Each week we will be highlighting one of the fabulous emerging designers from Phoenix Fashion Week 2016. This week, meet Designer Emily Smith who at just 23 years old is the founder of Mowa by Emily Smith and a costume specialist at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
Tell us about your brand, Mowa by Emily Smith: The name change is due to Emily Smith Designs being too common to trade mark. Mowa is a Setswana word, which is the national language of Botswana. It means the soul. I found it very fitting for myself and my brand for a few different reasons. There is an expression that we have, which is that, you can take an African out of Africa, but you can never take Africa out of an African. I feel that my soul belongs in Africa and is forever connected to it. It is the place from which I draw my inspiration. From within myself but intern from my love and longing for Africa. It also represents my customer, because I see her as a free spirit, with fire and passion and unforgiving courage. I think of her soul, her lust for life and her wild passionate heart.
What is your brand message? Bold, passionate, contemporary attire for the free spirited woman. Tagline: Wild at Heart
Hometown: Gaborone, Botswana and raised in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa I have grown up amongst a rich and vivacious culture. But I am multi-cultured, a confusing mix of vastly different cultures from across the world. This being the result of being born from an American mom, Zimbabwean dad, and being raised in both Botswana and South Africa. If you ever hear me speak you might also notice that my accent is just as confused as my cultural fusion. I’ve been lucky enough because of this, to gain perspective, cultural adaptability and a love and appreciation for all walks of life.
First fashion job: My first job in the fashion industry was actually my internship with Angelo Lambrou in New York. Angelo is also a Botswana designer and we have a few very close family friends in common. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with Angelo. It was a lot of work and a lot of learning but I was able to be involved in every part of the business. The hands on experience, has definitely made me more confident as a designer as well as the business experience of working in a fashion house in New York. I feel very lucky to have met and been able to work with Angelo. He treated me like family and still to this day he has given me his advise and support.
When did you know you had a passion for fashion: I began designing when I was 13 years old. Alone and feeling lost at a boarding school in South Africa; I discovered design as a way to focus on something positive. It didn’t take long to realize that this had become a major part of my life. By the time I was 17, I had over 800 designs, and the realization that this wasn’t something that I could live without. So I got a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Fashion Design, bringing me to Tampa, and giving me the knowledge that I needed to create what I envision.
Person who has impacted your life the most: My Mom has been the biggest influencer in my life. She is an amazing woman, strong, adventurous and incredibly smart. It’s no wonder that I envision my brand to be for spirited, strong women, because that is who she is and how she raised me to be. She has always been my biggest supporter and no matter what crazy idea that I had, she was always on board. I asked her once about why she was always so supportive of my ideas. She said that she trusted me, and my vision, and that she knew that I was smart and knew what I was doing, even if she didn’t. Hearing her say that, made me realize how truly lucky I am to have her. She has always believed in me and she helped me to believe in myself. She is the reason that I am strong, the reason that I fight for myself, and what I believe in, and the reason why I have the strength and courage to chase my dreams and make them a reality.
Your biggest fashion accomplishment in your eyes: My biggest fashion accomplishment to date is being selected to be apart of this amazing program with Phoenix Fashion Week. This is no doubt the beginning of something amazing. Forgive me for being cheesy, but I feel as if the Phoenix Fashion Week team is the wind beneath my wings, giving me the push and support that I need to take off and fly.
The biggest obstacle you have overcome: My biggest obstacle, I would say was leaving home at such a young age. I started at a boarding school in South Africa when I was 12 and graduated when I was 17. Being in a foreign county and living with 300 girls took its toll. Being in such a strict and ridged environment was even worse. I found freedom in my designs. It’s where I discovered my love for design. My experience there didn’t get much easier but my designs gave me solace. Finding my passion for design was the shining light from that time in my life. It truly shows that everything happens for a reason. My most trying time brought me the best thing in my life.
A Designer who inspires you: I have always loved Roberto Cavalli because I feel a connection to his designs. I feel as if we have a similar aesthetic. The way that he mixes prints, his use of bold colors, choice of prints and his use of furs and continual use of African prints and African influence in his works.
Favorite quote: “If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Roald Dahl
Advice to someone pursuing a career in fashion as a designer: I would advise to always stay true to yourself and your vision no matter how different it is, and no matter how many people may try to convince you to change it. There will always be neigh sayers out there, you can choose not to listen to them.
Favorite piece you have ever designed: I love this design, because it is free, wild and uninhibited.
For more information about Mowa by Emily Smith, visit mowabyemilysmith.com.
If you would like to attend Phoenix Fashion Week 2016, you can purchase tickets here: bit.ly/PHXFWFABAZ. Use promo code FABAZ for $20 gift card good towards any seat (not applicable towards standing room tickets).