I first saw Eli Niyonzima’s clothes while walking around at the Open Design Festival in Cape Town’s massive City Hall with its long, cold corridors. I found myself in a room full of stalls of local designers and entrepreneurs. The first thing which caught my attention was a stall with cool jackets, high-waisted pants and skirts which had endless patterns of African print.
Fast-forward a year in front of a room full of fashion lovers, bloggers and style enthusiasts, Eli launched a brand new range called Sportluxe. I remember thinking to myself how magical that moment must have been, and I wanted to know more.
The clothing label Masa Mara was founded by 24-year-old Eli Niyonzima, originally from Rwanda, who moved to South Africa in 2006. He recently exhibited at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival where he had some high-profile customers. ‘Khuli Chana walked straight to my stall, out of all the stalls that were there and he purchased a Masa Mara item. Damn it was so exciting, man. Right after that the tall bulky guy from Rhythm City [David Genaro aka Jamie Bartlett] came and bought a jacket for his son,’ says Eli during our meeting at The Nest Space in Cape Town.
Introduce yourself and your brand.
My name is Amza Niyonzima known as Eli Gold. I am the founder and creative director of a fashion brand called Masa Mara Wear.
Masa Mara represents the harmony that can exist between the past and the present; the traditional and the modern. Our designs honour the cultural wear of various tribes while blending these elements with urban wear. It has the aim of introducing traditional values to today’s generation, while celebrating their innovation.
What are your earliest memories of fashion, design or designing?
I was about 12 years old, my mum had bought clothes for myself and five of my siblings. I remember going hysterical because I did not like the fact that these items were all the same and one could not differentiate our personalities. I did not want to look like my siblings. I got a good beating from my mother for not being appreciative and I guess that was the day I declared I want to make my own garments.
Who are some of the people who influence or inspire you?
I honestly do not have a specific person who inspires me. I garner my inspiration from local designers as well as well-established ones. I do a lot of trend research as well so there is a lot of influence there too.
Where do you think Africa is on the fashion and style landscape?
Africa’s fashion is really growing at a high speed. Now there is a lot of confidence amongst African designers. African designers are expressing themselves quite boldly all over the world. Also, looking at fashion lovers and the rate at which they are growing reflects that they are finding themselves through narratives told by African designers.
What statement are you making with your fashion brand?
Telling African cultural stories and introducing traditional values of different tribes to the world and to today’s generation.
What was the thinking behind your recent range Sportluxe?
I had desire to make something which would allow people the freedom of movement and comfort in African colours or prints, and this is how I came to design my fabric that comes in different textures and different colour prints.
What sets this range apart from what you have done in the past?
It differs from all my other ranges and all that has ever been done by any designer. We are the first brand to make African sports garments with African prints.
What’s that one thing you truly want for your brand?
I want my brand to continue existing after I’m gone. I am building a legacy for African urban and fashion warriors.
What are some of the challenges you face as a brand?
Finances are always are always a drawback for up and coming designers or brand that are doing it from nothing and as well as people that are still learning to appreciate or support local designers or brands. In the near future we want to showcase at the SA Menswear & Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.
Find out more at their fb page Masa Mara Wear