The Herald (Harare)

12 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Leah Makes Fashion Waves

United Kingdom based Leah Mubwandarika is making waves on the international fashion scene with her eye-catching collection of designer garments ranging from haute-couture to ready-to-wear.

The 38-year-old Zimbabwean beauty has set base in one of the world's fashion capital London.

Having had a humble beginning Leah enrolled at Harare Polytechnic in 1994 as a fashion and designing student.

The fashionista is now the sole proprietor of the clothing line "Leah African Design" with its headquarters in the UK.

Her collection is all about glamourous and luxurious textiles, characterised by colourful and matching accessories, which fashion critics have said are a great way to break up the dark.

The label, which focuses on African style, was recently launched in UK and caused a stir in the foreign land.

Locals can now cheer up as it is here to stay. Saturday Lifestyle caught up with the designer who is in the country on a two-week holiday.

Leah, who is still very much in touch with her roots, says fashion is important.

"To me it is the way I live because, it's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning and you want to feel good about yourself. The way you dress is how you express yourself to the world. You might feel incompatible, but your style is one way that shows your individual uniqueness.

Normally people dress to suit their jobs and lifestyles," she said.

Leah said she was inspired by culture; satin, African print, taftas fabrics, vibrant colours and cultural crafts:

"I love clothes. When I was growing up I used to play with dolls, cutting and designing my mother's tablecloths," she said.

"My cultural heritage has always been influential in my design process even though it comes through in many subtle ways. My work is always a study of opposites. The balance between my cultural heritage, my training and experience in the West is what I think sets me apart (from other women designers)."

Leah said designing was her passion and her attention to detail was paramount in shaping her fashion sense.

"I am not a model, but I am a designer. My mother has been my fashion guru. My brand is versatile with a twist of Southern African contemporary ethnic design," she said.

Specialising in evening dresses, cocktail gowns, bridal wear and beautifully tailored clothes, the designer has been showered with praises at many functions such as Miss Zimbabwe USA and Miss Zimbabwe UK among others.

"My designs are for today's modern women who enjoy glitz, glamour, bold, contemporary pieces that provide directional styling to her wardrobe. My latest collection is the Bespoke Kaftans and African print blazer for both sexes," she said. Leah said she was encouraged to pursue designing by prominent Ghanaian designer Nana Boateng.

"I designed a few garments in 2010 which caught the eye of Boateng and I was happy when he told me I could do it, those words were my strength to venture into the field," she said.

To date, she has presented her collections in South Africa, Germany, UK and the US.

Asked where she finds inspiration, the UK-based designer said: "From real life. From the people walking by, fallen leaves, societal setting. My mother and the best ideas come when I wake up early morning -- don't know why."

She draws her passion from day-to-day activities and the people around her something which influenced her since her days at Harare Polytechnic.

She describes her latest collection as "stunning and garage of fabulous," a description that depicts her non-commercial design aesthetic.

"Currently, I am working on my bridal collections which will be unveiled this year in May at a show with other local designers I have collaborated with," said the pint-sized designer.

Leah acknowledges all the support she got from different people especially her parents.

"My parents, family, relatives, friends and my wonderful team not forgetting my lovely husband; they are responsible for where I am today," she enthused.

Last year, she was nominated at the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards and BEFTA's awards which tops in the foreign land.

"I am an achiever myself. This year is bigger and better because I want to organise an annual fashion fair focusing on African and European style. It would be a platform for local and elite designers to present their wares and soon I would be opening a branch in Zimbabwe," she explained.

Speaking of the just-ended fashion season, Leah said she wasn't wishing for clothes.

"The best thing about being a designer is being able to make whatever you want for yourself. So there was no need to wish. I'm already working on a list," she jokingly said.

Apart from designing clothes, Leah is a qualified mental health nurse in the UK.

She is married and likes to keep her private life just that.

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