Bustling Nairobi is a far cry from sleepy Ballito (yes, we are still considered sleepy!). Especially for Catherine Wanjohi, wife, mother, fashion designer and entrepreneur. She’s creating head-turning accessories, clothing and footwear as an ode to Africa.
A friend of Catherine Wanjohi and her Dutch husband recommended they take a break from the hustle of Nairobi and holiday in Ballito. Having never been before, the couple and their three children fell in love with our coastal town.
She explains how they quite literally returned home, packed their bags and headed straight back to Ballito. “We had no plan,” she adds.
Although she’s a qualified teacher, Catherine has spent much of her time raising their three children aged five, seven, and nine years old.
She loved education, but has always felt a pull toward fashion, having spent her childhood in Kenya the 1980s following the fashions on television, utilising leftover scraps of fabric and re-imagining them into outfits.
She didn’t feel that many of the popular retail stores reflected her personal style, and even once she moved to South Africa, struggled to shop for clothing and accessories that said something about her heritage. A year after settling in Ballito, in December of 2016, Catherine began Zinge Afrika.
“Zinge Afrika is a premium brand of handcrafted clothing and accessories inspired by various African tribes, textiles and cultural elements from many parts of our great continent,” explains Catherine. The name zinge came from Catherine’s housekeeper. She was looking for a word that meant ‘all encompassing’, referring to her intention of gathering African influences together in a multi-cultural celebration of aesthetics. Her Zulu-speaking housekeeper suggested zinge, and Catherine’s business was born.
Much like the concept behind her fashion, her children too embody multiculturalism, speaking Swahili, Dutch, English, Afrikaans, and Zulu.
“Concept, craft, function and humanity intersect in our brand, which has interest in intercultural relationships, and it’s based on Africa’s rich aesthetic heritage, using design, quality and sustainability as tools,” explains Catherine.
“Our clothing and accessories are beautifully crafted and customized to showcase personal style. Most importantly, our products are eco-friendly; 65 percent of the work is done by hand and our raw materials includes sisal, bones, leather, feathers, beads, old magazines, wood, cotton and jute(fabric) all sourced locally,” she adds.
To further her business, which began purely on social media, Catherine joined Enterprise Illembe’s entrepreneurship programme, and completed the three-month intensive business training and mentorship, which she feels has helped her cement the brand.
This year, she opened her studio doors at 9 Marion Road, Ballito, offering retail space displaying her clothing, jewellery, footwear, handbags, and other accessories, as well as an alteration service. In fact, the alteration service is a part of Catherine’s sustainability drive, and she feels strongly about repurposing items rather than discarding them – an echo of her childhood spent reimagining old fabrics and accessories, and creating something beautiful.
Call ahead before visiting the studio on 060 646 6147, visit zingeafrika.com or go to @zingeafrikaballito on Facebook.