Rina Chunga-Kutama did not give up when she couldn’t afford her university fees. She used the small amount of money she had saved to start her African-print design business.
When Rina Chunga-Kutama started her business, she was just trying to make some extra money while studying. Since then, her African brand, Rich Factory, known for its distinctive Zambian prints, has grown in leaps and bounds.
Chunga-Kutama was born in Zambia but grew up in Botswana and lived there for 15 years. She moved to Polokwane, in the Northern Province of South Africa, in 2004. Despite this, she’s never forgotten her Zambian heritage which is evident on her clothing.
She studied fashion at LISOF in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, but started working on her business during her gap year in 2007.
“I got a job from a designer lady in Polokwane who was sewing. I learned to sew and that’s when I started making pieces for people, creating garments for pocket money,” she says.
In 2008, she went to college but faced financial difficulties. Because of this, she had to alternate between going to school for a year and taking a year off. When she finally got to her third year in 2012, Chunga-Kutama still had two modules from the first year she had yet to complete and couldn’t graduate.
That did not stop the young lady from pursuing her dreams. Chunga-Kutama knew most of what she needed to start a business, and she was also not keen on being in the same class with younger students – she was 25 years old at the time – and so went straight into the working field.
“I wasn’t in school so I could do the business full-time, it was a full-time business because the clients were coming in and I was still working from home,” she says.
By 2013, it wasn’t about making pocket money anymore. She moved out of her sister’s home and rented a cottage in Melville, Johannesburg. Here, she installed mirrors and converted her home into a shop.
Chunga-Kutama has never looked back and has grown her business and worked with celebrities, like award-winning South African musician Zahara, actress Terry Pheto, and actress and model Nomzamo Mbatha.
Chunga-Kutama made an impression on Mbatha when they met at a shoot in 2015.
“I remember they had this girl [from] Rich Factory and she was doing the styling. The stuff that she had pulled for me was just so apt. Working with someone I’ve never met before, they knew exactly how to style me for that campaign according to my personality and body. Everything fit really well and I loved how funky and how out-of-the-box her thinking was when it came to styling and I just enjoyed her as a person,” says Mbatha.
After the shoot, a friendship was sparked and the two decided to collaborate. Rich Factory was now dressing Mbatha for red carpets locally and internationally, such as BET’s Black Girls Rock! awards ceremony in New Orleans, United States, the MTV Europe Music Awards in the Netherlands, and the Cinema Camp Film Festival, among others.
“The Camp Film Festival was a huge footprint for us because everyone was in their beautiful ball gowns and here’s this yellow, African, kente print walking the red carpet and everyone was having a moment,” Mbatha recalls.
Although it is not something that Chunga-Kutama pursued, Rich Factory garnered business and free publicity from dressing celebrities.
Rich Factory has gained attention from its celebrity clients but has become more strategic about taking on famous clients. Chunga-Kutama doesn’t want it to be seen as a celebrity business and alienate other clients without the buying power.
Her first celebrity client was musician and TV personality, Nomuzi Mabena. Chunga-Kutama met her in 2011 while working as an intern for well-known South African fashion designer Khosi Nkosi. Mabena came second in a model search competition that Chunga-Kutama was styling. A few years later, Mabena won the role of an MTV Base video jockey and needed garments; Rich Factory was happy to assist. Mabena really helped Rich Factory take off.
“I was in the magazines and newspapers because of her,” says Chunga-Kutama.
In 2017, Rich Factory found itself walking the ramps at the South African Fashion Week (SAFW) in collaboration with Nestlé for its chocolate, Aero.
Chunga-Kutama was approached by Sunshine Shibambo from marketing and advertising agency Cheri Yase Kasi to work with the chocolate brand.
“The brand was looking for a South African designer to partner with that was expressing their positioning which was ‘let go’. Someone who is not confined by the prints or fabrics that they are working with but always finding a release in their fashion, new forms and new shapes. So she was the perfect candidate,” says Shibambo.
Chunga-Kutama was never going to say no to chocolate and showing at SAFW.
According to Chunga-Kutama, the brief was perfect because she has a playful brand. She used African prints only and didn’t use any western fabrics.
The collaboration was incredible, according to Shibambo.
“The collection had a play of the Nigerian shape with a combination of geisha and Asian inspired shapes, which isn’t the normal traditional form for a designer using African print,” she says.
Chunga-Kutama has a team of five people working with her. Two are based at a factory in Johannesburg’s central business district, while Dimo Kutama, her husband and business partner, has opened a store in Parkhurst, a plush Johannesburg suburb.
Her husband used to work as a client care advisor but now runs sales and logistics at Rich Factory. It’s not an easy role.
“The only difference is time. When you’re running your own business, you never have time for anything, including a haircut,” says Dimo.
From starting in a garden cottage four years ago, Chunga-Kutama is now dressing socialites, in African fabric, around the world.