The South African had a Q&A with social sciences student Naomi Mandengenda about her new fashion business Chihera. The designer gave pointers to other student entrepreneurs about what it was like to produce her first collection while studying and living in the time of corona.


What made you choose fashion design as a second career?


I have wanted to be a part of the fashion industry for as long as I could remember. I chose it because it was a hobby that I wanted to share with the world while still pursuing other dreams.


What is your favourite part of being a fashion designer?


It is a close tie between bringing a garment that I sketched to life with my own hands and seeing my pieces on other people. The process and the result are both what would be my favourite parts.


"Chihera is an embodiment of my love for African prints."Naomi Mandengenda


What is the inspiration behind your brand?

Rhodes student releases first Chihera collection over lockdown


Chihera is an embodiment of my love for African prints. Their colours, patterns, vibrancy. As well as the need to provide more contemporary, sustainable pieces to the young generation in these beautiful prints as well as other fabrics such as tulle and organza.


I realised that as much as I and many others love African print clothing, the pieces I would find would usually be designed for a much older demographic.


My brand sought to fill in that gap and change the narrative on African print clothing, making it something people my age can relate to and have access to.


In addition to this, it is slow fashion brand which tries to lessen the environmental footprint that the fashion industry already contributes to through waste.

Finding the balance


How do you balance the demands of student life and your fashion brand?


It is difficult, but I have learnt to be disciplined and manage my time well.


I make sure that every day I dedicate about six to eight hours to my brand during the day and study at night. It works out fine as I study better at night in general.


I only allow myself to also take on a limited number of orders a week that I can manage.


How did you balance being the designer, model and social media manager for your latest line?

Rhodes student releases first Chihera collection over lockdown


Balancing these three roles was not as difficult as I thought it would be. For starters, I invested in hiring a brand consultancy company, Pulse, founded by Lesley Mpofu. I worked closely with them in terms of managing my social media and learnt a great deal along the way as well.


I already knew what my vision was for the photoshoot so in terms of modelling, I knew what I was going for. Although I would have preferred to have my models to explore more concepts!


Designing was the most stressful part as I had to teach myself to conceptualise my pieces from scratch as I am for the most part self-taught.


How did you feel when you realised that you were going to drop your latest line during a lockdown?


I was a mixture of being excited to showcase my first proper collection and being nervous as it was my first time dropping a cohesive collection as a brand.


What was your biggest fear leading up towards the release?

Rhodes student releases first Chihera collection over lockdown


My biggest fear was that my vision would not come out the way I wished to present it. And, as it was during a pandemic that it might not be received as well. The last thing on people's minds is shopping for clothes that are not as essential as other items.

Tips for working over lockdown


What has been your biggest take away from working during these difficult times?


My biggest takeaway is that it is very important, especially for small businesses, to adapt as best as they can. From clothes, I had to pivot to making fabric masks, while also maintaining the brand essence by offering African print masks, in order to stay afloat.


What has been the most difficult part of working throughout the lockdown?


"We don't talk enough about how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to keep their mental health in check.Naomi Mandengenda


Apart from the business being halted due to the restrictions in the beginning, keeping a stable mental health and social media balance. Also, motivation to keep being creative and innovative. I needed to try and appeal to the "at home" audiences whose priorities have changed, and keep them interested.


We don't talk enough about how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to keep their mental health in check. They need to take breaks from social media but they cannot because they have to continuously engage with the audience. All while in the middle of a pandemic.


What advice would you give other student entrepreneurs working through the lockdown?

Rhodes student releases first Chihera collection over lockdown


First and foremost take care of their mental health. Also, try and centre the work around themselves rather than them around the work.


This will help to balance academic commitments with the business better. It also will allow them to pace themselves to support their mental health while also maintaining their businesses.


Find out more about Chihera here:

  1. Instagram: @_chihera

  2. Twitter: @chiheraofficial[*]Facebook: @chiheraofficial