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For the love of Africa

The allure of handmade African accessories is the endless designs someone can come up with.

For Clara Mwanje of Afrustic Accessories, African jewellery and bags are her gateway to releasing her design talent and love for the continent’s cultures.

“The brand name came from a fusion of two perspectives I treasure a lot. The first is Africa. I love the diversity of cultures, fabrics and colours we have.

“The second is rustic, in reference to rural furniture or style; a liking I developed when pursuing an interior design course after my bachelor’s degree course. I blended the names after several trials,” she said.

Although she holds a degree in Information Technology, she had wanted to pursue interior design for a long time.

While at university, she started reading fashion books on leather and jewellery as well as watching and learning through online videos.

Abstract shapes

Clara Mwanje, the designer, with the Moran weekender bag made with Maasai shuka and leather.
Clara Mwanje, the designer, with the Moran weekender bag made with Maasai shuka and leather.

“I first got interested in fashion when I was transforming from a tomboy who did not care much what she wore, into a lady during my third year at the university. This was in 2008 and I was getting to understand my body  and what would work best for me. It was a big struggle so I ended up  watching many fashion channels,” she said.

After graduation, Ms Mwanje joined Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts to pursue a diploma in interior design.

Since the launch of Afrustic last year, her designs have gained a sizeable following.

Middle to high-end customers aged between 24 and 45 like her African-print-and-leather bags and jewellery, while those in the 14 to 35 age bracket go for scarves and scoodies or snoods (hooded scarves).

She started with jewellery, even before she founded Afrustic, then under the label she added handbags and scarves.

She has researched accessories for a long time and thus has a collection of designs which inspire her.

There are many other accessories she would love to do in future but she says she has to take things one step at a time.

“I have an eye for elements of design such as colour, line, pattern and texture. I blend these elements well.

I fuse a lot of African materials like kitenge with leather or canvas from the west. I also use abstract shapes in jewellery that would normally not be used by others,” she said.

Inseparable

Currently, Ms Mwanje is working on her latest collection which she says will be a merger of “my techie, interior and fashion backgrounds and experiences.”

She is able to do all these with her interior design job as she builds and attempts to make Afrustic grow.

“It has been a strain and great sacrifice because of several factors.

For instance, leather is very expensive and I have to get many varieties.

I also don’t have a workshop and so my workers are spread out all over the city.

Considering that I have to buy material, place and collect orders on Saturdays, it is very strenuous.

The business is also still in its infancy and is not yet ready to pay for an assistant,” she said.

Ms Mwanje is taking her day job as an opportunity to gain as much experience as possible before making her design firm take root.

Interior design

She is currently doing small interior design projects — both residential and commercial — on the side, for sustenance and to learn more about the industry.

Afrustic Accessories is an online business with a Facebook page ‘Afrustic Accessories’ that allows people to place orders.

“I believe colour and pattern complement each other. When you are selecting materials, you just have to work with both. This is because the same colour with a different pattern appears to be slightly different and brings out a different feel or style altogether.

“The beauty and authenticity of colour is brought out by texture and pattern.”