“Who made it?” was the burning question on everyone’s lips when Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini (Zozi) Tunzi walked the runway in her black and white gown as she handed over her crown to Miss Universe 2021 winner Andrea Mez.
Designing for Miss Universe was a word-of-mouth process which happened over many years. “I made connections and was asked 20 years ago to design a dress for Miss South Africa,” she says.
Biji also designed for former Miss South Africa Melinda Bam and this saw her continue to make gowns for all of the Miss South Africa winners over the years which included working for the pageant organisers themselves.
The Miss SA competition’s fashion sense has transformed and this includes localising the dresses more, ensuring they represent South Africa.
“I’m always up for a challenge and constantly receptive to new ideas and I wasn’t familiar with ethnic design. I didn’t want to insult anyone, so I wanted to get things right.”
At the same time, she watched Miss South Africa hopeful Zozi Tunzi compete for the title of the most beautiful woman in the country on the pageant stage on August 9, 2019.
“When I saw Zozi on stage she resonated with me. I love her model looks and her hairstyle and that she embraces her natural hair and dynamic personality. When I was approached to design for her I was so excited.”
Biji gushes about Zozi’s magnetic personality that draws people in and says Zozi is always interested in other people.
“She’s always been happy with her dresses. I admire her so much; she’s a real person who cares about people. I think even after she’s handed over her title she’s definitely going to make a mark in the future.”
The gown in question that broke the internet, had real significance for Zozi, says Biji: “With her latest gown she was specific that she wanted the doek and to honour her Xhosa heritage. I was afraid the design would be polarising but the feedback was positive. Our Instagram grew by 10,000 followers; the response was a revelation that the job was correctly executed. I giggle at people who criticise the gown.”
Even with 33 years of experience, she confesses there is still a lot of trial and error in the field. “Each job I worked for was seven months at a time because I was in a hurry to get started on my own, you realise the industry is very tough. It was humble beginnings. I only studied for a year and that came with a massive price of skipping the basics.”
The dresses made for Zozi are not available on auction but on display at Diamond Walk in Sandton City, whereafter they will be moved to another area in the mall.
The display may be extended for longer to include the hand over gown. Biji is just waiting for it to land in SA to add it to the collection.
The dress won’t be on sale and the designer would like it to be on a permanent exhibit.
“It makes my heart happy, it gives me more validity as a designer and no one will change the fact that Zozi wore my designs.
“It’s been favourably received and it’s a true honour. My job as a designer is to highlight the person you’re dressing. The more they look amazing, the more you as a designer have done your job.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Biji has adapted to fewer sales; wedding dresses are where people can afford to spend.
She believes that as a firm you must adjust your budget to the economic situation.