Zimbabwean leather designer storms into Botswana market

FRANCISTOWN – Thirty-eight-year-old Zimbabwean Tapiwa Chakalisa is not your average leather designer. She is a force to be reckoned with. The Nshakazhogwe dame is capable of producing a graphic product with leather.

Based at Passessor Boutique along St Patrick Street in the city, she spends most of her time in the design studio working wonders with leather for her clients. Fashion accessory, Chakalisa designs on daily basis, includes handbags, wallets, ties and belts.

Chakalisa also does leather product repairs.

"Since I’m good in art, I do some of the designs. But some of my clients come with a product so that I could make a replica of the product," says the mother of an eight year old girl.

Her final products do not come cheap. Chakalisa asserts that this is due to the fact that leather does not come cheap.

This is not surprising considering the fact that Chakalisa has 19 years under her belt in the fashion industry. Besides, she becomes precise whenever she is working on a product.

Chakalisa buys her leather from Zimbabwe and decries that the material is exorbitant. "You can never know the price of the material. They keep on escalating daily. This is frustrating," she cries. The other challenge that frustrates this business is that the Chinese businesses duplicate her products and sell at give-away prices.

"If you tell a customer that a bag costs P500 he/she will tell you that the Chinese are selling it at P60. The Chinese are using cheap plastic material but people are flocking there. They give me sleepless nights."

On a positive note, she asserts that since we are in what is usually referred to as a ‘silly season’, her leather products are on demand. "Customers are placing orders in large numbers and we have few products left in display." It is unbelievable that this designer studied a dressmaking course at Botswana Christian Council Training Centre in Selebi-Phikwe between 1988 and 1989. She says three days after completion of the course she landed a job at Flavia shoes in Selebi Phikwe.

At Flavia shoes they specialised in making leather products such as handbags, shoes, wallets and belts. This is where she learnt how to design leather products. Seven years later, the expatriate owner of the company decided to wind up.

Because Chakalisa has shown agility in her job, her expatriate boss recommended her another expatriate-owned business dealing in leather products still in the small copper nickel mining town.

Here at African leather products she was hired as a designer and artist. "It was at African leather products where I learnt the art of embroidery. I can decorate any embodiment on the product," she reveals with an air of confidence.

Apparently the contract of the owner of African leather products was not renewed at BCL and just like the owner of Flavia shoes, the owner relocated overseas.
Chakalisa was at this company for four years and she bought an arm machine from her former employer to prepare for a life in self-employment.

She started working from her rented house but later relocated to Serule where she applied for a warehouse plot. She says she was recently allocated the plot and she wants funds to develop it. SOURCE: Mmge