Tamburai Chirume’s role in the fashion industry is constantly evolving and developing, but one constant is her focus on challenging the idea that sustainability and a regenerative fashion future is about raw materials and sourcing natural fabrics. The co-founder of accessories brand ONEOFEACH says, “There is no good in ethically-sourced materials when you are treating the people you work with unethically.”
Tamburai has a rich bag of experience. She first worked in fashion retail and styling, and then pivoted to the banking world of wealth and investments. With her rich experience and her mother’s 35 years experience as a fashion designer and artist, Tamburai and Pauline Chirume launched ONEOFEACH in 2014. Based in Cape Town, they promote a spirit of creative authenticity where modern fibres meet traditional prints from all over Africa.
Besides producing bags, the mother-daughter duo is on a mission to tackle South Africa’s unemployment crises with the newly-founded African Academy of Fashion. Their dream is to boost the employment of women while reinvigorating the traditional artisanal craft and manufacturing industry in Africa.
We chatted to Tamburai to find out more.
What about your upbringing inspired ONEOFEACH?
My parents were both immigrants to South Africa. My father came here to start a travel agency in Cape Town in 1992 – the very first Black-owned travel agency in Cape Town. My mum had left her very successful fashion business in Zimbabwe to join him. Because she was on a spousal visa she could not work or be involved in any commercial activities for some time.
I spent a lot of time with my mum as a child as she tried to break into the industry. She had no luck. The reality at the time was that there were very few opportunities for people of colour.
I witnessed my mum feeling undervalued and despondent and I felt that it was unfair for her to have sacrificed her talent and her business to become a full-time mom. So, I always knew that in some way and somehow I would make her see that her dreams are possible.
Why do you work with “waste” materials?
Working with waste material has always been my mum’s medium. She is the creative genius behind the brand. Before we make bags she played around with off-cuts of leather from upholstery factories and make accessories. We were just playing around when we came up with our first design.
The first fabrics we started with were African fabrics that she had collected over the years. In our cultural traditions these fabrics are given as gifts at ceremonies and family occasions.
How do you balance making products with empowerment, innovation, diversity, and transformation?
All of the above are important but we believe that balance is achieved through intention. If you have the right intention and if you are focused more on your why then everything you put into what you are building organically falls into place.
Why did you launch The African Academy of Fashion?
In a South African context, we are well aware that unemployment is at crisis levels. My mother and I have always felt that we have a responsibility to upskill people. That is why, in 2019, we launched the Garment Construction and Fashion Accessories program to train unemployed women from underserved communities in both craft and business so that they would be equipped with the skills they need for entering the workforce. Since 2019, we have trained over 100 women and helped to place 60% of them in employment in the fashion industry.
Now, we are expanding the program to launch the African Academy of Fashion. It aims to change the African narrative through fashion and is supported by the Fashion Impact Fund.
The Academy focuses on practical and hands-on training using the African Fashion Curriculum, a first of its kind, to equip participants with the fundamental principles, techniques, knowledge, and a set of start-up tools that will enable them to utilise the rewarding skills of constructing garments and accessories from start to finish.
The program, specifically designed for women under the age of 40, will improve and extend the provision of high-quality learning opportunities to diversify the South African fashion industry – making it more inclusive. It also helps to develop the current and future skills needed in the textile, clothing, and fashion sector.
Why is it important to highlight women-led initiatives?
I think that it is imperative as women are creators, nurturers, caregivers, and phenomenal leaders. A just and regenerative fashion future requires the industry to be turned around, to be more inclusive, and be accepting of empathetic leadership. I believe that these are usually characteristics possessed by women.
What is a misconception about sustainable fashion that you challenge through your work?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions that I have encountered on this journey is that people think that sustainability and a regenerative fashion future are only about raw materials, sourcing natural fabrics, and that is product-focused.
It is of course very much about this, but the people part is imperative too. There is no good in ethically-sourced materials when you are treating the people you work with unethically.
We would like to challenge this idea through our work by contributing to diversity and transformation in this industry and creating equal opportunities for people of colour to develop sustainable careers that pay them well in this field. We hope to contribute to this change through the Academy.
What is your favourite item in your wardrobe? And why?
A sparkly dress that my mum designed for me when I was invited to META Dublin in 2019 to give a talk to 7000 of their staff members from across the globe. I keep it in a dust bag and I cannot wait to wear it again for a very special occasion.
Share one sustainable fashion resource for further learning.
Fashion Revolution. Their resources and educational material are mind-blowing.
- Images supplied by Tamburai Chirume
- To learn more about ONEOFEACH, visit their website.
- Tamburai Chirume is one of ten women fashion entrepreneurs who have been chosen for the Conscious Fashion Campaign: New York Fashion Week September 2022 edition. To learn more about the Conscious Fashion Campaign, click here.