We recently caught up with Tanzanian designer, Robi Moro of Mapozi designs to talk a little about her background, her work and whats next for her. Some of you may already know her designs but if you don't, she is definitely the one to watch. Enjoy the interview and be sure to check out her work .
Briefly introduce yourself
I was born Robi Morro on October 19th, 1980, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have three siblings. My mother is a nurse and my father is an electrical engineer. My mother, though a Nurse, used to make me pretty dresses and she was the one who instilled the fashion sense in me. I enjoy traveling to big cities and exotic destinations, shopping, reading, music and hanging out with friends at high profile places
How did the name Mapozi designs came about and what is your signature style?
Mapozi is a Swahili word which means poses. The idea behind Mapozi designs is that it gives a woman wearing poise, confidence and a sense of style. My signature style is a mixture of the western cuts with local materials especially khanga to bring out the Afro-chic look. I love fashion and as a proud African i have always liked a touch of africanism in everything I own or do. I fell in love with the khanga since I was at a very young age. Growing up, I used to see women wearing khanga in funerals or bridal showers but once in a while I would see someone wear it as an outfit with traditional designs such as buu buu or two pieces- skirt and blouse-the typical fundi style. Khanga was only worn in public by middle aged and old women(wa mama). The swahili women would wear it everywhere but as two pieces, wrapping one piece on the bottom and throwing the other on the shoulder and I always thought, what a waste. Kanga being so beautiful, one could make use of it in so many ways. It is an artifact of the Swahili culture and as such it should be designed with extreme care to appeal to its users and be worn by every woman and everywhere. It should be something that is celebrated by women of all ages. Thus the idea for Mapozi and the slogan ‘Khanga wear with style’ was born in 2006.
Mapozi Designs latest collection "Denim Collection"
Many people think Fashion is Art. What does fashion mean to you and when did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer? Did you go to designing school?
To me fashion is more than an art. It is more than just a blend of fabrics and colors, it's more than cut and designs and more than the attractive appearances. To me fashion represents the moods of the society in every way. The way the outfit is cut, colors, patterns and fabrics. It works with the spirits of times, bringing about the cultural touch that is so wide that it's impossible to capture its entirety. I have always loved fashion. I used to make clothes for my dolls when I was little. Then in 2006 when I just gave birth to my son and was on maternity leave, I couldn’t find something to wear, hence I started making my own clothes and selling few to make money. There after I was convinced to participate in the Red’s African designer competition with which I went through the finals and showcased my designs. After that I realised I wanted to go on and do bigger things. I also enjoy looking or bumping into people wearing my designs. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction. I am a computer Science graduate at the University of Dar es Salaam. The fashion I know is partly self- taught and partly learned in Milan during a short fashion drawing summer course.
Tell us more about your brand and retail range. What kind of clothes do you design? In your own words who is an ideal Mapozi designs woman?
Mapozi is a clothing line that utilizes the khanga fabric and other African materials such as kitenge, maasai blankets and kikoi in a unique way that has never been done before. It is characterised by a fusion of African traditional materials with the western cuts and trends that can be seen in the international catwalks of the fashion world.The clothes are modern and hip and reflect the stylish nature of the Urban woman all over the world. To authenticate my African pride I employ local tailors and seamstresses and train them to make clothes with high quality that can be acceptable and worn all over the world.The clothes range from up to date dresses, pants, casual tops to traditional skirts and blouses. All these are made exclusively using the khanga material, fused with other materials such as satin, silk, lace and cotton.
Where do you see Mapozi designs 5 years from now?
Five years from now, Mapozi will be in every fashonista’s wardrobe. The aim is for the label to be known and worn all over the world. Currently I do export to Europe and America and other parts of Africa. After sometime, Mapozi will be available in big department stores in most international cities. There will also be a name change to ‘Robi Morro’ as I would like people to associate the designs with my name. There are plans also to launch line of accessories and cosmetics.
How is the Fashion industry perceived in Tanzania now?
Fashion industry is still behind, its coming up but slowly. However people still do not value the work of Fashion Designers. Most people would rather buy cheap imported clothes from China rather than paying for creativity. This is the same across all forms of work of art. Hence there is a need for many Tanzanians to start appreciating the talents that Tanzania has got through Fashion designers
Which brands or designers inspire you? Any favorite Tanzanian designer?
I love Diane Von Frustenberg(excuse the spelling) because her designs are always colourful and very feminine which is what I like to do. Versace for the clean and high class cuts, and D-squared for the sexy nature of their designs. I love their shows to, they make a woman/women want to wear those dresses.
Mapozi designs latest collection " Denim Collection"
November 2009 marked the second annual of Swahili Fashion week. What do you think of this event? Do you think it is helping local Tanzania designers?
Swahili Fashion Week is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the Tanzanian fashion. Here designers get to see where you are through what other designers are showcasing. You get to create a collection and show it to all the fashionistas in Tanzania. Hence you get noticed and more and more people get to know you. It does help local Tanzania designers to have a platform where they can show their work and get exposure to many people. However, as it grows it need to be more of a buyers event rather than just a show. So that the designers can rip off the fruit of their work.
What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
I was in at the heart of fashion Milan for a Month when I was designing my new collection. To me that was a big inspiration. I was observing how the women carry themselves what they wear and where they hang out and the Italian charm that lies in the architecture. Hence, I decided to make a collection of Denim mixed with kanga/kitenge- to still keep my signature style. The collection represented an urban woman who is daring, young, stylish and not afraid to try new things. It consisted of pleats, big shoulders, tight –fitted dresses and zippers.
Where can we purchase your designs? do you have a website/online boutique?
I have a Boutique at the Slipway Mall, Masasani peninsula, at the Souk wing, 1st floor ‘Mapozi” This is open 6 times a week – Monday to Saturday from 10.00am to 7.00pm. The shop is also open on public holidays except Easter and Christmas. I am currently finalising my online boutique and it should be ready by June this year. One can also order via my facebook page ‘Mapozi Designs” where I always update my latest collections.
What are some of your accomplishment as a fashion designer
My biggest accomplishment is to have my own boutiue where I am selling my clothing range. Though I started small, at least my customers know
that whenever they want Mapozi, they would go to th Slipway Mall, at the Souk on the firs floor and get to choose or order what they want. Another accomplishment is to be selected to participate in the Swahili Fashion week as establishd designer and not as an upcoming designer. This tells me that many people appreciate my work and creativity, though I consider myself as up and coming designer, its feels good to be considered as established by other people/and well established designers. And recently this year the first week of february, I participated in the Afric Collection Fashion show as a young designer. This is one of the biggest fashion weeks in West Africa. And from East Africa I was among four designers who were invited to go.
Do you have any advice to up- and -coming designers?
Think big and believe in yourself and do something you really love. Don't just follow what else is going on – be yourself and be unique!”