Meet the woman behind Zim Rocks

HARARE - Celia Rukato, 27, was born in Zimbabwe but raised in South Africa. Her first career path was in finance and economics but her passion for fashion saw her relocating back to her country of birth in 2016 to start her brand Chjaa Enterprises.

From uniquely printed fabrics to custom clothes, Celia can make anything from fabric. Currently the soft-spoken woman is the brains behind the most popular fashion accessory at the moment the “Zim Rocks” scarves which the Zimbabwean delegation to Davos were wearing. Daily News reporter Helen Kadirire sat down with Rukato and discussed her business.

Q: Who is Celia?

A: I was born in Zimbabwe but moved to South Africa when I was four years after my father got a job there. I did my primary and high school there. My dad had actually suggested that I do actuarial science but I later went to University of Cape Town where I studied Finance Economics and graduated in 2012.

My mother did a lot of work travelling around the world so I was exposed to a lot of cultures and experiences. After university I did an internship in Nigeria at an asset management firm where I was a research analyst.

While there the fashion bug kept on picking at me and one day my boss told me about fashion courses that were being conducted at the weekends. I was always interested in fashion but was afraid to pursue it because of the traditional connotations associated with not being in a formal job.

Q: How did Chjaa come about?

A: We initially tried to do the fashion thing while also in our full-time jobs with my mother but noticed that it was not working, because we would get back home tired from work while that was the time we would have to start the business.

While I was working for Discovery in South Africa that is when I tried juggling my full-time job and the fashion back here but it wasn’t working well for me. I took the plunge to pursue my passion for fashion in 2016 when I moved back to Zimbabwe full-time. We do fabric printing and custom-made clothes. My idea was to look for a Zimbabwe dress or fabric…something that people would identify as authentically Zimbabwean. Currently, we have what we call the Chevron design which features small Zimbabwe bird designs on the fabric.

Q: How was it like entering into the fashion industry in Zimbabwe?

A: The industry can be a bit lonely because it was always about the need to compete with others. I didn’t have anyone guiding me on what to do. I accidentally stumbled upon Sylvia De’ Mode, who is the head of Zimbabwe Fashion Network.

She heard that we were experimenting with a Zimbabwean fabric and added us to their social media platform. In the last two years we have been learning how to overcome situations such as power cuts which have taught us to get a generator or even relocate some machines home so that we meet our deadlines. Sometimes it is unbelievable how we have managed to finish stock. At times we work throughout the night to meet deadlines, so the business can be very demanding.

Q: How receptive has the industry been for a company as young as Chjaa?

CR: We have had our challenges but we soldiered on. At least we have a dedicated staff compliment of seven, that is, two tailors, four printers and the factory supervisor who keeps things in check when I am meeting clients and cannot be around.

However, we have had an issue with the cash crisis like everyone else. Because of the cash shortage prices of fabrics cost four times more by December last year.

We have been really pushing towards local fabrics and get most of our materials from Kadoma Textiles, however, when the cash crisis started to hit and they were experiencing problems with some dyes, we just started getting whatever was available.

We are trying to be resourceful with whatever is available. Since we source locally we do not throw away our off-cuts, we use them as accents on our designs so that everything is utilised. We are not only into clothes but we also do accessories such as clutches.

The idea for a Zimbabwean dress is not set in stone as people prefer different things. The idea is still open for debate

Q: What inspired you to create the scarf?

A: My mother and I come up with the designs and we take them to graphic designers to bring life to the idea. We started that after noticing the South African cricket team always had something that would identify them with their country other than the blazer and kit.

The scarf was an experiment to see what would make people identify that someone is from Zimbabwe. It has been around since 2014 and was mostly at the departure shop at the airport.

We placed it there mostly because the shopkeeper said tourists wanted something that would remind them of Zimbabwe at the last minute.

We have different models of the scarf and the one the President was wearing was actually created some two years ago. The build-up to Davos was all over the news and we decided to use the opportunity.

We sent a couple of scarves to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and said they can give them out as souvenirs or whatever while there. We did not expect to have the whole delegation wearing the scarf.

Since the president wore the scarf, demand for it has been very high. Currently, they are all sold out. The scarves are for everyone, they are not high end or for the rich. We want to make them as accessible to people as possible.

Q: What is the future like for Chjaa?

A: We would love to even work with the sports teams of the country and even have ideas of how to re-work their kits. It would be really great if our teams wore some of our products. We have made some golf skirts and they were well received.

People may not appreciate fabric when it has not been turned into something but they will soon see how nice it is after it had been turned into a skirt, shirt or pair of trousers. We want to make something that has a meaning — something that tells a story. I have made a lot of sacrifices for this business but I do not regret being in the industry. People just need to understand that I come with the work.

 

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