Autistic son inspired fashion designer

The Zimbabwe-born designer’s label called Tsitsi Fred Knitwear was voted the best from a competitive field that included Pesnique, RAAAH, House of Hohwa and S.Vingo.

The Daily News on Sunday’s Dakarai Mashava recently spoke to Fred on her career as a fashion designer. Below are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Who is Tsitsi Fred?

A: I am a Zimbabwe-born emerging knitwear designer who is well known for her signature artisanal knits that are textural and colourful.

As a young girl, I grew up with my aunt who owned a knit studio.  This is where I got inspiration from as I used to knit alongside the workers, learning simple techniques.

I studied fashion textiles (Knitwear) at University of Arts London (London College of Fashion) and am currently in the process of launching my label Tsitsi Fred Knitwear in the UK.

When it comes to design, I always make samples and garments that are empowering.

I challenge traditional techniques and I try to push boundaries of modern knitwear.

My knits are made of a mixture of fine and thick cotton and luxurious yarns. I take my inspiration from immediate environments as well as around the world.

Q: Is it true that Tsitsi Fred Knitwear was inspired by your autistic son?

A: My S/S 17 collection “Knowing Dylan” is a knitwear collection that is inspired by my autistic son Dylan.

Through research, I integrated my findings into fashion where materials, colour, texture, functionality and practicalities of the garments are all taken into consideration to suit the needs of the autistic as well as the non-autistic.

The aim is to break the boundaries of a neurotypical culture and raise neurodevelopmental awareness to the society.

Q: When did you start Tsitsi Fred Knitwear?

A: Tsitsi Fred Knitwear is an emerging brand which started in 2015, based in London in the United Kingdom.

I started as a knit sample designer; collaborating with big companies. I did sampling for them when I was still a student.

After I graduated from London College of Fashion, I had enough time on my hands and I then decided to push myself and started making garments.

Currently, I work on my own, I design and make my own garments.  Based on the way things are at the moment I am sure by next year I will be focussing on commissioning other knitwear designers for garment construction purposes.

Apart from designing, Tsitsi Fred is an outreach Mentor/Tutor for the London College of Fashion and through my university projects I have since showcased my collection on various occasions and participated in community autism awareness projects in Greenwich Borough.

My job as a mentor includes teaching sixth form students from various colleges in and outside London.

Q: What would you say has been Tsitsi Fred Knitwear’s proudest moment?

A: In November 2014, I participated in a Pitti Filati (Italy) project where I represented London College of Fashion.

I made samples that were selected for production of a garment that showcased in Florence, Italy in January 2015.

Through the success of 2014 project, I was then nominated in April 2016 to collaborate with my former tutor where we made garments for a “wake up” S/S 17 collection that exhibited at Pitti Filati, Florence Italy in June 2016.

This was my proudest moment as Pitti Filati is an international exhibition that gave me so many opportunities and I got to meet with and learnt a lot from big established textile brands/designers.

It is every designer’s dream to be part of this exhibition.  I was one of the exhibitors and I am still proud of myself and the work I delivered on this project.

I was also proud to have won the ZFSUK Fashion Designer of the Year 2016 title at the Fashion Showcase held in Birmingham in July 2016.

My demographic group for “Knowing Dylan” included men and women aged 18 – 40.

In this collection, the wearer is raising an awareness to those who are not familiar with neurodevelopmental conditions.

It is also an encouragement as to how to think smarter about people who think differently and that they can also have the same dress taste regardless of their circumstances.

My aim is to continue working with the same age range but on my next collection I am planning to add exclusive kids’ garments.

This will be trial for my future project where I will be working with physically-disabled children and I cannot disclose full details of this project at the moment.

Q:  Are you in touch with the Zimbabwean fashion scene?

A: I am working towards familiarising myself with fashion scene back home.

At the moment, my response is based on Zimbabwean fashion scene in the UK.  I feel there is still a lot for our designers to learn.

The way Zimbabwean fashion industry works in the UK still makes it really difficult for us to be accepted as professionals.

I encourage people who have passion for fashion to take further studies be it college or university degrees.

That way we will form fashion creatives who are well-equipped and together we will successfully change our Zimbabwean Fashion scene.

I am inspired and encouraged by a few who are doing things by the book and have achieved a lot in their pathways.

These include Tapiwa Dingwiza of S.Vingo Bespoke, Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri of Vanhu Vamwe, Vuyelwa Mabena of Vuyelwa Mabena brand and Rahima Mohamed of Raaah.  I have not collaborated with any of my fellow Zimbabwean designers but talks are still underway.

Q: Is your family supportive of your fashion initiative?

I am a single mother of one.  I get all the support and encouragement from my sisters Shamiso and Maria Fred and these are the two behind my success.

My brother-in-law, Charles Chigumira, has always been my advisor since he has an art background.

I also get endless support from my parents back home and not forgetting my son who has always been my inspiration and keeps me going at all times.