It’s time for the last monthly maker of the year, and what a year it’s been! What better way to finish it off than with an interview with the super talented Brantina Chisango, founder of bespoke fashion label B’VARI.
Brantina and I met for our chat in Baltic Creative’s Zoom Rooms (Yes Zoom rooms are a thing now!) just around the corner from her studio at Make Baltic. Brantina has been a resident at Make for a few years now, so it was great to have a big catch up and see what she has been up to recently. She told us all about how she started the label and even gave me a glimpse into some of the new collections. Read on for some fashion inspo, and some exciting sneak peeks.
Hi Brantina! Can you tell us a bit about B’VARI?
I am the co-founder and owner of bespoke fashion label B’VARI. B’VARI specialise in unique and elegant one-off custom made designs with a fusion of western, vintage and African influences. Our brand is focused on celebrating women who have curves and spreading positive body image through fashion. Our passion is to make every woman feel unique, beautiful, fierce, stylish. And embrace their curves whatever size they are, whilst wearing our beautifully designed clothes.
I’m now working on a jewellery range, so I have been experimenting with clay and resin and working with architectural shapes.
I love to use bold colours and prints in my designs which is mostly influenced by my African culture. Also, I like to incorporate western influence, with vintage styles and fabric manipulation. I feel privileged to have the two different cultural influences Inspire my designs.
Fashion has always been a big part of my life. My mother was a fashion designer and a seamstress, so she used to make clothes. I was around that a lot and even made clothes myself. My dad was also very stylish and trendy, so I had a lot of style inspiration from my parents. My mother used lots of colour and patterns in her designs too, which has inspired my work now.
When did you start B’VARI
I studied Software Engineering for 3 years and was making clothes for friends and family on the side. This is when I found myself drawn back to my first love of fashion. I wanted to follow my passion for fashion. I applied to go to the University of West of England in Bristol to study fashion design. Being at university allowed me to learn so much about fashion and helped to push my boundaries.
I was in my third year when the idea for B’VARI first came about. I wrote my business plan for the brand and everything while I was there. It was actually part of my final project to design my own brand concept. They only introduced that module in my last year at university. I thought it was a great idea as it prepared us to think ahead of starting our own fashion careers after university. It gave me a head start into starting my business.
After uni, I went to work in fashion retail for a while and when I moved up to Liverpool from Bristol in 2014 is when I properly started B’VARI.
What is the origin of the name B’VARI?
B’VARI is the combination of my two names, so my first name Brantina and my middle name Varaidzo. It came about while I was brainstorming for my uni brand concept assignment, and then there was B’VARI!
What inspires you when working on a new collection? How do you get in the zone?
The world around me inspires me. I like to look at architecture because I love the structure and shapes. I also love looking at flowers because of all of the different and bright colours. Culture influences play a big part in my designs process. Sometimes the fabrics themselves inspire me to design.
What is your designing process?
It depends on what the brief is for the collection or customer requirements.
Firstly, I start with a mood board consisting of inspirational ideas such as architecture, flowers, cultural influences, colours, etc.). I will then design and sketch designs using my mood board. After designing, I draft a pattern and then make a Toile. Fitting will then be scheduled with a client and adjustments made. The dress is then made in the final fabric.
I also love draping straight onto a mannequin. This process gives you the flexibility of working directly with the fabric and exploring different design ideas. With draping, you are letting the fabric guide you to create shapes. Sometimes you start with an idea in your head, but when it’s finished it looks totally different. It also depends on the material you are working with too, my favourite material to work with is. Silk can be hard to work with because it’s thin and delicate, but I love it. I love working with printed fabrics too.
What has been one of your favourite projects or collections with B’VARI?
I think it would have to be my Afro-Chic print collection. The collection was inspired by incorporating western fashion silhouettes with African fabrics, combining the two concepts together. I used different models for the collection; from plus-size to petite; celebrating everyone and all body types. It was great to see my designs working on different body types. Creating this collection encouraged me to push boundaries in terms of stepping away from the everyday acceptable beauty standards. But instead expressing beauty and fashion in a wide range of sizes and African prints.
I did a few fashion shows in Bristol and a fair trade fashion show a few years back. I also participated in the Liverpool Very fashion show, showcasing my designs. It was actually part of a world Guinness record with the most models on the catwalk.
What would your advice be for anyone who wants to work for themselves?
Do something that you are passionate about, and that will make an impact on peoples lives. Your industry might be saturated but find a niche market. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries, just go for it. I always say do things that might scare you. Because in the middle of doing that you find your strength and discover great things about yourself. You also need to continue to look at your business model and adjust it as you go along.
Look for opportunities to collaborate with others in your industry or other disciplines to broaden your horizon.
Lastly, don’t give up, success doesn’t come overnight, you have to keep working hard. If something doesn’t work, try a different approach and eventually you will make it. Don’t despise small beginnings, great things have come from small beginnings, and you never know who might see your work.
Was it difficult establishing connections in the fashion world?
The fashion industry can be very competitive. Doing collaborations with other artists, workshops, attending events, doing fashion shows and putting yourself out there is the best way to establish connections in the fashion industry. You never know what you’ll learn or what opportunities these collaborations can lead to.
What are you working on next?
I am working on accessories and also occasional wear , I’m looking to do bridal wear in the future.
I love doing custom made designs, because there is just something about wearing a piece that nobody has, and you cherish it more too.
Recently, I have started running one-to-one sewing workshops for beginners. I’m really enjoying them so far, so I am hoping to do more of them. I’m currently teaching someone who wants to learn to sew to help his mum. His mother used to be able to sew but now struggles due to mobility, so it’s lovely to be able to help him do that.
In the future I also want to develop a loungewear range and incorporate print into that too. I did interior design in the past, so it would be nice to do some interior pieces like curtains, cushions.
Have you learnt anything new recently?
I have started doing laser cutting for my jewellery range. I have been using the laser cutter at DOeS Liverpool. It’s brilliant, you book an induction, they show you how it works and then you can book to use it. You can take your own materials or buy some from them.
I’ve also been testing using clay for the earrings too. Working with clay is so different from what I’m used to, it’s so delicate. All of my earrings will soon be available on my Etsy page.
Particularly this year, I learnt that you have to be able to adapt within your brand. So for example, right now people aren’t wearing dresses as much, so I’m focussing on earrings and accessories. You can still be fabulous with your earrings on a zoom call!
What is it like having a studio at Make?
It’s great to have different disciplines working around you because you bounce off each other and get ideas. Everyone there is so friendly too. And Make is really good at supporting small businesses.
There are a few fashion-focussed people at Make Baltic, especially since Nancy arrived. It’s great because we’re already chatting and sharing ideas.
Where can people find your products and services?
You can follow me on Instagram, @Bvari_collection
For custom orders or enquiries you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find my earrings and masks on my Etsy page.
After Brantina and I met I ordered a B’VARI face masks from a choice of beautiful printed fabrics, and its definitely one of my favourite masks I own now. The mask is 3D so its super comfy and doesn’t squish our nose. It was packaged in the most beautiful way, and was definitely luxury. Brantinas attention to details is second to none! If you’re after a statement mask yourself, take a looks at them here.