Farai Simoyi is a fashion entrepreneur you should have on your radar.
Earlier this year, the world was introduced to Farai Simoyi on Netflix’s Next in Fashion. Simoyi and her partner, Kiki Kitty, had a hard time on the show, and it seemed like judges Alexa Chung and Tam France were not feeling anything they created. Whenever the team did get a compliment, it was just barely. After a while, it appeared as if they were being kept around solely to bear the brunt of criticism—more for the sake of drama than fashion. It all came to a head during episode four when the contestants were given a challenge to design a streetwear ensemble.
Simoyi and Kitty have designed tons of streetwear in their respective careers. In addition to other projects, Kitty helped launch FUBU’s women’s line back in the 90s, and Kitty and Simoyi both helped design Nicki Minaj’s line for K-Mart. In short, their aesthetics aligned with the challenge, but once again most of the judges were extremely hard on them. Simoyi and Kitty didn’t even have the worst design in the episode, so the critiques seemed especially nitpicky. For example, the pair designed denim-trimmed rompers for men and women which featured a raw hem. According to most of the judges, the raw hems didn’t look intentional. Despite raw hemming on jeans being on trend in general, Simoyi and Kitty were told it was neither refined nor stylish. Guest judge Kirby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss was the only one who understood their vision.
Jean-Raymond refused to vote against them in what seemed like a set up, and Simoyi articulated what a lot of people were thinking: Why does the industry praise white designers for subpar streetwear fashion and ripping off so-called “urban” designers, but when designers from within the culture create streetwear they’re criticized for it? She didn’t say it in those words and it was condensed for TV, but that was the gist. Jean-Raymond agreed citing that he’d started Pyer Moss because the gatekeepers in the fashion industry didn’t want to give him a chance. When he finally started to get his big break, bigger brands (like Louis Vuitton, for example) began stealing his designs.
Simoyi and Kitty were eliminated the following week. (And, again, there were worse designs in that episode.) But life goes on, and at least it highlighted the important issue of erasure in fashion. Simoyi in particular has been working to combat erasure and appropriation in the world of fashion. She isn’t new to this, but now more than ever is the perfect time to keep giving her the props she deserves. Simoyi is the founder and creative director of the Narativ. It’s a standalone brand that helps independent designers from around the world increase visibility and partner with larger brands to minimize appropriation. Narativ has a brick-and-mortar store in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, as well as an online marketplace.
There’s a lot of greatness here, but these are five reasons we love the Narativ:
Started from The Bottom Now We’re Here
Farai Simoyi was born and raised in Zimbabwe. Growing up she was surrounded by colorful fashion and creative people who didn’t have the money to buy new gear all the time, but they had enough imagination to make and upcycle their own funky styles. Simoyi learned to sew and picked up the infectious creativity of her friends and relatives who are all about doing it for themselves. Eventually, she landed in Brooklyn, New York, where she started to make a name for herself in the fashion world. Simoyi has 15 years of experience designing and consulting for some of the biggest names in the world such as Jay-Z, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Rachel Roy, and others. She founded the Narativ in August 2017. It’s described as “a curated house of ethically sourced artisan brands from around the world known as The Narrators.” The Narativ embraces sustainability and ethics, two key elements that fashion needs more of.
One-of-a-Kind Is King
Fast fashion has taken the novelty out of everything, and even a lot of designer gear is everywhere. However, the items curated for the Narativ are artisan goods made by independent designers. So, whatever you purchase will be limited edition—that’s as close to exclusive as you can get. The actual store is closed, but the online marketplace still features a diverse collection of shoes, bags, home decor, accessories, face masks, and more for sale.
Fashion as a Culture
The Narativ is about helping designers share their design story through their work, hence the company’s name. As a result, Simoyi also uses her brand to partner small designers with bigger brands. For example, if Zara decides it wants to produce a line of African-inspired looks, they could consult with the Narativ to figure out how to ethically make that happen.
Indie Designers Matter
Indie designers often have their designs ripped off by bigger brands or companies based outside the U.S. that will sell a replica for much less. It’s important to buy directly from an indie if you can because they need the money to continue operations. Indies often don’t have the manpower or capital to lower their prices, and they also don’t have the means to fight everyone who makes knock-offs of their creations. It might seem cool to pay less for the copycat, but it hurts a lot more people than you think.
Supporting Black Businesses Is Always Major
Historically, Black businesses—more so than other groups—have struggled to raise the capital needed to continue to function, and COVID-19 has only made that worse. CBS News has reported that 40% of Black-owned businesses are expected to close during this period. That is a devastating statistic, but we can help. Supporting a Black-owned business can range from shopping there (if you have the means) to something as simple as sharing its story. The Narativ’s retail location is currently closed for renovations, but again, the website is still active, and it takes nothing to share their social media content with people who might be interested.