mZansi Life Monday 30 November, 2009

“That is not how we do it in South Africa!” Laverne Wyatt-Skriubakken proudly explained to the audience at a fashion and music party in Oslo, Norway. Instead of striking stiff stone-faced poses, the models at this event danced down the runway smiling and laughing. Their attitudes complemented the bright and bold patterns they wore-it is […]

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“That is not how we do it in South Africa!” Laverne Wyatt-Skriubakken proudly explained to the audience at a fashion and music party in Oslo, Norway. Instead of striking stiff stone-faced poses, the models at this event danced down the runway smiling and laughing. Their attitudes complemented the bright and bold patterns they wore-it is all part of what Laverne, founder and Art Director, calls the mZansi Life. mZansi comes from “e zantsi” which, is slang for South Africa. mZansi Life includes events planning, fashion sales and graphic design. Laverne, who is originally from Durban, South Africa explains that “mZansi Life represents my personal philosophy and that is to enjoy the ‘Southern Life’. This is a life of sunshine, creativity, optimism, color and design. My goal is to bring these ideals from South Africa to Norway.”

Banner from mZansi Life blog at www.mzansilife.wordpress.com

It was a pleasure learning from someone with such a happy and energetic creative spirit. In this interview Laverne explains her artistic style, why she “love migrated” to Norway and brought the sun with her and gives advice to graphic designers who are interested in working for themselves. She also mentions that she is open to collaborations for future projects so we encourage all the budding designers and fashionistas to keep in touch.

You are originally from South Africa and currently living in Oslo, Norway.  What made you want to travel?  Why Norway?

I am a Love Immigrant. I met my husband abroad and he is Norwegian. Previous to meeting him my only knowledge of Norway was that it was a place full of snow and fjords and Nobel Peace prizes. I have always had a curiosity to explore the world, so I was excited about giving life in Norway a try.

You mention that you and some friends felt a little homesick being in Norway.  What did you miss most about Durban in your early days?

An image from Laverne's website www.mzansilife.com showing the scenery she was missing in Norway

The sun! Growing up in a place with 320 days of sun a year, and a sub-tropical climate – keeps you blissfully ignorant and unprepared for (what I now call) real weather. Spring, Autumn and Winter existed as a concept before living in Norway. So yes, clichéd as it is, its the weather.

Can you tell us about the site for mZansi Life?

Models from a Fashion Party co-sponsored by mZansi Life

My site is half of what I would like it to be, so to me it’s a step in revealing what goes on in my mind.

It began as a blog. I was stuck in the apartment for 8 months while waiting for my work permit in Norway. I had so much on my mind and no one to talk to besides my husband, and blogging was a way to connect and download my thoughts.

I researched young and established designers, who created contemporary African design. Only after moving to Norway did Irealize the level and talent of designers back home.

At the same time, I was craving the clothes from home as Scandanavian design is very black, grey, stone & white. I needed to color my world, and the progression from blogging to importing SA fashion began.

The site was supposed to be an online web-shop, but I put a hold on that as I am in the process of re-branding.

What walks of life do your clients come from?

Currently my client base has been in Norway and one thing about Norway compared to most places in the world, it is quite homogenous. Everyone is on par with everyone else to a degree. As an “outsider”it seems there is one walk of life. I could roughly and maybe inaccurately say there are traditionalists and reformists.  The reformists are those who I think my client base comes from.

So my client has been the person with a strong sense of self, and are appreciative of a brand that offers them a chance to express their individuality.

What do you think about mZansi Life appeals to people in Norway?

Economically people are secure, their basic needs are met. This is important as it gives them time and money to be interested in and supportive of arts and culture. Socially though, it is quite closed, and people need a platform to open up and express themselves. I felt that introducing a brand that celebrated the “life of the south” would be an ideal way to do that. So far people have responded to the idea of sunshine filled, colorful, life of the south because it fulfills a mental need.

We love your clothes, jewelry and design!  How can we live the mZansi Life in the United States?  Do you ever work with clients outside of Norway and Europe?

From the United States to Asia, my goal is to co-create with inspired people from all over the globe.

I am re-branding and going global in the next 2 years – the essence is the same but the name has to change as its well understood and pronouncable in South Africa, but no where else! :)

The power of people to decide what they want and how they want it, intrigues me, and I am open to ideas of people being involved in developing the new product line.

Before creating mZansi life, you were a professional designer for companies.  Have you always wanted to work for yourself?

I always had ideas which, I wanted to bring to life. Mostly I was happy doing them for other companies, and still am. I freelance for people and work as

Marketing & Communication for a South African company in Norway now, which is satisfying.

But i cant get the ideas out of my head until I do them, and that has lead to me working for myself also.

I always had ideas which, I wanted to bring to life. Mostly I was happy doing them for other companies, and still am. I freelance for people and work as Marketing & Communication for a South African company in Norway now, which is satisfying.

But i cant get the ideas out of my head until I do them, and that has lead to me working for myself also.

Promotional Material for Afrikan History Week Designed by Laverne

Do you have any advice for designers who want to be entrepreneurs?

Be weary of being stuck in your own head too much. Trust people that you would not normally see as “creative” with your ideas. My mom, aunts, friends in banking, have all being contributors. People all have good ideas which can contribute to yours. Trust yourself enough to let your ideas develop and know when to let go.

You studied graphic design in Durban, South Africa.  How do you think design is different in Durban as compared to Oslo?

Durban is a city with British, Dutch, Indian, Saudi Arabian and Zulu descendant people. Each with their own religion and culture. They are often blending to form new sub-cultures too. This is a wonderful resource for a student in design. Lecturers can create exciting project tasks and students have a wide range of influences to draw from.

Scandanavian design is dominated by minimalistic lines, great technical skill & neutral colors. This influence came from Danish design, but now Norwegians are starting to redefine their style. I can only guess that it could be a more challenging to move out of that influence and into something completely different. Though with the web and the resources they have to travel often, it is happening.

(Below are some examples of Laverne’s graphic design.)

What made you interested in graphic and fashion design?

I grew up in what is probably equivalent to the “projects” in America, and by the time I was in High School, we had moved into a lower middle class area. Because of apartheid the residential areas were and are still mostly demarked by skin colour. So all colored people went to the same school.

The schooling curriculum did not cover art and physical education, so I had to take a year of art in college first to “catch up” I used to design sketches of prom dresses and sell them in school to other students. Fashion design was the way, until I discovered Graphic Design.

Graphics seemed to explore more avenues of design so i went for that instead.

Now I am revisiting my original passion for fashion, and cramming in info from books about it. The concept part of fashion is great, the hours on the sewing machine not so, so i prefer to work with people skilled at making other peoples ideas come to life.

You say that you feel like mZansi Life is your life’s work?  Why is this project so important to you?

I feel I must involve my nature in my business for it to be sustainable. Bringing a feeling happiness, togetherness and belonging is a cause I feel is worth championing.

I am a Libra through and through and balance, harmony and social interaction are very important to me.

Why do you think art is so important, in general?

Because it is frustrating to have thoughts that can’t be realized.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Good question, I am still figuring that out. For example, I am pregnant now and before I thought that would be a chain but see it quite differently now that I am. Financial freedom is very very important though, I was a slave to credit cards at the age of 24 and spent 4 years getting free of that.

Check out a mini-documentary of Laverne here.

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25 Comments

  • Non-secret admirer says:

    That’s my girl – colouring Norway!

  • Kenton Edward Moorcroft says:

    You fail to surprise me.
    :))))

  • Baby, U hot! Much love, admiration, & respect always… S. :-)

  • Gavin Ndlela says:

    A most most colorful creative mind, a determined drive to bring it all into reality and a great ambassador for uMzansi.

  • Olivia Swardling says:

    Wow – I can’t believe how much you have grown and what an exceptional, funky, dynamic and talented lady you have become. Your designs are a true representation of mZanzi and I am so proud of you!!!! Well done Laverne :-)

  • Yoli says:

    I cannot even begin to express how proud I am of what you have achieved, I know that you are destined for great things. I love how you have “coloured your world”, in every true sense.

    Keep on keeping on…

  • Maureen says:

    Ladies I love what you do, wicked!!! Love to be apart of your great ideas. Well done to our darling Laverne, keep living the African Dream it never ends.
    Regards

    Maureen

  • Sharon Leeson says:

    It’s soooo Ayoba….

  • Pierre says:

    thats my green coloured compadre’! Making us proud down south!

  • Samiullah says:

    Well, sad to say, I only tend to play catch-up with this blog (and others on the D-H wetbsie).I’m sure hoping D-H went back to option c’.If I wanted serious commentary and back-and-forth conversation, I’d rather spend my time involved with the excellent OPB radio show Think Out Loud . Much broader base of callers, and guests with solid opinions to interact with. Lets face it, they have many more people to draw from, as compared to the D-H wetbsie Farrell (selling all of us short a good idea, given the recent stock market trends, no?)

  • I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knowledgeable?

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