Fashioning her adventure in entrepreneurship

Belange Mutunda in a sewing workspace

When you run a fashion design business, aside from creativity, your most critical tool is your sewing machine. So when Belange Mutunda bested more than a hundred other competitors and won a cash prize at Iowa State's STANDING innOVATION pitch off at the Iowa State Fair, she invested the money into a new, commercial machine. That machine, and the vote of confidence from fellow entrepreneurs, is emboldening Mutunda to think big about the future of her company.

"I'm just really grateful for Iowa State. This machine is something really huge for my business to be honest," says Mutunda who owns and operates Belange Handmade.

Mutunda started her business at the age of 17. The vibrant garments she creates are crafted from recycled materials -- mostly curtains and other discarded clothes. Because she's self-taught, her pieces are almost exclusively handmade. She typically draws inspiration from her fabric, then uses her creativity and problem solving to cut and piece together material to achieve her vision. "Making everything by hand -- that's couture," she says with a laugh. "I started couture even before I knew it was couture!"

That affinity for handmade fashion helped Mutunda start her business. But it's Iowa State that helped her master the sewing machine and shape her vision for the future of the company.

"2019 was my first time taking a sewing class," Mutunda says. "At Iowa State, the teachers actually make sure that you learn everything. You make everything yourself." In addition to teaching the fundamentals, she also credits the faculty with encouraging her to engage in various fashion shows and case study competitions. These experiences increased exposure for her brand.

As she casts her gaze toward graduation and evolving her business, Mutunda wants to use her recently learned mastery of the sewing machine to expand her collection and explore ready-to-wear fashion. She's also using the machine to extend her company's charitable efforts. Mutunda has designed a washable, reusable sanitary pad that she's assembling and sewing before sending to charities that serve low-income women.

She says, "When you get a garment from me, it's not just about making you look good. But it's also about addressing issues in our society."

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