UT freshman creates fashion brand with message of African beauty

Hannah Ortega

As a child, Joyce Munia Kabwe felt shame about her foreign middle name. Now, she uses it as the moniker of her fashion brand.

The clothing line was named Munia, which means sun in the African language Tshiluba, toward the end of Kabwe’s senior year at Saginaw High School in Fort Worth. However, she began hand embroidering shirts one year earlier after learning the craft from a YouTube video. Her first few shirts garnered praise from her classmates, which prompted Kabwe to start selling her designs.

“I wore it to school, and I got a lot of compliments on it, and I was like, ‘Wow, I actually made something that people like,’” business management freshman Kabwe said. “It was kind of like if people wanted it, they would just ask me for it. It wasn’t anything serious.”

Kabwe informally sold embroidered shirts to her peers in high school, but in September, Kabwe launched the Munia website to ship her pieces nationwide.

“Not a lot of people make a lot of hand-stitched things anymore, and for Joyce … to take the time to hand stitch every shirt that goes through an order, I think that’s pretty good,” biochemistry freshman Tu Banh said.

Munia currently sells two designs: the Heart Tee and the Proud Tee, which features an outline of Africa. The continent is a driving force behind Kabwe’s brand, as her parents are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and she said she wants her clothes to help others see Africa in a different light.

“I remember listening to my parents talking about their houses back home and how grand and beautiful everything was before war and stuff happened,” Kabwe said. “So I feel like I have a duty to kind of shed light on the beauty of Africa and its people and show the world that it’s not just full of poverty and war.”

Kabwe’s first online order came from Eva Mora, a high school classmate and UNT student. Mora had a Munia shirt from her time at Saginaw.

“I think it’s great,” Mora said. “She’s young, she’s (doing) something that will benefit her, and if she’s into it, then I totally commend her for it.”

Mora tweeted a photo of herself with her Heart Tee once it arrived, and Kabwe said she was “overcome with happiness.”

“Even if this doesn’t grow into what I would want it to be, just seeing that one person happy with what I made was so heartwarming,” Kabwe said.

Kabwe said she wants to open Munia stores and sell in H&M in the future, as well as style celebrities and open a business that combines an art studio with a coffee shop. For now, she hopes to encourage other teens to chase their dreams.

“The time is now, and there’s no point in waiting because you’re never guaranteed tomorrow,” Kabwe said. “And you don’t want to look back on your life and be like, ‘Oh, I wish I did this and I wish I did that.’ Like girl, just do it.”