The Practice of Living Your Brand’s Message; Masa Mara As A Uniform For The Brave.
The fashion brand, Masa Mara, was born out of a need to be heard, and a need to belong.
Masa Mara translates to “building something, from nothing”.
Nyambo MasaMara was born into a harsh reality; he was three years old when he and his family had to escape the turmoil in Rwanda and set roots in refugee camps.
He believes that his loss of home, and his upbringing in heavily controlled spaces, had a huge impact on his creative expression.
“Almost everything is told, so your life belongs to others. And when I had freedom, when I had a voice; it didn’t come with words”, he recalls, “clothes became a voice or a platform that I could express myself.”
His brand, Masa Mara, is unapologetic in its use of colour. The designer believes that colours are language and energy. The brand proudly exclaims; “I’m here. I belong here. I do not have to say a word.”
Along the way Nyambo received a lot of repetitive feedback about his bold garments,
“it’s too colourful”, “you’re too noisy”, “you’re too bright.”
Mentors and others told him to tone it down and simplify; to use colour and pattern more selectively. His response was consistent, “how am I going to tell my story within the hem of a collar or sleeve?”
Fashion was not actually his initial focus. Years of work had gone into his music career. When he started designing custom pieces for his performances, he felt the power that this ‘uniform’ gave him, and decided that he needed that energy to bleed into his daily life. This is when he started getting noticed for his unique pieces, people were intrigued.
“I saw and understood that people were not ready. I knew from the beginning that they wanted it, but they were not ready. So, how do I make them ready?”
He took the leap, leaving his corporate job. He realised that he was building skills that he did not connect with. Comfort was left behind to make space for chance.
The next phase was dedicated to research, observing, teaching and learning. From YouTube garment construction crash courses, to assisting friends who were talented tailors; Nyambo stitched together his techniques and understanding of this new fashion world of his.
The brand moved into its true evolution when Nyambo started producing and printing his own fabrics, which he uncovered at a show in 2016. “People were excited that I was allowing African fabric to speak. That was the beginning, that was the show that highlighted everything. This was my brand.”
Between 2017 and 2018 Masa Mara, the brand, went quiet while Nyambo MasaMara ventured to Rwanda in search of home.
He was surprised to still feel as if he did not belong in his homeland, the same feeling he had felt for years living in South Africa. He felt stuck in his experience of being welcomed into spaces, yet with limitations. He was chasing the human need to belong, but coming to terms with the fact that perhaps it would not be to a particular place.
An honest conversation with a friend brought to light the concept of being third cultured. He researched it and found that there was a whole nation of people that too felt this way.
“You belong everywhere but you also do not belong anywhere at the same time,” Nyambo expresses.
Having been away and deep within his personal journey, his brand had run stagnant. He needed a way to recapture attention. He knew that he needed to be consistent in his message of bravery.
He decided to crash SA Menswear Week in 2018.
He took along eight diverse models, dressed in Masa Mara. He re-taped used wristbands and he led them into the show.
“When we walked in – the cameras, the media, everyone turned and looked at us. And in that moment, I froze, ‘What do I do?’ The models are walking to my signal.” The audience, thinking this was a part of the show, left the stage and surrounded the Masa Mara warriors. People wanted to understand why he had done it.
“I said I’ve been in the industry for some time but the eyes were not seeing me. I’m here to introduce myself and let people know what I can do. The following year they invited me.”
This was a reminder that these colours are not just pigments and patterns, and that the moment you put them on, you feel it.
They led by example, they led by encompassing the brand message.
“Doing this revived me, it showed me that the brand is brave. It showed me that I am brave,” relays Nyambo, “I told the models that this is what the brand is about. When you put this garment on, you are putting on armour; you go through anything.”
SA Menswear Week 2019 was the first time Masa Mara was invited on stage. And this is when the commercial eye started appreciating his craft.
The next big moment was when Merchants on Long reached out to him with a request to stock his garments. This was a massive shift, but a harmonic one as both brands align in their goals to uplift Africa.
I asked Nyambo what’s next for him and the brand.
“The things that people have seen so far, was me learning, studying and equipping myself with knowledge and skills. I need to start now.”
So many of us are putting out a message of what we want our brands to say. Nyambo doesn’t do that, he lives in the practice of it.
It is not ‘this is for the brave ones’, it is ‘we are brave, we are here.’