Farai Simoyi Named the New Fashion Design Program Director at Thomas Jefferson University
Thomas Jefferson University announced this week that its award-winning fashion design program has a new director. Named to lead one of the top fashion programs in the world is Farai Simoyi.
Simoyi, a Zimbabwean designer turned fashion exec, is well known in fashion circles, and hopes to bring what she’s learned in 14 years of experience designing and consulting to help guide students with her unique perspective into fashion and globalization.
Simoyi will formally start in August but is already working with faculty and leadership from her family’s home in Brooklyn. She is the founder of The Narativ, an innovative retail-concept store there, appeared on Netflix’s “Next in Fashion,” and has designed for some of the most globally recognized celebrities with fashion brands and industry staples, such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Rachel Roy, Anne Klein and Robert Rodriguez.
Michael Leonard—academic dean of the School of Design and Engineering in the University’s Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce—says that Simoyi represents “the new spirit of the fashion design program in many ways.”
“She’s an entrepreneur who understands the relationship between fashion and modern culture, and like our exceptional fashion design faculty, is dedicated to uplifting a new generation of fashion designers,” Leonard says. “Farai joins a team of talented program directors and will help redefine a process that leads students toward new careers in fashion. There are superstars in the making among our students.”
Simoyi reflected on the path that brought her here, and how that will manifest itself in leading the award-winning program.
She grew up in Zimbabwe, where many relatives still live. As a child, her parents—who worked in academia—moved the family to Boston and then to West Virginia by the time Simoyi was in elementary school. The family’s home was a traditional African household, but she had to adapt to often being the lone student of color in classes.
She attended West Virginia University, where her parents taught. She shifted from a psychology major to design her sophomore year, for which there was a level of comfort considering her family in Zimbabwe included many tailors. She vividly remembers using scraps of fabric from her aunt’s fashion-design factory to make clothes for her dolls when she was younger.
Upon graduating in 2005, she made her way to New York City—“where dreams are made”—with a suitcase, enough money to cover the first month’s rent and a vision to thrive in the fashion world.
Her first big break came when she was hired to design for the House of Deréon, the fashion line led by Beyoncé and her mother/stylist Tina Lawson. That break came courtesy of a design director who, originally from Ghana, set out to give “young black creatives a chance in the field,” something which has guided her approach in the years since.
Despite success with The Narativ over the past three years, when she saw the Jefferson job being open, she thought, “This is for me. This is the direction I need to go.”
“I love every moment of working with young designers who were coming into The Narativ, asking for help. I love mentoring them, just like I was mentored,” she says. “I have always heard wonderful things about Thomas Jefferson University, so I cannot wait to bring my perspective there.
“I will offer guidance to students from a unique perspective of how globalization impacts fashion, how to sustain and build brands ethically. People just want to find a place to belong, and they need guidance to get there. My goal is to come in and give that different point of view and instill confidence in the students.”
Dr. Ronald Kander, dean of the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce and associate provost for applied research, says Simoyi is a welcomed addition to the Jefferson family.
“We’re very excited about Farai’s fresh perspectives and what she will offer students in fashion design. In fact, she will make unique and additive contributions to all of our textile and fashion degree programs,” he says. “Her expertise will advantage our students as they learn at Jefferson and as they go out into the world to make a name for themselves. Farai’s background speaks to a level of international experience and exposure that will situate our students for success and prepare them to be leaders in the world of fashion.”