Farai Simoyi graduated from WVU in 2005, packed her bags, and bolted for the Big Apple. She didn’t have a job lined up, or even a place to live. “I told my mom, ‘I have to go to New York. Like tomorrow.’”
Mom understood. She drove her daughter straight from Morgantown to New York City. Just outside of town, Simoyi contacted a woman who had posted a tiny room for rent on Craigslist. Mom paid the deposit, and Simoyi’s New York life was about to begin.
Now she had to worry about a job. The day after settling there, she walked up and down the streets of Brooklyn—entering retail stores saying, “I’m a West Virginia girl and I need a job.” Unusual behavior? Not if you’re Simoyi.
Everything seems just right—from moving to the most populous American city on a whim to pitching herself to prospective employers door-to-door.
LEARNING FROM SCRAP
Born in London to Zimbabwean parents, Simoyi’s life has been anything but formulaic. She only stayed in England for a year or two before her parents relocated to their native country of Zimbabwe. Simoyi lived there until she was seven, and it’s where she got her first taste for fashion. Her aunt, a graduate of the London College of Fashion, owned a lingerie company there.
“She always had scraps, and instead of throwing them out, she’d let me and my cousins play with them,” Simoyi recalls. “We learned to sew, knit, and make clothes for ourselves and our dolls. I wasn’t good. I’m sure I jabbed myself a bunch of times.” Simoyi would spend afternoons making matching outfits, particularly skirts, for herself and her dolls.
“Our family encouraged creativity,” she said. “At the same time, my mom made things out of necessity. Making clothes in Zimbabwe wasn’t a matter of fashion or design. It was a necessity. You got fabric from the market and made your own clothing. That was nothing out of the ordinary.”
Still, Simoyi found solace in her newfound childhood hobby. “I loved having a blank canvas and creating a finished product,” she said.
Simoyi’s parents, both academics, left Zimbabwe and would wind up with jobs at WVU. Her dad was a chemistry professor, and her mom worked in health sciences. With no more access to her aunt’s scraps, Simoyi’s passion for fashion faded. As an adolescent, she never imagined making a career out of design or fashion, so after high school she enrolled in the psychology program at WVU. Simoyi completed her freshman year and awakened to an epiphany on her first day as a sophomore. She’d already registered for her psych classes, but something didn’t feel right. “I wanted to do fashion,” she said.
Simoyi switched her major and would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and merchandising from the WVU Division of Design and Merchandising. “I loved the program,” she said. “I got the opportunity to know my professors and they got to understand me. It was like a family.”
She credits Nora MacDonald, a fashion design and merchandising professor, for fostering that family-like atmosphere. “I’d sit in her office for an hour and we wouldn’t just talk about class,” Simoyi said. “She’d asked me about my family and what inspires me.”
SUCCESS BY DESIGN
Whatever the inspiration—even if it comes in the form of uprooting to another city with no money, job, or home—it has paid off fashionably for her.
A designer clothing company called Brooklyn Industries listened to her “I’m from West Virginia and need a job” pitch and hired her as a retail sales associate. Simoyi would soon grow out of that supporting role and be promoted to technical designer. In that role, she was exposed to the “cutthroat technical underside of fashion.”
She kept climbing.
After a few years, she wanted to flourish on her own. She wanted to work for herself, not a company. At the same time, she thought African women were underrepresented in the fashion industry. She wanted to change that.
“Even when I’m staying up late and waking up early, I never feel like I’m working.”
She was soon featured on TLC’s_ I’ve Got Nothing to Wear!_, and participated in Style Wars, a style competition that features young designers and their avant-garde designs. Then, in September 2010, she debuted her spring/summer 2011 collection at New York City’s Fashion Week. Calling her new brand FARAI, a representation of soft/steel/bohemian, she describes it as a symbiotic juxtaposition of the styles and experiences gained in Africa, Appalachia, Europe, and the streets of New York City: woman, warrior, wayward traveler. “The feedback I received from Fashion Week propelled me forward,” Simoyi said. “That was the real start of my journey.”
Her designs are more than just clothing. Her brand is a way of life. “I call it ‘Bohemian luxury,’” she said. “Bohemian is a free-spirited, open term. There’s movement in the shapes and fabrics. That’s the vibe I want with the brand. It’s a loving brand, and it’s inclusive for all people.
“In terms of luxury, luxury to me is a feeling of class. You’re showing class. I’ll never reveal anything on a woman’s body but there’s a feminine, sexy feel to it.” In addition to working on her own brand, Simoyi freelances and assists other companies with their designs.
She also hopes to give back to her family’s native country. She launched her brand in Zimbabwe last fall and wants to be part of the arts, entertainment, and fashion movement that’s currently happening there.
She’s also giving back to her alma mater. In March, she returned to WVU to share the secrets of her up-and-coming fashion design business with students and faculty. Perhaps the secret is that she doesn’t feel like it’s work. “Even when I’m staying up late and waking up early, I never feel like I’m working.”
For more info on FARAI by Farai Simoyi, visit www.faraisimoyi.com.