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RIA MALAZA OF ZAMARI DESIGN STUDIO ON OVERCOMING STEREOTYPES and how The Flamboyance Clique pushed her to start where she is

Maria Malaza, affectionately referred to as Ria, is an Interior Designer and Real Estate Agent and the founder of Zamari Design Studio, an interior design company she founded shortly before her varsity final year presentation. “My grandmother said she knew I’d end up doing something artistic because I grew up drawing all the time so she expected it even though she didn’t know what I’d be doing exactly,” she tells us.

Although she didn’t attend the last Flamboyance Clique event (Delightful Budtime Matinee), Ria was one of the speakers at a previous event – an opportunity that she says gave her the push she needed to continue on the path she had started on.

She shares, “I am forever grateful to sis Mpumie for the opportunity. She said ‘I’m going to throw you to the deep end and you need to swim’. I have spoken before, I was a speaker in high school and in varsity because we had to do many presentations, so I was already used to speaking to different crowds. The speaking part wasn’t nerve-racking for me. It was more about what I was going to present, which was my newly established business. It’s never easy introducing something you hold dear to your heart and sharing it with people; because you’re still trying to build the foundation and you feel it needs to be perfected before you share it. I’m grateful because that opportunity taught me to start where I am and just run with it. It didn’t mean I would blow up overnight but it gave me the push I needed to continue with it. Even if it meant there would be continuous changes. I would accept them and not be scared.”

RAISING RIA THE BUSINESSWOMAN: I like the idea of a different office everyday

Ria’s career aspirations have come full circle from her days in primary school to where she is now. “In primary school, my goal was to become a businesswoman. In the early stages of high school I started gravitating towards numbers, maths. I thought I would be a mathematician someday.  By the time I reached Grade 11 through to matric, I was no longer sure about the numbers, I didn’t know what to apply for. So I asked the Lord what it was I needed to apply for or study. Although unclear at the time, my goals basically did a 180,” she says.

One day in conversation with a then friend, Ria learnt about architecture and interior designing. “I had never heard of it before and I was immediately intrigued. My friend also told me about a varsity that specialised in design. The way they sold it to me made me want to venture into that field because I loved art but only as a hobby until that point. A part of me felt I had given maths a big chunk of my attention. So I decided since I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but didn’t want to take a gap year, I would take architecture and interior design as my ‘gap degree’. I applied for Interior designing and was accepted. The more I learnt and found out about design, the more I fell in love with it. I took an interest in designing people’s homes, I wanted to work with houses and use design to help people achieve their dream homes. From there onward, the ‘art is my hobby’  mindset left me, I was going to give this discipline my all. Little by little my initial aspiration to be businesswoman came back. When I was in my third year, I completed an internship, saw what a 9 to 5 meant and found I wasn’t keen on being stuck in one space, I like the idea of a different office everyday. I told my mom there was no way I was going to work for someone, I needed to do my own thing.” And as it is so often said, the rest is history.

Ria is grateful that through it all, she’s had the unwavering support of her mother and grandmother. “My grandmother said she knew I’d end up doing art because I grew up drawing all the time so she expected it even though she didn’t know how exactly. I’d get involved Both she and my mom supported all my decisions fully and still do.”

ZAMARI DESIGN STUDIO: Something borrowed, something new

Entrepreneurship isn’t entirely new to Ria. The 24-year-old shares that her mother owned a real estate company called Zamari Properties. “I was an only child then and she used to take me with her to her office sometimes. I remember sitting in her office watching her take charge, and fill the board with deals they were working on.”

Years later,  Ria saw the branded board in her grandmother’s garage and it was only then that she realised Zamari was a combination of hers and her mom’s names. “It held value for me and I wanted to take that name up and turn it into an interior design firm, so I asked her if I could use it, that’s how Zamari Design Studio came about. The focus of Zamari is to bring a lifetime of experiences to peoples houses. People spend so much time in their houses and don’t realise how much a home’s desgin can affect them psychologically. It’s possible to stay in a house that feels cold to them and not be able to figure out why, but I can because I studied design. I can come in and tell you your home feels cold because the windows are not in the right place in relation to the sun and it’s light for instance. I’m there to help you make it feel warm, calm, like a home, trendy, modern – whatever your preference. Things like picking furniture also form part of design. People are different, others like slouching, others like sitting up right and some are always on their laptops working. Different chairs suit different types of people based on their lifestyle, day to day life and taste. Design is intentional and can even help increase the value of your property. You don’t have to live in an ugly house.” 

NEVER TOO YOUNG TO LEAD: Overcoming age stereotypes and shooting for the stars

When shw joined the world of Real Estate, Ria was a  23-year-old fresh out of university and people at work were doubtful. “People whispered ‘she can’t list a house that expensive.’ So I went out and got my own high end listings. I was put on 2 months probation when I started. During that time I found a listing and a cash buyer, they paid quickly and signed a contract. I said God, I know this is you, I was underestimated and you partnered with me. We had no troubles with that deal. Since that day they knew, they started getting scared and wondering what else I was capable of. At some point I was even called the stand lady because I sold mostly stands. The good thing about that is I got to meet clients that need building and that’s what I do,” she says.

A year in, she was promoted to agent in Bankenveld, a very exclusive high-end area. “I’m very grateful to God. I don’t like being underestimated or people thinking I’m not capable because I’m young. When God shows off you don’t even need to work overtime. He did that. I remember there was a time when I had to say no to my boss, not out of disrespect but to be assertive and show them that I can think for myself. Even with clients, I have my own views and opinions, sometimes that’s different from how they think. There can be new ideas, we have to learn to be firm when we don’t like things or have new ideas that can bring positive change, even when it scares us.”

What would the title of your autobiography be?

“I’ve actually started working on something like that, the title will definitely have something to do with flowers. I love flowers and the mystery of things. You don’t have to always bare it all or be too open. It’s nice to keep some things for yourself and be a little mysterious.”

Describe yourself in two words.

“Brilliant and faithful.”

What would you say to 13-year-old Ria? 

“Continue fighting, it’s going to be worth it.”

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