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[dt-quote text="Life is too short to blend in" author="Zimbabwean-born designer Intisaar Umerji "][dt-space height="60"]
[dt-section-title title="The rise of a fashion house"][dt-space height="30"]

With the fashion industry described as being cutthroat and competitive, Zimbabwean-born designer Intisaar Umerji (nee Mukadam) believes perseverance and confidence remains key to a successful career in the business.

Umerji tells The Citizen one has to have a lot of confidence, as people can very easily be bullied into designing down a certain road.

“You have to have that confidence to say ‘this is my design, it’s incredible, accept it as it is’. The minute you can portray that much confidence, people will start believing in your work. The more you believe in yourself, the more people will believe in you,” she says.

“It’s not the type of job that you can go in half-heartedly. It’s something where you wake up every morning and have to be keen and eager to get to work, because if you’re forcing yourself into it, it tends to show in your collection pieces.”

Umerji, whose first name means “victorious” in Arabic, studied fashion design at De Montfort University in Leicester in the UK.

She returned to Zimbabwe after completing her studies in 2010, where she has now set up her fashion house – IntisaarM.

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[dt-section-title title="The fight for recognition"][dt-space height="30"]

Umerji said: “Growing up, I always saw myself going down the more corporate route of life. It was going to be either something to do with computers, like IT, or law – because I love arguing.”

“And then all of a sudden I just found myself inheriting a sewing machine from my late aunt – playing around with it hooked me,” she says.

She adds that her family had been hesitant with her wanting to pursue fashion design; however, her passion became stronger over time, causing her family to have more faith in her work.

“You have to take so much negativity in this line of work that you have to push through. If you don’t have that support system, you begin doubting yourself. That support system sees you through the dark days,” says Umerji.

“It is very difficult to get recognition in the industry. As a Zimbabwean designer, it was difficult getting into the South African market, as the SA industry is so faithful to promoting local designers.”

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[dt-section-title title="A fresh look for Fashion Week"][dt-space height="30"]

Umerji showcased her latest line at the 2014 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Johannesburg this week.

“Since 2010, all my collections were a mixture of knitwear and Java (African prints),” she says.

“This year, I stuck with printed fabrics, but no Java, a lot of knit and lycra. I didn’t do any beading, which is unusual as I’ve teamed up with Ndau Collection for a fresh look.”

Christie Halsted and Christie Brookstein from Ndau Collection say they believe in keeping African tradition in jewellery alive.

“We love Intisaar’s style, so working with her was great. It’s important for jewellers to have a relationship and chemistry with the designer,” says Brookstein.

The duo produces high-quality jewellery and accessories that draws from a number of techniques, and uses premium materials that include crocodile skin and gold, as well as ostrich shell to produce stand-out pieces.

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Feature by: JeVanne Gibbs

Pictures by: Tracy Lee Stark