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Harmonie Mbunga, of Angolan origin,  is a woman of strength and determination. After launching a failed fashion brand, she did not back down instead she created a brand that is working to bring African art, fashion and culture to the table, a brand redefining the African heritage and making African art known to the world through their ethically conscious affordable luxury accessories. Valoyi, a brand purposed to retelling African stories of craftsmanship. Starting out in retail fashion, with a dream to own her own label, Harmonie ventured into a project that failed before creating Valoyi.

Beetroot chats to Harmonie about her entrepreneurship journey.

1. What is the inspiration behind Valoyi?

Africa. Africa. Africa. I love and am strongly passionate about this continent I was born on.

And yet, I feel that I do not know as much as I would like or should know about it. Creating this brand was also one way to connect and get to know more (or at least start scratching the surface of ) the plethora of different cultures found on this great continent.

There is so much history, so much riches in heritage, and so much craftsmanship the world needs to know about and to start appreciating.

Craftsmanship such as Kuba cloth and African sculpture that influenced and inspired renowned artists such as Picasso and Matisse, to name but a few, that inspired whole art movements!!!! Did you know that???

My mission with this brand is to offer my contribution to showcase and shift the narrative on African craftsmanship from biased stereotypes that dilute its riches and worldwide cultural relevancy.

 

 

2. What did you learn from all your failed experiences?

Just that, that I learned. I think one of the most important things we can give ourselves from any failed experience is the opportunity to be brave enough to actually learn and grow from it.

 

3. How important is developing entrepreneurship skills when it comes to exploring your talent, and growing a sustainable business?

Very important. It is something that I aim to constantly and consistently cultivate.

Just before the lockdown commenced, I had started a 12-week Entrepreneurship course with Startup School.

It continued all the way through Lockdown, ending in June, and the lessons I’ve gained out of that course are absolutely invaluable.

 

 

4. What are you struggling with at the moment and how are you planning to overcome it?

People in the fashion industry do not often openly talk about the capital it takes to start a product oriented and cashflow necessary business.

It is crucial that there should be more funding support and opportunity for the African creative industry.

And, our biggest support and own supply chain needs to start here.

Then there’s entry to new, especially global, markets.

Luckily, the internet does create a pathway to make it slightly easier. As much as this pandemic has brought a lot of unique challenges and hardships for many, it’s also brought a lot of people together.

And the banding-together and support I’ve personally experienced and seen come out of it is incredible.

 

 

5. As a growing African fashion powerhouse what would you like to see change in the fashion industry in Africa?

More assertive support and participation. Both locally and worldwide. Much of the world does now have – or is gaining – its eyes on African creativity that’s been overlooked for so long. I see major global players actively and boldly making more moves championing and driving efforts towards this. Which is wonderful! It’s always great to gain more and new opportunities through being internationally recognized for ones work.

 

6. The aspect of preserving our culture is highlighted in your designs, how did you come to the conclusion that this is the direction you wanted to take with your designs?

I realized early on that if I wanted to try another hand at creating a fashion brand, it was going to have to be one that was rooted in strong beliefs, impactful goals and products, that actually makes a tangible difference on this planet we live on, as well as people’s lives. I asked myself, what is it that I believe in most that I could advocate strongly and boldly for. And the answer was Africa. Africa and its unending potential to be so much more than what the world perceives it to be. So, the idea of VALOYI was born. I knew quite a bit about traditional African cloths, clothes and artifacts as I grew up surrounded by them. So, I thought, why not showcase and teach the world of their beauty and significance through modern fashion and contemporary design. I then went to work and started designing and coming up with ideas.

 

7. Do you think it is possible for our young African Instagram influencers to move from #Chanel to  #VALOYI?

VALOYI was created for the fashion, cultural, and socially conscious women and men who are  wanting to invest in art, in the highest quality of African craftsmanship and its longevity, a new  modern heirloom and a piece of The African Story, retold.

They are fearless, passionate, bold, and free. Advocates! Globally aware and in tune with what is happening around them and in their environment.

Influencers are there and some of them are truly unique and doing amazing work. True leaders. Many are followers. Mind you, being a vocal follower and loyal supporter is just as important. 

If I was to aim at working with any influencers, it would be with the change and tastemakers that are deliberately pushing for actual and significant influence. Especially for African brands. Influencers the brand can grow and evolve with.

Those are the ones that will choose to not just focus and aim for #Chanel but to champion and loudly root for #VALOYI  and other African original brands as well. Mind you, there’s still enough space for both of us, for all of us.

 

8. Personally, what have you struggled with in your journey?

Staying positive and motivated has been really tough during this pandemic. For most of us I’m sure. Discipline really is key. I’m still working on fully attaining mine. Lol. A lifelong goal of self-cultivation work, I guess.

 

9. What are your short- and long-term goals?

A mission I have attached with the brand since its inception has been to travel to the African countries and villages where the inspiration cloth or art originates from, connect with the craftsmen and women and then collaborate and work with them in order to create new and engaging accessories, shoes, and apparel that perfectly blends handcrafted traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design for the premium to luxury fashion market.

All while documenting this entire process, taking the customer on the full journey of creation from beginning to end, telling the story, and educating on the history and significance of the craft through the lens of The Maker and putting the spotlight on them and their craft.

I knew it would take me a while to get to the point of traveling Africa and documenting artisans doing their work and creating beautiful products with them – especially with all of this still currently being bootstrapped – but I just knew I had to at least start, and I will get there. So right now, that’s the long term goal.

The short term goal is to successfully launch a new collection during a pandemic, with a new unisex product offering I aim to introduce to the brand.

 

 

10. Do you see a change in African consciousness when it comes to fashion especially in young people.

There most certainly is a shift that is happening. There is so much fresh creativity and proud self-expression I see coming from the continent. We still have a long way to go, but we are well on our way.

 

11. What advise would you give to young female aspiring designers?

Best advise I can give: is to Just start where you are, and with what you have. Because you never know what impact your contribution could have for the whole. The world is not a monopoly. There is space for you. It takes time, it takes effort to keep showing up. But keep doing it, consistently, keep being resilient, and keep creating and bringing to life new perspectives that cannot be ignored. And do not let money or capital be a barrier of entry for you. It might just mean that your growth could be slower than you’d like. But, again, start with what you have. Even if means borrowing a sewing machine or starting with one item you offer to friends and family. If you are or can be a plans kind of person, then, Amazing! Make and write up that plan. If that’s not you at all, then that’s okay too. We all have our own unique ways of getting stuff done. And do not let your ego fool you into thinking you should not or can’t ask for help. Do what you have to do. Do it with fear, do it with doubt, own it! Flip it and reverse it! And then use it to propel you into taking that first crucial step forward.

Honestly, best advice, JUST START!

And if I am being even more honest, this is all advise I myself need reminding of! Every single day!

 

Minnie-lee Tagwirei
Minnie-lee Tagwirei
Minnie-lee Tagwirei, is the editor of Beetroot Online Magazine for professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses.

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