Sustainable fashion, this South African accountant-turned-designer is turning heads on the runway
Accountant Shamyra Moodley was on maternity leave after the birth of her son when she came up with an idea that would push her into the world of fashion. She started a blog, Laaniraani, where she shared photos of her personal style, featuring flashy eyewear and vibrant fabrics. “It had fashion pictures, but clearly was about my story, my journey into finding out who I am,” Moodley said.
Born in East London, South Africa, along the Eastern Cape, she grew up watching her seamstress grandmother piece together fabrics on a little, old Singer sewing machine. “I’d always let her do the sewing and I’d be like ‘No, I’ll cut and design’ – and I still do it that way,” she told CNN, adding that “I don’t like the technical side of sewing, I like it as an art form. I like to free flow.” Moodley eventually left her accounting job to explore fashion. The 40-year-old says after a year of writing, Laaniraani became popular, scoring her invites to a host of fashion shows in South Africa. Her formal introduction to the world of custom-made garments came two years ago when she crafted a skirt out of sackcloth and a bodice from an old breastfeeding bra – and wore it to a fashion show.
Moodley says she initially wanted to give away the bra alongside some of her old maternity clothes, but changed her mind at the last minute. “I have such fond memories of breastfeeding my son,” she said. “So, I thought, let me turn that into a top.” According to the self-taught designer, the outfit got the attention of British fashion critic Suzy Menkes, who introduced her to South African fashion entrepreneur Precious Moloi-Motsepe. Both women, she said, were instrumental in boosting her confidence in the fashion scene as she worked to put sustainability in the spotlight.
In 2020, Moodley was selected as one of six finalists for a “Fastrack” program organized by African Fashion International (AFI). Through the program, emerging designers like Moodley are introduced into the business of fashion and given platforms to showcase their work. Organized annually, Fastrack has produced alumni like contemporary designers Rich Mnisi and Jessica Ross. As part of the program, Moodley was tasked with creating seven looks from existing fabrics. She called one of the looks “Tied and Tested” having inherited about 150 neckties from the men in her family, who had been mostly teachers. By deconstructing and reusing all the ties, she was able to create a multi-colored flowing dress. “We had to open up each tie, and we used the ties to create fabric,” she said. “And I kind of used free motion stitching to take ties – something very structured, something very restrictive – and turn them into a statement free-flowing gown.”
The designer, who describes herself as a “hybrid” of Irish, Indian and South African descent, also leaned on a part of her Indian heritage for one of the looks in her Fastrack collection. “I found one of my granny’s saris, which is bright pink with a little bit of gold border … I thought, let me make a bright pink suit that would celebrate their femininity, their boldness, and then add a little bit of the sari just to bring in the joy,” Moodley said. The Fastrack program gave her the chance to showcase her designs at various functions and fashion shows — including AFI’s most recent fashion week in Johannesburg this past October. Fashion, but make it sustainable All of Moodley’s outfits are handmade and created from donated or reusable fabric. According to her, she grew up in a family where reusing items and sustainable living was a part of everyday life. “I told myself, ‘You’re going to prove to the world that you can write a fashion blog, and spend nothing, buy nothing and essentially use what you have.’ So, I went on a fashion diet,”
she explained. Scrap to fashion: This South African designer is reusing abandoned fabrics to create menswear.
Moodley now designs and showcases handmade pieces for sale on her Instagram page. She tells CNN that creating a factory to mass produce her work is not in her current plans; instead, “everything is homemade in my space. I love that I have absolute control on who I sell my brand to, and what I actually make,” she said, adding her designs “come from a place of instinct.” Looking back on her journey from the accounting sector into fashion, Moodley remains faithful to her personal style when designing outfits to be showcased. “When I design clothing, it also comes from that space of what’s in my mind. I want what I wear to exude how I feel – which is happiness, which is joy, which is a sense of wonder,” she said. “I never want to grow up, and that’s the honest truth.”