The Masa Mara collection shown at the AFI/Canex Fashion Exhibition at the Intra-African Trade Fair in Durban last weekend has caught the attention of the international fashion industry, putting designer Nyambo Masa Mara firmly in the spotlight.
Nyambo, 29, who is based in Cape Town, said this week that showcasing in Durban provided a “huge opportunity” and platform for his work, with fashion representatives from New York, Portugal, Chad and Russia approaching him backstage, and Marie Claire in Russia sharing his designs on Instagram.
“My brand speaks to Africa and showcases the African image. To be surrounded by the international fashion industry gave me such a good platform on the continent and the world at large. It was more than a fashion show, with people saying my collection made them feel, not just see,” he said this week.
Coming to South Africa from Rwanda when he was 13-years-old, Nyambo lived in a refugee camp from the age of three.
“In Rwanda, amara masa means to come from nothing, so I played with the saying and built the brand Masa Mara and the name has a beautiful sound,” he said.
Living in a refugee camp, he said, did not allow for dreams for the future.
“In the refugee camp we didn’t have such a thing, there was no promise of tomorrow, you only got through today.
“When I realised I had this gift and calling, I created for those who are voiceless and don’t have dreams,” he said.
Coming from a family of 14 siblings, when he was 12-years-old, he and his older brother left Rwanda and spent two months travelling down through Africa in search of a better life.
“It was a journey which I’m still finding the courage and strength to talk about, a lot happened along the way and it took us two months to get to South Africa.
“I was a curious child and I was chosen to come here and given a torch to shine a light back to my family. I’m trying not to let everyone down,” he said, adding that his mother chose him and his brother as the pair to head to South Africa.
He dabbled in sport and music, but it was when he started to make his own clothes that he realised he had a talent.
“I started designing my own clothes and would get a tailor to make them. I had special pieces and people wanted to know who I was. Those clothes gave me power and I realised I had a gift,” said Nyambo, who started researching fashion, as well as the fashion and textile industry, and helping out at small tailor shops around Cape Town to learn the trade.
“My mom used to sell fabric. She used to go across East Africa and there was always a lot of fabric in our home which was very colourful. Then I found out that my grandfather was a tailor and had the gift of designing,” he said.
In 2015 he started his brand which he has built with lots of hard work put into each collection.
He was given the opportunity to show his work with the House of Nala and African Fashion International (AFI) and he said this latest collection was focused on African identity.
“My collection is about the identity crisis we are facing in Africa. We were stripped of our identities and we need to look back at our ancestors and ask questions, embrace who you were meant to be. The colonialists painted us with a black canvas.
“My brand speaks to boldness and bravery. I have so many colours infused in my clothes and it says ’I deserve to be here, I am not a mistake’,” he said.
He added that while the Covid pandemic had been a tough time, “I’ve been in a worse situation and I’ve lived through difficulties. I know I can create from nothing, and that I’m creating beautiful things”.
The AFI/Canex (Creative Africa Nexus) promotes African-based designers and has created a platform for the most globally relevant and contemporary African designers to be discovered.
The Independent on Saturday