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Studio Africa: Tanya Mushayi

Tanya Mushayi is a talented surface pattern designer, stylist and blogger running her own business in Zimbabwe

“It’s an amazing feeling when you see someone loving what you made,” says Tanya Mushayi with a shy smile. The designer and blogger started her own collection in Zimbabwe two years ago. “The majority of people who buy it are on my Twitter page,” she explains. “They see my designs through Flickr, they’ll tweet me and I’ll arrange to meet them. After they get the clothes, they’ll take a picture of it and tag me in it to show me how they look in it. It’s amazing.” She also makes a lot of things for musician friends. “If they’re going to an event they’ll phone me and be like, can you do something to make me stand out: an African print design, a waistcoat, a bow-tie. And I’ll make it and give it to them; I get exposure that way.”

Her collection is based on retro designs using African prints. “My mum used to say I’m an old soul because I never used to like the new stuff.” What drew her to vintage clothes? “It was the cut and the quality. The inside of the garment was as nice as the outside. Nowadays, the outside is nice but when you look inside the garment, you’re like - who made this? Things are nicer when you can tell that a lot of love went into making it.”

Tanya was born in Zimbabwe but moved to Manchester when she was 11 to join her mother who’d moved over to study and work. “I kind of lost my way a bit when I was a teenager cos it’s kinda hard when you move to a different country, you don’t know which culture to relate to. You don’t know which culture is your culture. Manchester is still home to me, I can’t say that it’s not home. In a way I have two homes,” she explains.

Even as a young child she was drawn to bright colours and prints: “In England you can’t really wear bright colours, especially if it’s not summer. I bought a coat from H&M and it was bright orange and everyone used to laugh at me: ‘You know it’s not summer, right?’ I got a bit of stick for it but I carried on wearing it. Then I kept on getting brighter and brighter and brighter.”

Her love of colour and design influenced her studies. She did a diploma in art and design at college and, inspired by hip hop culture, got into customising. “I used to do abstract pieces - repeat a pattern, or take sections of a picture and then repeat it and then put it onto shoes and jackets. But I didn’t know that I could actually do a course on surface design until my teacher said.” A degree at Huddersfield followed but two years into the course she decided to move back to Zimbabwe.

My mum was talking about moving back to Zimbabwe but she wanted me to stay to finish the course as I only had one year left. But I didn’t feel I was learning much so I explained to her I wanted to start my own thing, I wanted to go back to Zimbabwe.” Tanya saw it as an opportunity to not only strike out on her own but also to build up the Zimbabwean fashion industry.

Tanya attributes that drive to her mum, who brought her up on her own. “When she used to say she was going to do something, she did it. She never procrastinates, she just knows what she’s going to do and she does it. I think I got that from her. It’s something that you’re not really taught - it’s something that you observe and start doing it yourself.”

In the future she wants to invest in a screen printer to make her own fabrics. Zimbabwe doesn’t have any national fabrics; the ones she currently uses are from Tanzania and the east coast. “We have a Zimbabwean bird - that’s our national symbol, so I would love to do something with that. I’ll make my own new print and then hopefully it’d be called the Zimbabwean print.”