Patricia Mweene’s family background is just as fascinating as her jewelry. Her grandmother, Inonge Sinyambo wa Akashimiketwa, was King Lewanika of the Lozi’s granddaughter; Patricia herself is part Tonga and half Lozi, but it is the latter culture she feels a particularly strong connection to, as she spent a lot of time there with her grandmother and actually lived with her in Kabwe for a while. Once Inonge retired, she opened a bakery in Limulunga Royal Village, and Patricia and her cousin, Sanana, would be granted the exciting task of bringing loaves of bread over to the Litunga’s palace, just three minutes away.
Many beautiful memories shaped Patricia’s childhood, but it was her aunt who ultimately furthered her interest in fashion. “I have always had a fascination with jewelry. In school, I had different colored gemstone studs for every day of the week. Growing up in Zambia, my mother's sister worked as a stewardess for Zambia Airways. She always brought home English Vogue magazines from London. I loved feasting my eyes on the colorful jewelry adverts in the magazine. Especially the ones with gemstones,” Patricia remembers. “What I did not know then was that some of the gemstones probably came from my own backyard - meaning Zambia and neighbouring countries.”
Following her move to London to attend graduate school, Patricia started making her own jewelry as a hobby. “A friend who worked as a jeweler for a jewelry brand in London taught me the basics and would take me along with her to Hatton Gardens for buying jewelry supplies. For my masters thesis, I was looking into how design thinking could be used as a tool for implementing sustainable jewelry supply chains. I thought that I was going to work as a CSR Manager after graduation, but my love of the jewelry industry has taken me on a different path, one that is closer to my hometown of Ndola.”
Patricia founded her own jewelry brand, INONGE ZITA, which merges Zambian gemstones with a Danish aesthetic. “Most people are aware of Zambian emeralds, but what most people do not know is that Zambia has an abundance of other colored gemstones such as tourmalines, aquamarine, amethyst, morganite, citrine, smoky quartz and ametrine. What is special about Zambian gemstones is that most of them are not treated and are very under appreciated. I want to change that and show the world that Zambia has other gemstones to offer apart from emeralds,” she explains. Her choice to focus on Danish aesthetics developed naturally, as she has been living in Denmark for many years. “These styles complement each other very well. It’s unavoidable for me not to integrate Scandinavian aesthetics into my designs. I am surrounded by Danish design, but I turn to my native Zambia for inspiration. Danish cultural aesthetics in jewelry are very minimalist, simple and utilizing gold, silver or diamonds. By merging this aesthetic with the functional form of Lozi aesthetics, another cultural aesthetic dimension is created. One that fits my Afropolitan outlook.”
INONGE ZITA – the name of which was taken from her Lozi and Tonga middle-names, respectively – works with a bench jeweler in Copenhagen and another one in Zambia. “I am very lucky to be surrounded by master goldsmiths and expert gemologists. They are my teachers,” she admits. “INONGE ZITA’s workshop currently employs two people. A fulltime gem cutter and a Logistics Manager. A full-time jeweler will be joining the workshop soon.” With a capacity of about 30-40 carats a day and roughly 150 carats a week, INONGE ZITA serves the Danish, Australian and US markets, but they still haven’t reached full capacity due to a lack of additional machinery. “The recently returned electricity loading schedule in Zambia is not helping either. To meet our energy requirements, we are looking into installing solar energy in the workshop.”
The most prominent collection currently available via INONGE ZITA, is the Heritage Collection, which was designed for the “Vaerdier der Vandrer” (Travelling Jewelry Exhibition) in Denmark. For these pieces, she was heavily inspired by Makenge baskets. “Jewelry is often passed on as a family heirloom. For me, the Makenge baskets are a great representation of a family heirloom and a symbol of “Values that Wander” Makenge baskets are given to a bride by her parents or in-laws and used for storing valuables or food. With use, the baskets can last as long as 100 years.”
INONGO ZITA prides itself in contributing to the development of gemstone mining communities, by ensuring more local value is added to the gemstones. “Partnering with gemstone mining communities is beneficial to the development of the lapidary and jewelry industry in Zambia and ensures a transparent supply chain that enables us to know what challenges the community faces when mining gemstones. It also enables the sharing of design knowledge and the technical skills needed to create jobs in the community.”
“For us, responsible sourcing starts with responsible gemstone mining communities. We want to see gemstone mining communities benefit from their gemstones, and the proceeds from the sale of their gemstones used to develop the community. Right now with the bulk of Zambian gemstones being exported without any local value addition, gemstone mining communities, jewelers and gem cutters are all losing out on the economic gains that could be realized by cutting and polishing gemstones locally before export, as well as turning the cut and polished stones into jewelry.”