A stitch in time

By By Dorcas Mhungu
October 2011
Women in Business
When a passion is entwined with talent, the end result is excellence and when found in a person who is humble and modest, it becomes awesome.

Forty-seven year old Susana Unomuinjo Tjikoromuinjo is an amazing character and a classic designer soaring to lofty heights and thriving on an intrinsic and instinctive designing talent.

Tjikoromuinjo might not have the academic prowess and formal training as a clothes designer but anyone who sees her work will no doubt gasp with admiration.

Little or unknown in the public sphere of fashion designers in Namibia, Tjikoromuinjo’s fame remains obscured in Okuryangava high density suburb of Katutura.

But what makes her unique is her outstanding creativity and designing skills anchored on primary education. Tjikoromuinjo’s highest level of education is Grade Seven but the garments she designs and makes, match or exceed those made by designers who went to special cutting and designing colleges.

She says, “I have always had a passion for sewing and the inspiration comes from my late mother who was a dressmaker. From an early age I used to saw.”

In 1992, Tjikoromuinjo landed her first job at Biggie Best, initially sewing curtains and later dresses. It gave her the first practical experience in a work environment.

Her five year stint with Biggie Best was cut short when the company closed shop and relocated to South Africa. She also faced the same fate when Big and Tall where she had got a job relocated to South Africa.

It was during her employment with Riet Maton, a designer, that her innate designing skills were evoked and unraveled. She learnt a lot by watching and practicing.

In 2003, she started her Ngaizikane Mini Sewing Project after buying herself a sewing machine and stopped working. Since that time, her business has continued to grow.

The two bed-roomed house that Tjikoromuinjo has is serving a dual purpose of being a home and a business premise rendering it too small for the 15 people living there.

Many Otjiherero women throng the house to place their orders, beautiful ovaHerero traditional dresses, wedding dresses and trendy matric outfits. When business started booming, she recruited her sister Karitutuma Kaunatjike and taught her how to sew.

There are six boys, part of her family, who sleep in the living room because one of the bedrooms is almost full with dress materials leaving very little walking and working space.

Tumaa, a Grade 10 pupil and daughter to Kaunatjike, says the crammed sleeping order is a phase and not a bother because she is happy that the business is making enough money to feed and clothe the family members.

In addition to her sister, Tjikoromuinjo employs two other women.

Operating in these crowded conditions, the projects rakes in an income averaging N$5 000 net per month but the number of garments made in a month varies because some designs and styles are more difficult and demanding to make than others.

It is home industries like these also popularly known as the informal sector that have propped economies of countries like China to become economic giants to reckon with.

The road to fame for Tjikoromuinjo is definitely on. In 2008, Inge Murangi chairperson of the organising committee of Legendary Dress Designers Competition invited her to participate in an annual competition that promotes the German dress culture in Namibia.

The traditional long Herero dress has its roots in Germany and the Hereros adopted the style from missionaries’ women. The hat, however, resembles and pays homage to the cattle that are so important to the Herero people.

In the debut competition, Tjikoromuinjo did not win a prize but that did not dampen her spirit because the following year she won the second prize. Last year, she scooped the top prize for the best Herero dress design that took her and five other participants to Germany.

The rationale behind the competitions, Murangi says, is to bring out the grassroots designers from the “kambashus” and high density areas into the mainstream and to preserve and keep the culture of the Herero dress alive and appealing to the young generations.

About Tjikoromuinjo, Murangi says, “Some people are born with it and she is one of them. Susana has a natural talent and desire to make people look nice and to serve the people.”

Tjikoromuinjo says, she is going to apply for a loan to finance her business and a training program for orphans and girls who fail Grade 12 after she realised that there is life after failing an academic examination.

Eight years ago, she won a tender to supply Namdeb corporate wear.

“That was the first and last time we won a tender,” says the puzzled Tjikoromuinjo.

But what is clear is her limited knowledge of the tender processes. She had been assisted by the former Minister of Veterans Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange to tender for the Namdeb tender.

Her message to fellow Namibian women is not to sit on their laurels and always hold out hands to Government for handouts.