Today’s youth is eager to attain their dream job just after stepping off the graduation stage. For me, a very different journey built me into the entrepreneur I am today, and I don’t regret one bit of it.
When I graduated in Hotel Management from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, I realized my love for hotel interiors and décor enticed my senses a lot more than managing them. And so began my love affair with décor. La Désirade was my first ever quaint furniture restoration workshop for interior design after University. 13 whole years into interior designing, I found my heart pumped in search of more.
I began working as a freelancer at Swiss women's magazine, Femina, to beautify the home interior section pages. In parallel, I explored my infatuation with photography and life as food prop stylist, laying out some alluring, eye-appealing tables. I perused my passion for capturing the essence of a product not only through photography but also with an added touch of graphic design through the incorporation of ambitious ventures, Coucou Clock Agency and Swiss cookbook-- Les Délices de Manuella. My learning curve never diminished.
"My quest to know more helped me to pursue the Accessory Design Major at the Fashion Institute of Technology."
I continued to keep myself abreast of evolving technologies, literally mugging up the InDesign and Corel Draws of the world. All this was accomplished while I brought up my two handsome sons. After 26 years of navigating in the visual communication industry and my children out of the nest, I packed my bags and boarded on an adventure to NYC at the age of 50.
My quest to know more helped me to pursue the Accessory Design Major at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Just the touch at supple leather intrigued me instantly to continue my focus on perfecting the craftsmanship that strengthens and ensures the quality of this fine material. While a student, I dug up a Yves St. Laurent suede skirt I had purchased years ago for just five dollars at a thrift store. I let my creativity flourish and turned it into a bag. I knew right then and there that I had found my calling! For the next two years, I learned everything I could about leather, how to craft it, and designed line after line in the FIT workshop.
"The yearn for learning more never left me. I was and still am an inquisitive soul. I took up every opportunity that came my way." Photo courtesy of Lioness
My inaugural brand, Samira Buchi New York is an orchestrated outcome of a serene marriage between my creative instincts and learnings at FIT.
You know as they say, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” Hailing from a small town near Lake Geneva called Lausanne in Switzerland, I too, like many others, dreamt of living in the concrete jungle of the New York. Coming from a family of nomadic roots, my childhood revolved around the arts of big cities and the cultural diversities of the places we traveled. I remember visiting New York City in 1979, standing in the middle of a gritty SoHo street, and fancying that one day I would live here. This dream of living in New York never left me.
The yearn for learning more never left me. I was and still am an inquisitive soul. I took up every opportunity that came in my way – from being an interior decorator to graphic designer to prop stylist to photography, not realizing it was carving and sharpening my artistic skill sets, inching me a bit closer to my dream.
And when I finally touched down here in New York and at the forefront of the Fashion Institute of Technology, my lust with the art wanted to relive the second innings of life as a newborn on a virgin unexplored territory. Starting afresh, I saw this gap in the entire accessories business where providing custom-made luxury pieces with functionality and simplicity did not exist here in the fashion capital of the world. This instantly motivated me to go back to school and learn the nitty-gritty of the acceptable and lovable art of New York.
Initially, I believed, as I’m more fluent in speaking French than English, I would come across as a naïve to people in this great city. What was supposedly a weakness in my head, turned out to be my strength. My way of living, my personal style preferences and a cosmopolitan touch to designing my products has in every way come to be loved and desired by many in the United States. This particular transition of thought really shaped my character in New York– to hone every ability with confidence & pride.
The men in my life brought out this confidence in me through their daily inspirations as a young girl and well into motherhood– my father as I grew up, and then my kids who grew up too soon to chase their dreams in Paris and London respectively. Their dedication and faith to achieve what they believe in have had an insurmountable impact on my life that motivated me to leave Switzerland and grab the opportunity of living my dream in New York at the age of 50, which happens to be in an itsy bitsy apartment.
My tiny shoe box type Manhattan loft in Chelsea is a soupçon of my vintage European style. You will find a sense of industrial and rugged vibes– a chariot layered table to store my cookbooks and other kitchen essentials, a dining table of metal feet with bar stools, a décor comprising of Omersa- handmade leather pig footstool from Liberty London, a collage of memories on wooden frame and an incredible view of the Empire State Building from sizable windows. Though I miss waking up to the snow-capped Alps, the New York City skyline is a constant reminder to never stop chasing my dreams.
I’m now working for myself—something many will never experience or fathom. It’s like having a luxury of freedom with fear. But no one gets free lunches in life and as a 53-year-old woman with myriad experiences of life, I can certainly say that everything has its pros and cons – but what is constant is the learning. And the desire to learn should never fade!
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.