to be African, to be Woman, to be Creative, to be Fashionable, to be Intelligible, to be be IMARA

imara by Mshana

This is the canvas and the pages on which I curate and display the life I wish to create for myself and other liminal hu-women like myself. I explore here my passion for fashion, present my literally inspired visual arts, write my visual arts inspired written works, share my linguistics, travel diaries, show my finding comfort in food, and heck, whatever else I feel like... Welcome and enjoy!

My journey to fashion

all the reasons why fashion


If you grew up in Tanzania then you understand how important it is to get a new dress for Christmas (if you are Muslim, for Eid).

It's 11:49 pm on the 24th of December, 2002 and I am holding a torch for my mom whose back is bent over a practically ancient singer sewing machine. We are making my Christmas dress. Flower printed chiffon over a pink satin. We are making a high-waisted pouf dress with a huge bow at the back. I had shown mom the dress one Sunday, and we both agreed that it was the perfect dress for me. 

My mom made all the dresses I wore to church or any other public appearance as a child. While I wore tailored dresses out, I only wore hand-me-downs from my two older sisters at home. Most of these hand-me-downs were imported secondhand clothes, so, they were generally already worn-out by the time they got to me. That meant their life circle in my wardrobe was not very long and that I had only a few clothes at any point in time. To be honest, I didn't need many clothes. My life comprised of going to school during the week, and church on the weekend. I wore uniform to school and I had enough clothes for church compounded from all the Christmases I had lived through. Therefore, clothes were never something to worry about as a child.

When I turned thirteen, things got a little complicated. I was in grade seven and we had weekend study sessions at school, to which we could wear anything. At this point in my life, wearing the clothes my mom made me when I was meeting friends was not an option. It was commonly understood that tailored clothes were just not cool.  However, my home clothes were also not particularly presentable. I found myself wearing my school uniform to weekend study sessions. When asked, I would simply say I preferred wearing the school uniform to school. Though no one generally went any deeper in questioning me, I felt really uncomfortable wearing my uniform in the midst of friends on weekends. At some point, I stopped going to the programs all together.

It was really hard for me as a teenager to not have the right clothes for social interactions with friends. Yet, I couldn't afford buying better clothes, and my mom had long since stopped making me Christmas dresses. It was clear to me that if I wanted to have clothes, I needed to make my own. So, that is exactly what I did. At fourteen, I was chopping t-shirts to make cute tops, sewing patches on old clothes, turning dresses into cute skirts and tightening loose blouses to fit. My bathing khangas were soon made fabric for new dresses and my sister's old clothes patterns for new garments. I made my entire teenage wardrobe. 

To make my clothes, I had to be extra attentive at church and in public spaces to notice what is in fashion. I would draw doodles of what people are wearing and bring them home to mom who would show me how the pattern is made. I would then spend the rest of my days making it all come together. I would get many compliments on the uniqueness of my clothes and how in fashion they were. However, people always pointed out how I didn't have a particular style that was my own. I seemed to always have a new look. It was true. I had no style to call my own! I had never had the luxury to decide what my "look" was. I made and bought clothes because that was what everyone in the streets was wearing at the moment. All I ever wanted was to fit in. 

At eighteen, I no longer received hand-me-downs from my sisters; I bought my own clothes. Thanks to technology and travel, I was introduced to the world of fashion and style and all the possibilities out there. Overwhelming as it was at the beginning, I found it fascinating that there are people out there, who create clothes not from a space of need and scarcity, but a space of want and creativity. I soon realised that I wanted to be part of that world. Although I had always made clothes because I needed to fit in, I did have a grand appreciation for great designs and derived so much joy from recreating them. So I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great to be a fashion designer? My answer to most questions in life in general is, why not. This question was not going to be an exception. And so it begun, my journey to becoming a fashion designer. 

I am learning how to illustrate (follow my illustration chronicles on instagram @bernieillustrates) and I am still making some of my own clothes. I am reeducating myself on style and trying to find my own voice in clothing. I am learning a ton on the fashion industry in Africa and trying to discover where I would fit in it. And most importantly I am working on applying to fashion schools so that I can understand how to think like a designer. 

This is what this blog is about. It is not to show my style and fashion savvy, because Lord knows it doesn't exist! It is to share my journey to finding my personal style, healing from my clothing traumas and learning fashion, something that I have come to call my passion -hence phashion. I hope the peeks into my wardrobe inspire you, my journey to creating that wardrobe helps you think differently about fashion, and my learning fashion teaches you a thing or two. With all love and respect, I urge you, read on.