It's time to retire that Bob Marley tee from college and head to this African boutique.
By Dinkinish O'Connor
Dashiki prints and Marley graphics -- many think these are the heights of African fashion, but at Chafa-Govha Designs Boutique, fashion ranges from dreamy butterfly-sleeved tops to organic Louis Vuitton-style carry-ons.
Located in a quiet North Miami Beach plaza near IHOP and the Wal-Mart super-duper center, Chafa-Govha Designs (formerly Shades of Africa) is the love child of owner and designer Winnie Chafa-Gova. Traveling through Africa twice a year, Chafa-Govha draws inspiration from the functionality and style of various tribes. The designer walks the Saharan dessert with the nomadic women, observing the soft cotton wraps that keep the nomads cool against the seething dessert heat. This is the inspiration behind Chafa-Govha's chiffon butterfly-sleeve tops and dresses.
"I'm a sleeve freak," said Chafa-Govha. "Dramatic sleeves are so feminine and alluring. I was doing this way before Cavalli."
Chafa-Govha, who attended both Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York and the former International Fine Arts College (IFAC) in Miami, has been designing clothes since she was 18 back in Zambia, where she sewed pieces for aunts by hand. Her father later sent her to Zimbabwe to work with an old French designer.
Other funked-up African pieces include an iridescent silver trapeze jacket made of damask -- a lightweight upholstery-like fabric -- and traditional Fulani wedding necklaces. The bags are stunning-earth-toned clutches bags made with stamped mudcloth and appliqué Kuba cloth -- an intricately woven material made of raffia (which Chafa-Govha gets from The Congo). A patchwork Kuba bag looks like Baby Phat gone organic chic. Tote bags and carry-ons are made with rich lambskin and accented with Kuba cloth. Prices start at $350 for these pieces, however you can find a set of Fulani earrings for as little as $15.
Then there's the sandals made of recycled camel's skin, men's Panama-style shirts and the special events. This Sunday, Mother's Day, the venue will serve hors d'oeuvre's and provide storytelling for the kids from 6-9 p.m. while Chafa-Govha's husband massages mama's feet ($20 for 15 minutes).
"My fashions are not about borders and difference," said Chafa-Govha. "I want people to come here, feel the beautiful vibe and the broadness of African fashion."
Chafa-Govha Designs, 1117E NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach; 305-947-4322; 786-285-3520.
Winnie Chafa-Govha in front of her designs.