S4 E4 Exploring the Impact Designers Working with Artisans Have on Their Lives and Bringing True Sustainable Value to Artisanal Communities with Dr Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri

In this episode, I chat with Dr Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri. Pam is a multi-award-winning accessories designer, educator, and author, with her own label called Vanhu Vamwe. Her experiences of working with artisans and feeling personally part of the problem of exploiting vulnerable communities led Pam to study a PhD where she could explore the impact designers working with artisans have on their lives and how to make the process better by bringing true, sustainable value to these communities.

The nature of being creative often means having multiple interests, and for Pam, this means exploring several different avenues but not being a jack of all trades. Confessing that she finds it hard to explain to people what she does Pam simply refers to herself an academic and a designer of objects. Being multi-passionate also means having to find some sense of balance and discipline in how she manages her interests. Covid has helped her see how she can work individually on multiple things and achieve something.

Always creative from childhood, Pam grew up in an academic family and was raised in Zimbabwe by her grandparents who did not want to hear anything to do with creativity. Unable to express that side of her Pam won a scholarship to study journalism and forged a career in that path. In search of her creativity, she moved away from hardcore writing into community writing exploring the stories of the community. But that wasn’t enough for Pam, her creativity kept calling, so she set up a home studio and began creating exaggerated oversized knitwear accessories, but aside from sharing on Facebook, her pieces were not for sale.

Receiving positive comments Pam decided to quit her job and go back to university to study fashion, relying on her creative instincts to design her products and handbags. Interested in sustainable fashion, and wanting to work with artisanal communities it was also important for Pam to understand the workings of global design. The shape and form of Pam’s work come from everyday objects. Many of her designs serve a dual purpose being both functional, and decorative pieces that can be displayed on a wall as artwork. She uses culture as a guide and inspiration.

I didn’t want to just create handbags that were ordinary. I wanted to create handbags that could be passed on to generations. – Dr Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri

Through her research, Pam is acutely aware of the impact designers have on working with artisanal communities and the intricacies of cultural differences. Her work is driven by an interested in creating objects that represent cultures coming together, and finding common ground in the cultures she has been a part of.

For me sustainability is about being transparent with your resources, being transparent with partnerships and collaborations. – Dr Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri

Going back to her journalistic roots Pam still writes and has published several books including a poetry one. Writing for Pam is a release and has helped her to find her identity and place in society as she navigates her path of working with and making a sustaibale impact in the lives of the artisans she colaborates with.

We talk about:
  • The struggle with having too many ideas, choosing what to focus on, and managing her time will juggling multiple projects
  • The creativity of discipline
  • Quitting her job and going back to university to study fashion
  • Not being allowed  to explore her creativity as a child, and the changing attitudes to pursuing a creative career particularly for those from an African background
  • The role of culture and the futuristic aspect of her designs
  • Her thoughts on cultural appropriation and finding common ground
  • How sustainable design shows up in her work and the need to be transparent in her work with different cultures
  • The difference between partnerships and collaboration
  • How your attitude shapes your work
  • Doing her country proud, and being recognised as a designer and not just a black designer
  • How accountability partners and her faith help to keep her grounded
  • Publishing a book
  • How she challenges herself to grow and develop her craft
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Loughborough University
Nottingham Trent Design School
A Woman with No Country

Where you can go to find out more about Pam and her work:

Vanhu Vanmwe

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes (iOS) and Stitcher (Android)

And before you go I have a favour to ask, if you could take a few minutes to do the three R’s that is: rate it, review it, and recommend it to anyone you feel would benefit. It will really make a difference and I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks again.


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