Takudzwa Chitsike Speaks “DEEKAWZEE” and Growing a Proudly Zimbabwean Jewellery Brand
We love DeeKawZee and even more so, the brand’s designer Taku Chitsike. Vibrant a personality, tenacious and brand savvy, she has done an incredible job illustrating how it is possible to turn one’s passion to profits even in a tough environment. We shared this interview a little over a year ago, so naturally much has changed since we sat down with Taku in 2014. Her story still remains inspirational to those of us who wonder how we can create a business out of something that we love despite our academic background and perhaps expectations from loved ones. Taku shared…
So we have only ever heard of you being referred to as “Taku” – but naturally we would love to know all there is to share about you which is why Quintessential F had to sit down and have a chat with you. Tell our readers who Taku is and describe to them what makes you uniquely you?
My name is Takudzwa Runyararo Chitsike. I never used my middle name but apparently people decided that they were going to start calling me by my full name. So hey, it is my name so I might as well embrace it fully.
On how I describe myself; goodness – that’s a really hard question to answer because I’m so many things. I’m fun loving; generally a very happy person but very hardworking. I believe in hard work paying off. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow but it will pay off at some stage so I push myself to the very last measure on everything. If I’m cleaning the house I’m cleaning the house till its squeaky and spotlessly clean. So everything I do, I will do it 110% because I believe somewhere somehow doing it that way will always pay off.
I’m 33, not married, and I don’t have any children just yet. That’s me in a nutshell.
We talk to a lot of women and they describe a vast array of experiences that led to them finding their life’s mission or pursuing their passion. How did you get started on your journey?
I can safely say that when I was really young, I always had a creativity jist about me. I used to knit as we had knitting classes at school, but then I would always bring my knitting home and I would then convert my knitting into other little things. I used to dress my dolls; I used to make wigs for myself and so on. So I was always very good with making stuff. I guess my parents being the old school parents that they are; it was like “No, school! Go to school and pursue a formal career.”
I wanted to be a fashion designer. So throughout my years at school – for occasions like leavers’ dances I used to design my friends’ dresses, draw them and come up with the outfits. Then came to picking varsity after A’ levels. I told my parents I wanted to go to the States as that was the best place I could go for fashion design school. My parents laughed at me so loud (she chuckles) and made it clear it wasn’t going to pan out that way. I’m the youngest in my family. My older sister was just finishing law school. My brother was in university pursuing a degree in hospitality. So from the perspective of my parents, I had to follow suit. I didn’t have the money to even contest their decision. I then went to the same varsity as my brother in Cape Town and attended law school. I went all the way to Masters Level in Law.
I then finished law school and basically announced that it was time to do my own thing. I looked for schools and I then pursued a diploma in image consultancy also in South Africa. After that again my parents said for me to go back to pursuing law. I looked for a place to do my articles. I completed my articles and worked in practice for quite a while. As the story goes – I hated it. I suppose GOD directs your path because I then got a horrible boss. This boss I felt didn’t like me and she made my life a total misery. Literally, a week wouldn’t go by without me bursting out into tears because I was that miserable.
A little while later I had an accident wherein I broke my toe. I wasn’t allowed to go to work for about a week. During that time I came to the realisation that life was SO COOL away from work. I wasn’t stressed, things were good. I felt relaxed, free. So I told myself I couldn’t go back as my life wasn’t going in the direction that I wanted it to go in. So I got up on a Friday, went into the office as usual, opened my laptop and typed in my resignation letter right there and then, put it in an envelope and decided I wasn’t going to be one of those people that would sneak out given my boss wasn’t in the office at that moment. I stayed the whole day up until 3pm so I could give her the letter when she came back. She came in and I gave her the letter. Naturally she was upset also because I expressly stated that I wasn’t serving notice – I was leaving now.
I told my mom I was packing up my place in Joburg and was coming to live with her in Pretoria. My mom is in the NGO world so she travels a lot. A lot of the times I would be at home on my own. I started getting bored and I thought of what I could do with myself. I had started an image consultancy business but it wasn’t going as I had expected given my newness in the industry. I then decided to get something to entertain myself and this “entertainment” came in the form of beading, and playing around with tools for making jewellery and so on. I slept at about 3am for two days trying to figure out how to bend stuff and do this and that until I got the hang of it.
I started selling at friends’ baby showers, parties and in that process, I decided I was moving back to Zimbabwe. You see in South Africa everything is in abundance. You can walk into any mall and find every type of earring or jewellery. At that time I realised there were no retailers like “Accessorize” who specialise solely in jewellery or accessories. I wanted to do that. I started like most people – selling things out of the boot of my car; driving around to office parks and telling people I was selling stuff. I kept pushing until I opened a store. It ran for a little while but my overheads were so high. I was so upset when a friend of mine said to close the shop. She believed I could so this without a store. So I closed the shop.
I started working from my spare room and distributing in other people’s stores. I started off with my stuff in one store. Now there are about 6 stores that carry my jewellery. Edgars has just taken me on. I’m trying to also push Truworths. I also do things like fairs. You can find me at Borrowdale Flea Market every Sunday.
I’m now working on a new project called MUCHENO where I take on other designers and promote their work like I promote my brand. I will take their products everywhere I go to sell my products. I’m doing it to promote them and also to illustrate to them that your passion can also be your profession. We must get out of this mind set of our parents’ generation of thinking that going to school is limited to certain professions. Going to school isn’t a bad thing – but there are different types of schools now like jewellery design school, cooking school and so on. You can go to school for something that you are passionate about.
What’s your definition of Entrepreneurship particularly in the Zimbabwean environment?
I think we have all by default become entrepreneurs in one way or another. We are all selling tangible goods or providing some sort of service that’s not the usual. I believe putting yourself out there and looking for something that you are passionate about can inadvertently make you an entrepreneur. I emphasise the need for passion because without it, you will not feel energised to get up each day and pursue what it is you are doing. You need that passion to fuel you. There’s a difference between someone saying “I sell stuff” and being an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship – that is having a business, is an asset that’s not just about having something to do. It’s a bigger asset than retail to have your own business. It’s about getting people aware that that’s today’s reality and your passion is your reality. There are so many people doing what I do but you will never know who they are. They are pursuing their passions out of their homes, selling to people at church, selling to their friends but not really pushing themselves to making it a viable business.
In my case my passion has become my business to the extent that I can pay my bills from doing what I do and I can survive off of my passion. When I first started people laughed at me. Some even went to the extent of saying “Oh please, she’s bending little wires there’s no way she can be successful at that.” I told myself and them to stay tuned and watch it happen. Some of my biggest supporters now were actually quite embarrassed to say that I was making jewellery when asked what I was up to. They have since come to note that I am actually turning something that I love into a livelihood and are cheering me on.
Where do you get your design inspiration from? What inspires you to design a specific piece?
I have now realised that this is my purpose. I dream up designs. I have my phone beside me every day wherein I then use it to sketch in the event that I have a dream. I also read a lot. Magazines are my thing. I used to work for Jewel Magazine and do their fashion editing. I’m a huge picture fan so to be honest I don’t usually read articles in-depth. The visuals within magazines are what sink into my mind and I then use those for inspiration. When I go to the stores where I buy the materials that form my designs, I don’t usually buy things that I know how to use. I buy stuff I don’t know how to use and I can keep it for 6 months because I don’t know how to use it. Then at some point I figure out how it works.
In your journey to get to where you are today, what was the most difficult aspect or point in your life that gave you the impetus to seek out your passion apart from not enjoying your career in the legal fraternity?
For me it had to do with my move back to Zimbabwe. My father had been ill for quite some time and I felt like I was missing out on what was happening back home because I could effectively only come home once a year or so. Missing my dad and not spending enough quality time with me was a driving force. My dad was also a creative person; an amazing author of Shona books – so he supported my creative side. He understood my passion. I knew if I came back home he would be that person who would drive me to chase after my passion.
The name of your brand! We Shona people know the term “dhikauzi” to be representative of earrings. What made you choose that name as opposed to calling it something more contemporary?
When I was growing up I used to love huge earrings so my mom used to say stuff like “Mmmm ava mai ava nema dhikauzi avo ava” (“Mmm this lady and her earrings”). So I heard that word almost on a daily basis as I wore my different types of massive earrings. The name of my brand was therefore to me a no brainer but I wanted it to have some swag hence the spelling.
How do you describe the type of jewellery that you make?
It’s basically costume jewellery – not your precious stone or precious metal jewellery. It’s a mix really. When I first started off I had a lot of contemporary chandelier style earrings. As I grew I started realising that the ethnic trend was in so I have been mixed ethnic trends in there as well. Now it anything that’s fashionable. If its metal or fabric I’m there. There is no material that I’m afraid to use. I did a runway show at HIFA this year and used goat hide in some of my designs and people were fascinated.
Where do you source your materials?
Sourcing my materials locally has been a challenge as it is quite limited at present and the price points are unfavourable. I get most of my supplies from South Africa and anywhere else as my mom travels a lot so is able to bring me interesting pieces. I’ve been known to receive a gift and snap it in half to make something else. It’s the creative in me at work when that happens.
You’ve garnered significant success with your brand to date and your name is fast becoming a household name where local design and jewellery is concerned. How old is Dhikawzee?
I started designing jewellery for sale in 2011. It’s amazing how the brand has moved from being nothing to what it is today. Now I’m getting people in South Africa calling me and asking if I can come and do a show and that’s a big deal for me. My personality helps to because I talk to so many people about so many different things so it makes it easier to push your brand and create publicity for it. I really put myself out there. A brand is not solely about a product but the person behind it. Take Richard Branson for instance. People support his brand because of the person he is. By putting myself out there and advertising myself I am able to push my brand. I have to be that ambassador.
I am working on a MUCHENO online store as I have seen a move towards the online storefront. The beauty of accessories is that you don’t have to try something on to buy it. I am hoping to make the MUCHENO brand an Africa wide network as I endeavour to move beyond our borders. Our trends are all similar as Africans and I want to be the conduit by which to bring designers from across the continent together on an online platform.
How do you feel the Zimbabwean woman or entrepreneur is placed in terms of synergising and working together with one another?
We are getting better. When I first came back it was pretty cut throat. People didn’t want to work together and everyone was sensitive about competition. We have to learn to work together so as to make a larger impact on the platform in which we operate. If we don’t put differences aside and focus on the objectives at hand we hinder each other from growing. Because we live in such a small society in Zim we have to find a way to work together because in truth there isn’t much by way of escape.
Who is GOD to you?
I have been blessed. I cannot for the life of me not stop on a regular basis and think “WOW”. GOD has taught me patience. As people we are always in such a hurry. Things I prayed for when I was in high school are materialising now and I literally stop and think OMG. I am so blessed. I recently won the ZNCC Woman in Enterprise Award and I was up against some really phenomenal women. It’s overwhelming to think about what GOD has done for me. I am so grateful. I may not be the richest person but I am so happy. My happiness is not defined by having a husband or children but by my purpose feeling fulfilled by my passion.
As a single woman, by single we mean unmarried – what are some of the sentiments that you have had posed to you about how you live your life and how do you choose to debunk them?
I believe that many people in our society don’t realise that we are moving out of the conventional space. I believe it’s our parents and their counterparts’ generation who are struggling to accept how our generation is changing. People always ask why I am not married at this stage in my life or why I don’t “opt” to have children. Some have asked me what the problem is and I have adamantly stated that there is no problem. I am trying to fulfil my dreams first because there is a certain lifestyle that I want to have and want for my children to have. I do not want my children to have less than what I had. Right now with the way our economy is and how things are looking I have to work that much harder. I have made the decision not to put my children in a position of having less than I had. I find that a lot of times we are valuing certain things that are in many ways valueless.
For me it’s not about having a certificate of marriage to feel like I am supported or loved. There are people who are married and have partners that do not support them. There are people who are married and living in the same house but living completely separate lives. I am happy where I am right now. I have great people in my life who support me; whether it be my partner in life or my sister. Many women are looking for a man to be the end all and be all in their lives, and when he doesn’t fit the part according to their expectations, they blame him when in actual fact, he is just being himself. I am so comfortable in my space and I thank GOD for that.
What has been your highlight for 2014?
For me there have been many. HIFA was one as it was my first runway show. I had never done a ramp show before and it was amazing. It was amazing in that it grew me. It was such a stressful time for me. I carried the burden of making the product as well as putting the show on. No one gets to see all the commotion happening backstage.
The second one was winning the ZNCC Woman in Enterprise Award. I was first runner up in that category but I did not expect it at all especially given the women I was up against.
Third I would have to say I have now gotten to a stage where I know who I am. I know myself in terms of a businesswoman. I know what I want for my life and for my business. I want to be a well-known brand in Africa. My focus is on our continent because as Africans we are so quick to take what other continents have on offer yet we have a wealth of talent and resources within Africa. We need to start appreciating ourselves and our product.
How have you dealt with being told “no” in your life for whatever reason?
I have struggled with it. I’m still growing in that department but I think in my struggle I’ve had someone in my life who is very good with directing me in that aspect. He is different from me. I’m a very gentle person to the extent that if someone is very harsh with me – I am very emotionally sensitive. I wear my heart and emotions on my sleeve and my tears are always right there. But in the business realm you can’t afford to be like that. So I’m learning to put on two hats. Taku at home and Taku in business are in some ways different. It has not been easy hearing the “no’s” but to succeed in business you have to accept that you are not going to get all the opportunities that you want.
Is there a favourite personality that has adorned themselves in your jewellery?
I’ve had quite a few. Shingai Shonhiwa from the Noisettes. She rocks and she loves my stuff. When she came for a concert she wore my stuff and that was awesome. Candice Mwakalelye from ZiFM is my brand ambassador and wears my stuff anywhere and everywhere – love her! Prudence Katomeni is another phenomenal woman. She’s so cool. There are a lot of amazing women who have spurred me on and have been a part of my growth.
What do we do to relax outside of jewellery -making?
For me sometimes I actually turn to making jewellery when I’m upset because I then focus on what I’m making and not the cause of my angst. Outside of that – I have two beautiful nieces, one of which is 9 and the other 4. One amazes me with her personality and wit and the other is just crazy – so cute. I love spending time with them because they make me see the beauty of life. A lot of times we focus on things such as money yet we forget to appreciate the privilege of waking up, being alive and able to love and laugh. A lot of what I do is for them and I look forward to being able to spend more time with them.
Any last words for our readers from Taku?
Follow your heart, seek out your purpose and aim to find happiness. Nowadays with the economy and the recession that we have just come out of and others are still trying to come out of the aftermath, there are so many pressures; pressures of which are keeping us from focusing on what’s important to us. It’s not easy but at the end of the day you need to feel fulfilled with whatever it is you are doing so work towards that.