Please introduce yourself and your business to our community.
My name is Shanira Msale and I am the founder of R A H I S I, an African fashion brand whose core purpose is to celebrate, boast and affirm African cultures and ethnicities through jewelry and clothing. I am Tanzanian, born and raised in the city of Dar Es Salaam, and I live between Dar and Johannesburg as I pursue a fashion retailing degree in South Africa. R A H I S I designs take from influences and cultural backgrounds from all over the continent, with a strong foundation in East Africa.
At what point in your life did you realize your passion?
I have been sketching clothes since I was 7 or 8 years, but I realised that African fashion is something I am passionate about when I graduated high school. During this time, I was applying for social work courses at the best universities in South Africa with the hopes of starting a clothing business after I graduate. I know, this didn’t make sense to my mother either. She suggested that I study fashion instead, and that’s what I did. Today, I am in my final year of university and my baby R A H I S I turned 1 year as of the end of January.
What did you learn about yourself in 2020?
I learned that happiness is a priority and that I am responsible for my happiness. I learned that happiness is a priority and that I am responsible for my “own” happiness. I learned that even in the lockdown, I can still do things that excite me and make me happy other than Netflix, food and sleep, such as jogging, researching African ethnicities different from my own, reading novels from authors all over Africa from Chimamanda Ngozi of Nigeria to Titsi Dangaremgba of Zimbabwe to Clementine Wamariya of Rwanda (as you can tell by now, I took a liking to female authors).
I also learned that I am fearless and that I do things that scare me because they scare me. I find a release and power in facing my fears and that’s why I am drawn to trying any and everything that I think I can’t do, to remind myself that I have what it takes to conquer any challenge.
What do you attribute to your success in life and business?
I attribute all my success to trying and trying again. I am not afraid to try. Death is the worst thing that can happen to me, so if I try and I fail, is that failure going to kill me? If not, then bring it on, I am going to try it. I found that in trying I actually ‘DO.’ So ‘trying’ to start a business is what leads to what we all know as Rahisi.
I also owe my success to the inherent feeling that, in the end, everything is going to work out for my good and that all the downfalls I face are for the sake of making my journey captivating. No one wants to watch a movie or read a book without a little drama. God and my ancestors are on my side, and I am favoured, always. This gut feeling is what gives me the courage to try and do.
It is important for us to nurture a community of black women that share, learn, and thrive together. Please share a story of failure that taught you a valuable lesson.
R A H I S I did not make any sales for at least 6 months after it was launched.
I launched Rahisi in March 2020, the same month unforeseen nationwide lockdowns took the world by storm. Both South Africa and Tanzania, the countries I work in, were not exempt from this. I made an emergency exit from South Africa and headed for Tanzania, leaving all R A H I S I merch in Johannesburg. Because of this, I did not make any sales for 6 months. I started to question my talent and abilities, I was uncertain if I was suited to the African fashion industry. My parents even had a conversation with me about choosing a safer career path. During this time, I neglected my business because every time I logged into my Instagram account I felt like a failure.
Instead, I would spend most of my time indulging in positive distractions like reading novels, jogging, cooking, and laughing with my family. After a series of journaling and reminding myself that my lack of sales does not reflect on incompetence and rather the situation and trauma the entire world experienced. One day, 6 months later, I decided to start over. I didn’t have less money and less enthusiasm than I had the first time I started to work on R A H I S I but I went to my tailor and designed a simple dress. I wore it at a concert and first my Aunt bought it. Followed by my other aunt and then complete strangers wherever I went wearing that dress and the rest is history. I learned to never give up and to not be a victim of circumstance even in the midst of a pandemic. I learned the healing journaling can bring and I learned that I am my greatest cheerleader.
Please let us know the woman you were 5 years ago and who you’re becoming?
5 years ago, I was struggling to make peace with the fact that I was different from all my peers. That the way I operate was not bad but it was different and, frankly, sometimes strange. I grew up in a liberal African home where I was raised differently, in the sense that I didn’t see the problem in wearing short or revealing clothes. My parents didn’t severely punish me so I couldn’t relate to the strict African parent narratives my peers bonded over (still to this day) and the fact that I had acute OCD, which I was not aware existed, let alone that I had it.
However, I knew I was not about to change myself to fit in, but I also knew the consequences of remaining true to my ‘weird’ self. I was also the loudest in the room; I felt the need to have my presence acknowledged everywhere I went, so I made noise. My validation came from having all eyes on me and it killed my confidence when I didn’t feel noticed.
Today, I am becoming a self-validated and affirmed woman. I know my value and I know I am worthy. Even when no one tells me or notices me (which is quite rare given my very African style and enormous posterior), I do not feel the need to draw attention to know that I have value. I have learned the value of silence and that even if I am the only one in the room that knows of my greatness, that is enough. Like the African proverb says, ‘An empty debe makes a lot of noise’.
What women in your life have been a source of inspiration?
My mother is my number one role model because of her wisdom and positivity. She started a very successful consultancy firm in her early forty’s and now runs a youtube channel discussing African history and culture in her late 40’s. She shows me every day that age is not a deterrent. Because of her, I have never felt too old or young to do or start anything. I draw my passion for African culture and history from her. Almost every R A H I S I design is laced with my mother’s style.
My grandmother is also my inspiration for her rebellious spirit. She was born into an era of colonisation and acute sexism and yet she tested the limits every single time. She was educated and exposed, she didn’t believe that her clothing spoke louder than her mind. She may not know it, but she was a feminist by blood. She tells me stories of the number of times she was chased by groups of men threatening to jail her for wearing short skirts and I just sit and admire such a fearless and adamant spirit. She is also a fighter, being the eldest daughter in a household of 3 wives is challenging. She fought to protect her father’s inheritance for a decade before she won. She is persistent and persevering. I am proud to know her, let alone have her as my grandmother. I know you will read this, I love you bibi.
Celebrate your wins! Brag, sis. What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the first outfit I designed for men. A good friend of mine asked me to make something for him. I was hesitant at first because menswear was unfamiliar territory to me. It was his assurance that I would do a good job designing for him rather than his insistence to design for him that gave me the courage to try. I incorporated a stick figure embroidery that represents his personality and added a white bead chain at the back as a symbol of prosperity from the maasai tribe. That has been the best first attempt I have ever made.
Quoting Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Please share your self-care routine.
My self-care routine keeps changing to suit the position or stages I am in at any point in my life, however, the following things have remained consistent:
Journaling about how I feel, lessons I learned, and the things I am grateful for throughout the day every night is a pivotal part of my routine. I also enjoy learning about myself and how I think and unpacking the reasons why I reacted the way I did or felt the way I felt. I also include activities for the following day and plan them accordingly.
I stand in front of the mirror, I look myself in the eyes and I compliment myself. I compliment my appearance and my intangible qualities. This part of my routine fuels me with a lot of confidence and appreciation for who I am.
I also exercise in the evenings at least 4 times a week. Jogging, cycling, or skipping rope helps me release all the accumulated frustration of the day and these energetic activities genuinely make me happy.
You are part of our melanin muse tribe. How can we help you on your journey?
Ordering R A H I S I merchandise via Instagram as well as reposting and commenting your thoughts on the items that draw your attention is a great way to foster R A H I S I’s growth.