Designs For Africa, And Michelle Obama

Born in Tanzania, living in South Africa, and dressing the world, Anissa Mpungwe, is difficult to pin down.

In the end, we manage to do it online.

I look for her on Google Maps, and set out to seek her home address, with nothing but the online search tool. I travel with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA’s layout artist Lucy Nkosi. Luckily for us, just outside her home, which we eventually locate, we bump into one of Mpungwe’s two sisters, a student of architecture, leaving for her classes.

She helps us get in touch with the designer and set up an appointment with her at her Kyalami studio in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.

Around Mpungwe is a melange of color and couture, as she shares her story.

Anissa Mpungwe. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

Mpungwe has been in South Africa since she was 10, attending junior school, high school and university in the Rainbow Nation. Until the age of 19, she was just another foreigner in South Africa.
But her career took off after that.

“After graduating in South Africa, getting my degree in fashion and marketing, I went to do my post- graduation in London. They have a good network there, so you get to work with different spaces and [get enough] work experience for you to know what you want to do; and I didn’t know which part of the fashion industry I wanted to be in. So I had to do all those different [types of] work experiences to know I definitely didn’t want to work for a magazine, [and] definitely not in a factory,” says Mpungwe.

Her career kick-started in South Africa in 2008 after winning the Elle New Talent competition, when she had the opportunity to work with fashion retailer Mr Price (MRP). Thereafter, she showcased her creations at fashion weeks in South Africa; however the biggest jump was in 2010 when she showcased at the prestigious New York Fashion Week in the United States.

“For me, it was an odd jump,” she says.

From being a student overseas, coming back home to South Africa trying to figure out where her career was going, to winning a competition, working with MRP to have her range out and then off to another country representing her home country, Tanzania.

That was in 2010 in New York City that she believes was the year that launched her career and the Loin Cloth & Ashes brand.

Her first store opened in 2012 in Maboneng Precinct, a trendy art hub outside Johannesburg’s Central Business District.

Visitors to her store have included international musicians such as Swedish singer-songwriter Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon, and American singer-songwriter Amel Larrieux.

She has over the years also had the opportunity to dress American singer-model-actress Solange Knowles for the cover of Elle as well as local South African stars such as Lira, Anele Mdoda, Bridget Masinga, and Simphiwe Dana amongst a slew of other celebrities.

In 2013, Mpungwe won Emerging Designer of the Year Africa awarded by African Fashion International.

She worked with MRP producing ranges reaching countries from Nigeria to Namibia, Botswana and stores across South Africa.

Mpungwe was also chosen to gift one of her designs to former American First Lady Michelle Obama during her visit to South Africa in 2015.

“That for me was a very proud moment because of who she is, how she operates as a female. I [received] a little letter from her to frame to put next to the accolades. As much as those things excite me, to be honest with you, I think it is the everyday people that make me feel good about what I do,” she says.

Over the last few years, she has worked with corporate brands such as Maserati, Converse and Nestle among others.

Mpungwe operates out of two studios in South Africa and one in Tanzania employing 17 people.

“It has been great, a good learning curve. I’ve learned a lot, in such a short period. I’ve learned the business of fashion and the construction of clothing, the product itself,” says J K Khoza, one of her fashion interns.

Mpungwe is now sharing her experiences and showcasing her creations in the hope of seeing more young Africans traverse the globe spreading the beauty and bounties of African fashion.

By Motlabana Monnakgotla

This article originally appeared on Forbes Africa