Some of Leah Misika’s earliest memories are of her mother making her own clothes from patterns she got from her favourite magazine. At this young age, her mother’s design activities didn’t really interest her much. It wasn’t until Leah started watching movies that she developed her love for fashion. “I hated that I couldn’t find the clothes I saw on the television. When I discovered Fashion TV, I realized I could design and make these clothes. By the age of 10 I had a portfolio of sketched designs that I kept in a binder.”
Leah never as much as considered a career in fashion until she met fashion designer Silvia Owari during her time in Uganda. “It was inspiring to see an African woman actually doing something I loved doing, something I thought could only be a hobby. This is when I decided to pursue my dream.” It was during her first year at the Miami International University of Art & Design, that she launched her brand LM by Leah Misika. “I was inspired by my shortcomings I suppose. When I got to MIUAD I realized how far behind I was in life in general. First year students had resumes, they had been working retail and they understood things about the business that I still needed to learn. All this made me realize that I clearly needed a head start. I had to start building/ conceptualizing my brand now and not later, so I just started and I’m grateful that I did. It allowed for so much trial and error long before I had to suffer the financial consequences of my trials,” she explains.
After her time at MIUAD, where she learned so much more than just design knowledge, she immediately dove in to building her career. She dabbled in various sectors of fashion, from a paid intern design position at Perry Ellis, to a retail gig at the high-end store, Babalu, to working as a freelance pattern maker and grader for the start-up, Zoeka. Upon moving back to Namibia, she landed a retail management job and started writing for Red Carpet, a local lifestyle magazine. This inspired a new fashion-focused passion of hers: blogging. Since then, she has worked the triple combo of designing, branding and blogging via her online platform, La Mode Fashions. “Even though I believe in the Niche era, I strongly believe in the Multi-Niche era more. I think to survive in the market now you need to be multifaceted. You need to expand your services and be a one-stop shop of some sort.”
Working as a full-time fashion creative, Leah has learned how to divide her time between the three faces of her businesses. “Namibia is still learning about fashion and is desperately trying to find its own style. We have mastered replicating styles and trends, but I truly believe our collective goal is to create our own style. To do that, we need to invest in local fashion research programs, which unfortunately requires time no on in the industry seems to want to sacrifice at the moment,” Leah explains. Fortunately, she is doing her own part by ways of her brands, LM by Leah Misika and SLEAH (She Lit Everything Around Her).
“When I started designing my own brand, I didn’t necessarily design based on my personal style. I started by creating a persona, gave her a character and a lifestyle and designed around who I thought she was and what I figured she would be doing and the clothes she would need to live her life. I still do that for my main brand, LM by Leah Misika, but ever since I started blogging, I realized that most of my followers were more interested in my personal style. So, I started a second line called SLEAH, which is based on my personal style and what I feel like wearing. I design both collections each year and usually decide which of the two I release based on time and resources, in the hopes that one day I’ll be able to release both brands once a year rather than having to choose.”
Needless to say, Leah Misika has established herself as the queen of the multi-niche era and is doing her part in changing the fashion narrative around Namibia. To any aspiring fashion designers looking to offer reinforcement in her plight, she provides solid advice:
“Find real inspiration. I know this seems like silly statement, but Instagram cannot be your source of inspiration. Not if you want to create something completely authentic. Authenticity is going to need to come from a much deeper place than the Internet. The Internet can only expose you to what’s already been done and what you need to avoid. Then take the time to develop your authenticity.”