Zimbabwean Designer Behind Nicki Minaj’s Fashion Line; Farai Simoyi

When Zimbabwean fashion designer, Farai Simoyi first moved to New York City, she was hired as a Senior Denim Designer for House of Dereon, the clothing line by mega-artist, Beyonce and her mother, Tina Knowles. Simoyi recalls one day, standing on the 17th floor of a building in Times Square, the heart of Manhattan an.

Farai Gundani

I caught up with the rising fashion mogul before the whirlwind of Fall 2015 New York Fashion Week which opened yesterday, to talk about her work on the Nicki Minaj collection, the business of fashion and building her own fashion brand, ‘Farai’.

d having an epiphany; “look at how far I have come and how much I have accomplished; I am a Zimbabwean designer on the design team TISI -0.66% for Beyonce’s clothing line and my parents were raised in huts in Zimbabwe, Africa,” she said, awed by the trajectory of her life.

Fast forward to today, the London-born, Zimbabwean-raised and American-educated fashion prodigy is the Senior Designer for Nicki Minaj‘s fashion collection, which is available exclusively through K-Mart. Much like her boss Nicki Minaj, the only woman on the FORBES’ Hip Hop Cash Kings list (since 2011) who once told a Forbes contributor, “I am not going to fall back from something because it’s never been done before by a woman,” Simoyi’s foray into fashion took the same tone and tenacity. “Building my own fashion label from scratch has been a major challenge on it’s own, but building a brand in one of the most unstable industries is even tougher,” said the Zimbabwean fashion designer, “but I don’t see myself doing anything else,” she emphasized, resolutely.

Farai Simoyi, Fashion Designer

FARAI GUNDAN: New York Fashion Week Fall 2015 is upon us! What should we expect on the runway this season from your fellow designers? What are the trends for the 2015 Fall/Winter season?

FARAI SIMOYI: Grays, blues, black, & white showcasing as primary colors with pops of bright colors. Details and embellishments are coming to the front of the garment with tie front tops and dresses with front zipper and button closures. Silhouettes are looser, offering easy fits with slight inspiration taken from men’s wear. Culottes are making a comeback and tonal prints are making a major statement.

Congratulations on your role as Senior Designer for the Nicki Minaj collection! How did the opportunity as Senior Designer come about for you to work with a major award-winning artist like Nicki Minaj? Could you also give us some insight into your work as Senior Designer for Nicki Minaj Collection?

SIMOYI: Thank you Farai! The opportunity for me to work for the brand was through a relationship that turned into a close friendship. I am a firm believer in industry relationships, networking, and staying connected with former bosses and colleagues via Linkedin or through email.There is a misconception that working in fashion is glamorous on one end and menial on the other end. It is a beautiful combination of a lot of hard work and big rewards. As Senior Designer for the Nicki Minaj collection, I have a responsibility each season to ensure that the entire line that we design and produce, reflects the true aesthetic of the brand as envisioned by Nicki Minaj. This not only includes apparel, but also outerwear, swim, jewelry, bags, sunglasses, and hats.

What does a typical day, if there is such a thing for a fashion designer?

SIMOYI: A typical day for me consists of a mix of design, production, merchandising, factory, and marketing meetings. It takes all of these departments working harmoniously to create just one garment. So, depending on how far we are into the development the collection of each season, dictates which departments I work closely with. We just launched the Nicki Minaj Spring 2015 collection on February 1st, so prior to that launch we spent weeks working with models, stylists, make-up artists, hairstylists, photographers on the photoshoot to create look-books (collection of images compiled to showcase a clothing line) for the press, media, stylists as well as for our e-commerce store.

From conception to a consumer actually making a retail purchase, please describe for us the value chain for a brand such as Nicki Minaj?

SIMOYI: A brand at the level of Nicki Minaj requires a high level of professionals all working together. The season begins with our Creative Director, Kiki Peterson, who creates the direction for the season through ideas inspired by Nicki Minaj. The role of a Creative Director is crucial because they set the tone for an entire season which is broken down into Fall, Holiday, Spring, Summer. From there, my role as Senior Designer comes in to play as I have to design for each season within the creative direction given to me by Kiki, my Creative Director. We build the creative story of the collection at this point and it is a collaborative and iterative process between Kiki and myself, until I hand off the agreed-upon and approved sketches (by Nicki) to our Production team. The Production team reviews all designs and fabrications and decides which region of the world each garment will be produced; here in the USA, in China, India etc. They factor in the capabilities of the factories, the fabrications, and the difficulty of the design in determining and deciding which factory gets a specific design. After we receive our samples, our Merchandising team will then build a story of the collection at the retail level. Within a collection, there are mini collections; the merchandising team will put together mini collections so that when the customer is shopping, they have a clear point of view of the brand. When the collection arrives at a K-Mart store, the inventory team at the retail level unpacks the shipments and starts filling the store with merchandise. At the same time the Visual Merchandising team dress the mannequins with the new looks, updating store visuals, images, music, and interactive monitors to reflect the launch of the new season. The inventory and visual merchandising teams at retail level work late into the night when stores are closed. The next morning when stores open, customers are welcomed with the fresh look of the new collection.

The fashion industry is very competitive; how is the Nicki Minaj collection performing; what are the sales revenues for the line? What is the demographics of her target audience?

SIMOYI: The Nicki Minaj Collection is doing very well. I am on the creative side and not on the business side therefore I do not have our sales revenue numbers. We are Junior/Contemporary brand, so our target market ranges from teens to adults. We offer silhouettes that are daring, urban chic, but also offer looks that transition from office to after hour event, say cocktail hour.

Beyond the creativity, what does the business of fashion entail? What do fashion designers need to know about the industry beyond being able to design or having a degree in Fashion & Design?

SIMOYI: To run a successful business in fashion it is very important to have a detailed description of who your target market is and break down that target audience into sub-categories. This includes gender, age, income, hobbies, spending habits, career, lifestyle, relationships. I also recommend investing in building these departments for your fashion label:
1. Graphics Department: they develop original print and art designs for your garments that fit within the aesthetic of your brand. They also liaise between designer and production to ensure quality of print and art are executed correctly. – Forbes

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