Tanzanian designer Christine Mhando has always loved clothes and when she was a young girl, living with her family in Buru Buru, she quite literally fell in love with the magic of dressmaking. Born in Dar es Salaam, her family moved to Kenya when she was two years old. When her brother was born her mother’s younger sister, an avid dressmaker, came to Nairobi to help out. Christine would watch as she worked at her sewing machine, fascinated by how a pile of material would ‘magically’ transform into a dress. When her aunt stepped away she would come back to find Christine sitting at the machine with her foot on the pedal waiting for the magic to happen.
When she was 10, Christine’s family moved to London where the BBC had employed her broadcaster father. Committed to her dream of working in fashion, Christine left secondary school at sixteen opting to do a practical course in fashion at the London College of Fashion instead of her A-Levels. She went on to study fashion design at the University of Kent where she graduated with an honours degree in 2002. After completing her studies, Christine interned with several high-end designers and then spent a few years working for a company that designs clothes on spec for brands such as Topshop and H&M.
On the weekends Christine would design and make clothes for herself, mostly out of khanga material she had been given as a gift by her family or had bought herself during visits to Tanzania. She was constantly asked where her clothes were from and received lots of compliments. It is from here that her fashion label was born: “The whole idea of Chichia came from me wearing my clothes and people reacting to them”. This is reflected in her brand’s name — Chichia — Christine’s childhood nickname. To this day Christine remains her first client and can often be seen wearing her own designs.
In the summer of 2008 Christine decided to make her first full collection, which she pitched to Laden Showroom – a fashion boutique in East London that showcases up-and-coming designers. This collection made entirely out of khanga was a great success. The boutique loved it and when items ran out, Christine would frantically make more on the weekends.
For a time Christine continued in this way, but when her father retired and moved back to Tanzania, she started to spend more and more time in Dar es Salaam, discovering the city anew as an adult. She found skilled tailors and decided to make her collections there, fostering more of a connection to her home country.
Christine continues to produce her collections in Tanzania, spending six weeks developing each collection with a group of tailors in Dar es Salaam. Together they experiment and refine designs. She then goes back to London, where she still lives, with the samples to create a lookbook and line sheet, which she sends to buyers. The full order is then made in Tanzania and shipped to the UK.
In the last few years, Chichia has gained international recognition with its special brand of “East Africa Meets London Cool” and even counts global superstar Beyoncé as a fan.