So to start, what’s some of your brief background?
Briefly, I am Canadian. Growing up in five different countries, however, means I have experienced living in the United States, Canada, Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, and New Zealand. That experience has led me to develop a passion for travelling and for getting to know people; something that comes easily to me. I have never had trouble picking up and leaving or immersing myself somewhere new. I don’t like to get into the top of anything, slowly, like dipping a toe into a pool. I like to jump into everything.
It is this background that led me to being interested in political science because a lot of the people and places I meet – seemed to me – to come down to politics. I was 13 when I first became aware of the United Nations, at the time led by Secretary General Kofi Annan; an African! The concept of a community of fraternal nations, existing and cooperating in peace had a profound effect on me. I even began to participate in the model United Nations events put on by my school. In time, however, reality checked in and I became more aware of the challenges inherent in global trade, governance and security. After university I decided to pursue my Masters degree at the University of Auckland focused on immigration and nationalism, and how politicians design policies in their own interests. How, if you’re not local and don’t have citizenship, immigrants and workers are often treated as second class people.
That, in a nutshell, really helped me develop what I always was; an inquisitive person, interested in the concepts of equality and social justice. It helped me discover frameworks for interpreting the world while preserving something of my origins as a dreamer. It also led me to love, with a brilliant boy, another political scientist, working here in London.
Long distance was tough, no doubt about that! In the autumn of 2012, however, I finally moved to London to be with him, but finding my place still wasn’t easy. There weren’t many jobs often in my field at the time, so I took a job in procurement with a major restaurant management firm. At the time, I was hesitant about it, it was so different from the life and career I had pictured, but as I learned more about it, I realised everything in industry is connected, from finance to human and workers’ rights. The whole supply chain has to be transparent so that, as a company, you’re not screwed over, but also to ensure justice from the producer all the way to the retailer. We want to make sure those tomatoes are coming where you’re saying where they’re coming from, and meet the right standards, while ensuring the farmer isn’t being paid pennies.
The struggle was to find a way to connect the job to my passion for politics. That’s when I started blogging. I was like “Okay, I need to practice writing. I did my Masters, but I am not writing anymore. I’m not getting thoughts out to people who matter.” My blog was born; but originally it started out as something quite different from procurement. I have always been passionate about fashion, so it began as a photo journal of my outfits, travels and thoughts. It wasn’t until about a year later the bridge between the two began to form in my mind. Where do my clothes come from? Who makes them? Am I contributing to exploitation of people or the planet?
I quickly realised these thoughts weren’t unique. NGOs and activist group were out there trying to find the information and raise awareness. What I am trying to do is use my procurement experience, political knowledge and addiction to fashion to draw attention to the innate influence we all have as consumers.
Your name, in Shona (one of Zimbabwe’s indigenous languages), is Maonei, which means ‘Ain’t seen nothing yet.’ You are grateful to your mom for this name, too. How has this name reflected your personal life?
I think that in my personal life I admit that I get the thrill of learning something new. You think you understand something, and then somebody out of left field says, “Did you look at it this way?” All of the sudden, things change. I am addicted to that feeling, and to sharing it. I could be sitting with friends and we could be talking about vegetarianism, and I would be the one to talk about fruitarianism, and I love getting into those deep, unknown, topics and bringing it to the table.
Sometimes, it is receptive. Sometime, people are like “Natasha, the weirdest, random-est stuff comes out of your mouth.” That’s how I think I embody ‘ain’t seen nothing yet.’ I try to understand all different types of concepts. It is a reminder as well that I need to keep pushing myself.
You love fashion, beauty, and social justice, and you earned a masters degree in political theory and human security as well. Why these topics and that graduate level degree?
I would say that it’s because I’m an immigrant. I left Zimbabwe in 1997, my childhood there was quite great. My memories were great. I left and then I saw a whole exodus of my family leaving the country, and I remember my first memory of going back and realizing that the place had completely changed, and it’s really made a mark on me seeing people leave home.
We moved to the States. Then my mom’s siblings also moved, and I remember them coming with their backpacks, suitcases, and money (luckily) and living with us to getting a small apartment to then 2-3 years later having their own houses.
Immigration has always been a part of me, and I always want to figure out, “How do you migrate and make a success of yourself?” It is the Canadian story. What is the power of the diaspora? What do we owe to the people we “left behind”? What responsibilities do we have to our new country?
I do my best to question that you have to learn French and English (as you do in Canada), but I don’t know a word in Inuit, the language of our northern indigenous community. As an immigrant, it is a part of my responsibilities to ask these questions. If I am taking my exam for citizenship, I need to be critical about that. It was the same in New Zealand, where my father is also an immigrant. As a result I was able to study there, and it was there I was trying to figure out why I should do my masters.
The honest answer to that is that graduating from Carleton University there were very few jobs in political science at the time. If I did my masters, I would have a special skill and hopefully my CV would stand out. On top of that, both my mom and dad have PhDs. Education helped them climb the social ladder in Zimbabwe.
I have always been a strong proponent for education. That is another thing that pushes me to do my Masters. Fashion? I don’t want to say it’s just a Zimbabwe thing, but my family likes to look good. Even if it is a shirt, it is the way the shirt has to be ironed or folded. It is the small things.
You can have a nice shirt, but the shirt is not ironed. Why did you get it? They take pride in every little small thing, and this takes time, to the point it kind of was annoying as a kid. I was like, “Can we go?” But I have fond memories of my mom getting ready for work. She always looked great.
Now, since we travelled a lot, I was always forced to be as creative as possible with a small amount of clothes. I always loved it – loved it, loved it.
You are of Zimbabwean heritage. How does this influence personal, or even professional, life?
Professionally, I would say it is nice to be able to see that there are a lot of visible Zimbabwean immigrants in good jobs. By good jobs, I mean blue collar and white collar jobs. I do appreciate that when I enter networking events. I will not be the only Zimbabwean. I think that says a lot about the Zimbabwean education system and also the history of Zimbabwe.
The British colonial legacy is still visible. The University of Zimbabwe or University of Rhodesia at the time for instance. They had two campuses. The better one was in Zimbabwe and the weaker one was in Zambia. Even recent statistics says our literacy rate compared to much of Africa is quite high; one of the highest. Professionally coming from a country that values education has done really well for me and for fellow Zimbabweans in the diaspora.
Personally, I went through phases in my feeling about home. At times, I was embarrassed because what I saw in the news was criticism of Robert Mugabe or the on-going economic crisis and the collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar. Not understanding the news doesn’t always present a full story or highlight success.
At the time I didn’t question the stories or the motivations. I thought how backward people were back home. I thought of myself as Canadian. Even when I travelled, people thought I was African-Canadian , a lot like an African-American, but I’m a first generation Zimbabwean African Canadian! Figure that one out!
But that feeling didn’t last. When I went to university and found myself in a group of people from Southern Africa I rediscovered my desire to learn more about Africa and home, something I had been running away from.
I even participated in an African fashion pageant, “Miss AfroCan”, which highlighted African beauty in Canada’s Capital Region. Traditionally, you don’t wear swim suits in African fashion, and this one did not have a swim suit competition, but had a talent competition, for which I wrote poetry. It was glorifying the history of Africa and what it means to be African. For me this was a turning point in rediscovering the worth of my heritage.
You write about thoughtful food. What is thoughtful food and its importance?
Thoughtful food, for me, is that before you eat something think about the journey that it has travelled. It makes the experience of eating more fulfilling if you know where it came from, or if you invest your time in understanding it. Understanding that your body is unique, respecting your body, respecting what you put in it, and what God puts in it, and that is important in the supply chain. People don’t know what that banana went through to come to your plate an what effect you’re having by eating it.
What is the importance of sustainable fashion?
Making the a powerful statement without opening your mouth. It is a way to be politically involved without saying the wrong thing. Sometimes, you can be so passionate about something that when you’re trying to explain it someone and they don’t seem to get it and you might say the wrong things, hurting the cause. It is the same with fashion. You are speaking on behalf of women and men. You are speaking on behalf of the environment. You are speaking on future generations. You are speaking on behalf of something that is universal whether atheistic or religious: art.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
I’m really, really happy to have found this movement. I’m so happy to have found Trusted Clothes, to find like-minded people that are working from the ground-up in a very creative industry doing their part. It is fantastic. It gives me a reason to feel like I can make a difference without being overwhelmed. And I love fashion, and so it’s a perfect combination.
I am thankful to see all of the hard work that is going out there. It brings me to tears – the whole fashion revolution. I feel this stuff. I feel the pulse. I feel the energy.
Thank you for your time, Natasha.
Thank you so much, Scott!