HARARE, ZIMBABWE– I arranged to meet with fashion designer Michela Ramitomboson at a local café a few hours before her flight back to Madagascar. Ramitomboson was in town to visit and collaborate with her longtime friend, fellow fashion entrepreneur Connie Karoro. With no idea what she looked like, I peeped her Instagram page which is filled with tropical inspired visuals.
She strutted towards the café wearing a black cut-off top with an understated head wrap, jeans, and tennis shoes, the camera draped over her shoulder gave her away. We walked towards each other like we’d met before and her warm magnetic nature set the tone for an eventful afternoon.
31-year-old Ramitomboson, founder of ethical fashion label MyMitoo, sacrificed her last penny to make her fashion dreams a reality. Born in the East Coast of Madagascar, she moved to the capital city Antananarivo in 2009 to study Urban Architecture and was employed as a Webmaster in 2013. The idea of trading full-time employment for entrepreneurship always seemed far-fetched but Ramitomboson had an innate love for fashion and drawing.
“I learnt how to make basic bodice and patterns from YouTube,” she says.
In 2014, she took a chance and participated in a young fashion designer contest. The theme was tradition and modernity and she came second. Her collection combined traditional Malagasy fabrics with modern textures.
Following her runway success, she was invited to exhibit her designs at another fashion show and received the Best Young Designer trophy in 2015.
These two events- as well as friends asking her to design dresses for special occasions- played a huge role in Ramitomboson’s decision to leave her job and become a full-time designer, but the leap was not smooth.
“The first two years were really tough, I had no financial backing, I had no idea about being an entrepreneur but people were beginning to demand my designs and I just had to make it happen,” she says.
Her passion for the craft also kept her going.
“It is so rewarding. Can you imagine from an idea, from a sketch, you turn [that] into a beautiful gown?” she says.
Watching her seamstresses buy into her vision and begin to find purpose in their work also made Ramitomboson realize the dream was not hers alone.
When one of her seamstresses who was having personal issues at home expressed that work had become her “peace space”, she knew she had to do more.
“I felt like I needed to support her and this made me want to improve the quality of my clothing to increase its value so that she can earn more, I wanted to empower her,” she says.
For Christmas that year, Ramitomboson gifted the seamstress a large frame with one of the garments she had sown.
“Her kids looked at the picture and said mom did you make this? It was really touching,” she said. “I can give her a high salary, but it doesn’t have as much value as getting the respect of her kids,” says Ramitomboson.
From then on, her business has been about empowering talented seamstresses from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The name MyMitoo is a play on select words from Ramitomboson’s first and last names. Her last name means “one who grows in wellness”.
“My entire life is a testimony of this, growing in wellness. I want to give that to others. It’s my growth, it’s everyone’s growth,” she says.
During her month-long stay in Harare, Ramitomboson collaborated with CoCo Seed Culture on a summer range available at Industria Clothing Collective in Harare.
“I want to set an example of being a Malagasy person working with Malagasy people to produce Malagasy products. I want to be as high-end as [CoCo] Chanel so that the Malagasy people can be proud. I think we’re on our way,” says Ramitomboson.