:: Vida Mahimbo : Africa

Vida Mahimbo, you are an emergent name in the African fashion world. Where and when did you begin ?

When I was young, I lived between fabrics and yarns: My mother was a well known fashion designer. She created fabrics employing traditional techniques. I was used to play below her feet: In such a way, I understood all the textiles secrets and other things also… In every traditional fabric, between patterns and colours, you can find shapes, symbols and very old stories. A map belonging to our culture that I never forgot. Those were my fairy tales and my toys. Today they are my emotional universe. Furthermore my mother worked with and for women. It was fantastic to hear them talking about life and see their fabrics become queen clothes.
Today the bodies , in the fashion world, are ethereal and idealized but, in my mother’s world, they were real, soft and living , giving to the femininity a deeper meaning. I never forgot this lesson.

This is the African aspect of your beginnings , but there is, let we say, another occidental element

Yes, my father was an engineer who has been working, for a long period in Germany in big textile industries. His stories were different from my mother’s tales, because they were relating to a world, very far for me, where the technology was stronger and the creativity more industrialized. I wanted that those two worlds could match together. I wanted that my mother’s creativity could have any possible opportunity. I wanted that the African fashion could evolve. Africa is a wonderful world but also full of contradictions, as I learned later.

What do you mean ?

When I choose my studies, I was willing to follow, during my life, the fashion road, but I immediately met my country’s problems. I knew that becoming fashion stylist it was a quite impossible dream in every part of planet, because it is an art form and a elite profession. It is needed to attend big academies, masters, stages in Paris or in Milano and so on…It was too difficult.. but we are in Tanzania and studying here means to pay too much for it and only few people can afford this expense. Going abroad is an impossible cost… two big challenges in one for me… but I never yielded. My country was not able to offer me big chances as in the occidental world ? What was it possible here? : And then, when I would have finished my studies, what instruments could I have had in my hands? So I decided to choose something that, apparently, had nothing to do with fashion : Business and Administration Marketing at the Dar es Salaam University. You know that the African problems have a political, economical structural origin that stop our development; very well, I tried to study Economy and Organisation in order to improve our cultural creativity and our will of revival. We had to fight for them and not put it up. I was ready to leave, but my road was still far away.

What did you do after the University ?

I did design, studying the occidental fashion, the African fabrics, listening to women and to their needs, to their personal and common stories. I discovered problems and I tried to solve them. I created my first models, for the African market and products in an artisan way with few means and a lot of passion. I created a small atelier and I reached in a very short time a certain good fame.

What about your first collections ?

I wanted to give to African women clothes that could make the best of their look, not to seem disguised and in consideration of their tradition without being dominated. I feel unusual that we are often obliged to choose fashions that, even if charming, they have been created for unreal bodies and not for real shapes. That means that we feel uncomfortable in our dresses.
For me, beauty is not only a question of physique or perfect dresses, but , above all, is culture, harmony and pride. When I wear a dress, I want it to represent me, to talk about me, about my roots ant let my body express itself, whatever I do.
My first models were simple, coloured, easy to wear but also very sensual.

So, your creative philosophy is focused on African women, as we can see in the drawings of your last prêt-à-porter

Yes, as I told you before, my job is born from an artisan cultural women’s component that has influenced me very much: from the design up to the realisation. I do refuse the women’s androgen image, like an angel. I prefer to take my inspiration from soft shapes of real women, whose body is subjected to the hard domestic work and whatever else. Something like harmonic and sinuous shapes….This is why my last collection has been made following the MASAI culture, a very proud people and the nature. I have designed images and typical colours, by creating graphic designs as a brand to be sent to the world. Africa is also that : abstracted forms: savannah and Masai bracelets have the same force as a work of art. This is the new beginning of my career.

Stylistic and professional beginning ?

Those two thinks are inseparable. Some years ago, my creations struck Mr. Remo Maracchini, an Italian entrepreneur and we talked about African fashion, about the problems of my country and about my dreams. Up to now, I have developed my skill without any possibility to accede to the technological know how for getting new evolutions. Mr. Maracchini and me, we have created the FASHION GROUP, I follow design and organisation together with my team while he has created a network of companies that prepare, with the high quality Italian technologies, our new collections. Such a cooperation is very important because is the proof that Africa can trust his culture and find the cross over for the professional competence, even abroad. I want to give this opportunity to my country for the future. Furthermore, our common project has improved.
We are able to reach a more important market and not alone, I strongly believe in my job and I think that my message to women’s could also be useful in the occidental world. Also for those reasons, our new collection is so graphic.

Definitively, your child’s dream when you played among the looms and wanted more opportunities is coming true ?

I think so. I am very happy, but I will not forget that little girl , her efforts for letting her dream come true and also the fact that, thanks also to my family, it has been possible to follow my path. For all these reasons, I do not think to my job alone , but I want also to encourage my country to develop its potentialities.
The Karisma Fashion Group is involved in the DAYCARE Nursery Program, for helping economically and socially women and children of Tanzania.
This dream is coming true, but I have some more dreams.

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