Mapondera, 26, a full-time dental assistant and native of Zimbabwe, moved to the United States when she was 16, because her parents wanted her to go to school here.
She came to Kalamazoo from Niles almost two years ago, where she now sells handmade bags through her online store, Sireka Designs.
Her African heritage features prominently in her store, which she opened in the spring of 2008 and which takes its name through a combination of her grandparents’ names, Simeon and Rebecca Kaseke.
The bags are crafted from imported African fabrics, the designs of which Mapondera said are one-of-a-kind.
“The colors are very bold and vivid, they’re in vibrant patterns,” Mapondera said. “You can just see that there’s something ethnic about the fabric, and exotic when you compare it to just a regular fabric you find at a Jo-Ann Fabrics.
There’s always something that draws your eye to it. It’s unique.”
Mapondera uses prints from countries including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana, among others, to capture the ethnic African feel she is looking for. She said she uses her passion for fabric as way to “bring out and show Africa’s beauty.”
“I’m always trying to capture different fabrics from other countries, not only from Zimbabwe,” Mapondera said.
“I’m trying to basically include the whole of Africa when I make my products, and then I create my designs from there.”
It takes Mapondera about three-and-a-half to four hours on average to make a bag, which can sell for anywhere from $30 to $100.
The bags, the most popular of which are the medium- and large-sized bags in prints of greens and reds, are bought mostly by local women, though she has had a few out-of-town customers from places like Chicago and Ohio.
Mapondera said the response to her store in the past year has been amazing, and she has plans to expand and offer clothing made using African prints on another site, Sireka Couture, hopefully by this spring.
“It’s very, very encouraging,” Mapondera said of the public response to her work. “It keeps me motivated to create designs beyond just the ordinary.”