandmother was the only example of an entrepreneur, she always sold something for her subsistence. On vacation we helped her sell sweets, chewing gum, newspapers and magazines under the building where we lived, but that experience was not which led me to follow my own entrepreneurship path. My companion always said that I needed to do something to get me out of the situation I was in when I moved to Luanda, even if it meant going back to Maputo. It was his mantra, and it ended up being mine too and this made UZURI happen.
I found my passion, the capulana, and our African history. Today, I do not see myself doing anything different. This passion led me to create my own identity, to accept it and affirm it. I went through several places, met different people, raised other established brands, and today, I inspire other women to be themselves, to follow their dreams and to be confident and resilient.
I am an apologist for the UBUNTU principle - I am nothing, I will only be if we all are, so I decided this year to embrace and empower other women and girls - after all, together we are stronger!
“Our items are created with our customers in mind, and we are committed to creating quality, innovative products and services without neglecting our traditional side. When buying a product of ours, people will also be buying our African history.”
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
We want to internationalize our brand, and embrace other markets. We want UZURI to become a mark of choice and, above all, a symbol of resistance, identity, rescue and tradition. And yes, we have the dream of becoming a school where we can pass on to other generations all our knowledge and create livelihood for other families and still empower girls.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
What gives me greatest satisfaction in this adventure, is without doubt being able to work on something that I love, feel that I add value to people's lives, inspire them to accept themselves and be their own identity, and still follow their dreams.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
There will be failed experiences, investments lost, but these things have to happen to allow you to have the ability to eliminate and learn from your own mistakes.
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Why LoA loves it….
Passion oriented companies always have the edge, as their founders are driven by the need not just to earn money through their businesses, but also to create products and services that excite them. In the case of Paula Matsinhe, her passion is celebrating unique Mozambican fabric design through the creation of beautiful and wearable accessories and clothes that her clients love. As a result, her passion drives profit and purpose in her business, and that leads to success. — Melanie Hawken, founder & ceo of Lionesses of Africa