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Beth totes got you! Bethel Chishiri of Totem by Beth.J

Profiles & Interviews

Beth totes got you! Bethel Chishiri of Totem by Beth.J

I really aspire to push Totem to being a recognised environmental conservation driven brand

Give us a brief insight into who Bethel Chishiri is

My name is Bethel Chishiri, and I use the pseudonym Beth Jotham, my dad is originally from Malawi hence the “Jotham”. I am a young African creative with a passion for sustainable fashion, environmental conservation and issues around mental health awareness. I volunteer for sexual reproductive health programs.

What are some fun facts about Bethel Chishiri?

I am a huge fan of food, cars, styling and take up part time photography and VR projects. I studied pharmaceutical technology and everything else I do is to keep me in the loop of what’s happening around me.

What initially sparked your passion for designing and creating tote bags?

I would say environmental conservation initiatives and campaigns done in Africa as a body were eye opening in terms of the rapid increase in waste and toxins and how they are damaging the environment and the need to prioritise sustainable living practices.

What were your first steps in learning how to make and design tote bags?

My mom had a sewing machine so I learnt at an early age how to work my way around a sewing machine.

Who are some artists, designers, or brands that inspire your work?

Aesthetically I’m inspired by Lulama Wolf and her work, I love brands like Patagonia as it pushes campaigns on sustainability.

Where do you find inspiration for your bag designs? 

My designs come mainly from emerging problems that need immediate solutions. They come from an ergonomic point of view, totem is a cultural name referencing our different traditions, environment influences our day to day and I try incorporate that. Trends have an impact as it affects the market response so I can’t be blind to what’s happening but also having a consistent niche to avoid going with the wind.

What materials do you use to create your bags, and why did you choose them?

I use canvas, cotton and drill. These are environmentally friendly, affordable and readily available materials. I am working on up-cycling to reduce plastic waste that’s already in society so I’m working on projects to contribute in reducing plastic and other waste.

Do you source local materials or work with specific suppliers?

For now, I’m working with local suppliers for all my materials.

Is your business completely handmade, or do you utilise any production techniques?

I use a heavy-duty sewing machine to make my tote bags. Canvas is a really thick material and that gets the job done.

Do you incorporate any sustainable practices into your business, such as using eco-friendly materials or ethical manufacturing processes?

Sustainable practices: I make pillow stuffing using all the left-over materials from production, I use environmentally friendly materials and I reduce waste by using already produced waste.

What message or impact do you hope your tote bags convey to the people who use them?

The message I hope my tote bags convey is, to be yourself, tote bags have a customisation option allowing everyone to convey messages they want heard and seen, to save the environment and be fashionable while doing it.

Do you support any specific causes or initiatives through your business?

I support projects that push for recycling, up-cycling and initiatives around environmental conservation.

What are your hopes and aspirations for your tote bag business in the future?

I really aspire to push Totem to being a recognised environmental conservation driven brand that can collaborate with policy makers to reduce or end the use of plastic.

What do you enjoy most about the process of creating and selling tote bags?

Making and selling tote bags allows me to meet people from different walks of life, converse with them and get a better understanding of different personalities.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to start their own creative business?

Don’t try to be perfect, it ruins the creative process. Allow yourself to also collaborate with others, ideas and the burden are better shared.

Apart from your tote business are you also a stylist, I noticed how you put together outfits on X. Do you offer those services to other people?

Oh yes, I love how one can express themselves through fashion. At the moment styling has been a passion project but I am open to take up styling projects.

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I'm Noni Zulu, editor of iNgudukazi Magazine and I'm proud to say that. This is a magazine that looks to empower the youth. We hope to entertain, inspire and motivate our subscribers and to help make a difference.

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