By Nakai Zenda and Nathaniel Gondo
If you’ve been an ardent reader of Mcheno & More from the beginning, you must remember we featured Ngaatendwe of The Eth, an environmental campaign brand whose star piece was a tote bag.
A year later, we are back again with a slightly different story but one that nevertheless resonates with the theme to take care of the earth because it’s all we got. By we, I mean my imagination painting a picture with words, Nathaniel’s curiosity getting some answers from the horse’s mouth, and of course our person of interest giving us the story, as it is.
Meet Beth Jotham, founder of Totem by Beth.J. Her passion for environmental conservation, sustainable living and recyclable fashion drove her to create a tote bag brand that uses quirky statements and bold designs to also touch on issues that matter.—religion, feminism, inclusivity, among others.
Nathaniel: What inspired you to start your own line of tote bags?
Beth: The need to tell society that everyone belongs, TOTEM is about inclusion everyone belongs and can identify to it despite our differences, no one is left out.
Nathaniel: How the journey has been so far and many years so far with tote bags?
Beth: TOTEM by Beth.J is just 4 months old, we launched on February 23rd 2023.The journey is pretty rough because I have to due to balance my 9-5 (in the Pharmaceutical industry) then use my evenings and weekends to work on the bags.
The name says it all; Totem by Beth.J is a personal, passion project. For Beth; translating her love for creativity and expression into an idea, bringing that idea to reality, and actually seeing it grow is just the icing on the cake.
Nathaniel: You mentioned that you work in Pharmaceuticals. So, how did end up being interested and so passionate in fashion?
Beth: I have always been passionate about art, I did two years of Allied Arts in school, my parents are an artsy pair, grew up to sketch artists and a mom who designs, it was always around me.
Nathaniel: So, can we say that your parents are an inspiration?
Beth: Among other people yes (smiles).
Nathaniel: And who are the others?
Beth: I respect people like Eryka Baduh, in art Jean Michael Basquiat he’s my favourite artist outside of the Van Gohs. They always think outside the box in how they created, dressed and I’m all for that.
The creative influence has been around her for most of her life, but the inspiration to make tote bags arose in February 2023 when Beth found herself reading on aquatic life and how it has been endangered by the plastic waste that is dumped in our pristine water bodies worldwide. This motivated Beth to play her role and make a positive change, albeit using what she’s best at—fashion.
To Beth, material matters. In her thrust of promoting sustainable fashion, Beth substitutes unrecyclable synthetic fabric for natural and durable fabric like cotton, canvas,drill and calico.
More than anything, Beth sees TOTEM by Beth.J as a conduit for promoting togetherness and belonging to a movement that serves something larger than life. What movement, you may ask? A movement that brings back sustainable fashion, does away with consumerism and has a better appreciation of art. That’s what forms the core of TOTEM by Beth.J.
Nathaniel: What does fashion mean to you?
Beth: Fashion to me means FREEDOM, you don’t have to conform to anything, abide by any
rules, anything and everything goes, you get to be the creator and writer of that story.
Nathaniel: In what direction is Zimbabwean fashion headed? Your favourite fashion brands right now?
Beth: I feel we are heading towards a huge market redefinition, at a time of peak consumerism it’s important to be timeless yet also be able to adjust to the times in ways that don’t make you forget what your brand stands for. A lot of designers now are incorporating recyclable material, upcycling, things like that and that’s really the future.
Nowadays accessibility, affordability and quality are my key pointers when I talk about fashion. Some designers prefer exclusivity to their work, which is okay. Everyone makes a product with a specific market in mind.
My favourite local brands uhmmm I’d say Vanhu Vamwe by the Nyawiris, Patch Maoko by Chido Kaseke, Haus of Stone by Danayi Madondo, Fungai Muzoroza and Natai Natai.
Discussing Beth’s vision for the next few years, expansion definitely comes into play. However, Beth still intends to maintain the core focus—sustainable fashion.
Nathaniel: You are a fashionable person so, as a very fashionable person did or do you consider anytime being a stylist and to start your own clothing brand?
Beth: That is the goal, I really want to expand to clothing. I find fashion as a tool of self- expression and want society to have that liberty to be who you are. I love putting pieces together in multiple ways so yes, styling is definitely something I would want to venture into.
Nathaniel: So when can expect this ‘Beth The Stylist’? Or the launch of ‘TOTEM by Beth.J Clothing.’ Or it will come with a new name?
Beth: It will most probably be an expansion under TOTEM, the stylist version is slowly coming out more lately, I’ve been doing OOTD (Outfit of the day) posts where I put outfits together and I love the responses to that.
Nathaniel: Are we going to see a release soon? Any collaborations with other brands?
Beth: I have a project I’ve been working on since August, very dear to me. I feel it’ll give a clear perspective of what goes on in my head, so yeah, a release is in the pipeline. I am working with another creative on this project. I have done collaborations before, with other artists such as Kombo Chapfika, so yeah, I love to collaborate with other creatives with the same vision of sustainable fashion.
You can tell from her use of sustainable fabrics that Beth implements conservative practices that she would’ve well researched. Truly, the devil is in the details. Tote bags are fast becoming a statement piece in fashion, as brands and designers adopt a more sustainable approach to making people look good. There’s already a few stores in the CBD that retail totes as the starpiece of their catalogue. But trust me when l say, no one does it quite like Beth.
It’s only a matter of time before you’re passing by a TOTEM Shop in the CBD. As of right now though, the best way to get your tote bag is through pop ups or at creative events which she frequents. She has exhibited twice at the now closed Artillery Gallery, plus popups at the National Art Gallery and the Silly SetUps event hosted at Nhaka Gallery.
Nathaniel: To close off, any words for those looking up to you, and those who wish to take up fashion?
Beth: If its heavy on your heart and mind, don’t ignore it, go for it. No one thinks like you, feels like you, expresses life like you and most importantly no one can do it like you.
If you want to make an order, whether custom made or from the array of creative designs made by Beth so far, just reach out to her on her social media. Want to keep it professional? Make a direct order on the official TOTEM By Beth.J Instagram account. You can also reach out to her directly on WhatsApp.