Her inventive scarf-tying TikTok went absurdly viral. Now, the erstwhile model is adjusting to a new claim to fame.

By Sam Reed
Jan 11, 2021 @ 10:15 am
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Credit: Ruben Branches

As I scrolled aimlessly through my "For You Page" on TikTok one unremarkable day in November — another rotation through my daily pandemic ritual — Claudya Moreira appeared on my screen. Her skin? Creamy perfection. Her bangs? Joni Mitchell would weep. Her aura? Coastal European Lifestyle.

While I was struck initially by her beauty, I stayed for the magic trick she was performing right before my very eyes. I stared at the video as it played over and over on a loop, mesmerized as she pinned the corner of an ordinary black scarf like so, tucked some material here, and shimmied this fold there. Sixty seconds later, somehow, she was wearing a fringed wrap top that fit her like a glove.

As a West Coast kid who grew up in an era when scarves served as the calling card of WASP-y Ladies Who Brunch (the patterned fringe scarf, wrapped like a kerchief), and punk lite emo kids (the too-long skinny scarf, styled like a men's tie), I have previously avoided scarves at all costs, save for the few days a year when my California ass can't handle the East Coast cold.

But Moreira's feed — an endless scroll of scarf-styling videos that I could more accurately classify as magic trick tutorials — had me questioning my unfair prejudice toward scarves. She demonstrates again and again: a scarf could be for cool girls, too.

When I Zoomed with Claudya in December, our connection between the Philadelphia suburbs (me) and a coastal town in Portugal (Moreira) was spotty, making it difficult to communicate. Despite the lags, her energy radiated through the screen, her bangs as "effortless" as ever. She confirmed what I had guessed, which is that she was a model for many years.

Credit: Ruben Branches

Moreira was born in Cape Verde, immigrating to Lisbon when she was seven years old. Her studies then took her from Switzerland, to France, to England, and back to Lisbon, where she arrived just before the pandemic in February of last year after 12 years touring the continent. Along the way, she had picked up a few more languages (she speaks Creole from Cape Verde, her mother tongue, as well as Portuguese, English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), a modeling portfolio, a degree in fashion styling, and a desire to make her mark in the fashion industry.

Becoming famous on a novel social media platform for showing people how to tie her collection of scarves was not, believe it or not, her original dream. When she moved back to Lisbon, she expected to continue her modeling career, but says that she wasn't interested in cultivating the influencer profile that agencies were demanding of her.

"If I'm going to influence people, I want to influence them with my story," she says of her rejection of #spon life. "I started doing some videos trying to put some outfits together, but I got so bored. I decided this is not what I want to do."

Eventually, she says, she made her way to the buzziest app of them all, TikTok, where she stumbled upon "more creative" content that was in line with the work she had in mind. From there, she made the decision to style some of the scarves she had around her house in unexpected, fresh ways. "In the beginning of [2020] everyone was wearing scarves — they were really popular as crop tops and things like that. I started to play in front of the mirror trying to see if it would turn into something that I like, and something that people also want to wear."

She uploaded her first video in April, and by the start of the new year, Moreira had gained almost 200,000 followers on TikTok; some of her most popular videos are approaching 4 million views.

Credit: Ruben Branches

With precision on the level of origami masters, Moreira has "discovered" many new ways to wear what was previously believed (by me, at least) to be a neck accessory and nothing more. Some of her most popular styles, she says, are those in which she attaches a scarf to a blazer, button-up shirt, or vest by looping the material around the button, and then sliding it through the button hole, creating an anchor of sorts for the scarf to then be wrapped around the waist or shoulders. Videos making use of brooches and pins, as well as tutorials for using scarves as bags, are popular as well.

In September of 2020, she launched Zafia, her very own line of scarves.

"The reason I decided to start my brand is because I was getting such good feedback from people, and they kept asking me where I got my scarves," she says, adding that it was the natural next step for her to pivot to production.

There's also a sentimental element to making scarves, one that relates back to the women who raised Moreira: her mother and grandmother. "For me, this is an homage to the women from my country. It's amazing that in 2020, women in Cape Verde still wear scarves on their heads, and it's good that they can see a new generation can give a new use to them. My scarves have a story, which is the story of my country, and the story of my culture."

"Beside the goal that any entrepreneur has of seeing their company grow, my main hope for Zafia is to create something powerful that has a voice, that says we're all the same, no matter the gender, the color, the body type," she adds.

"Scarves have a meaning at the culture of my country Cape Verde, and that meaning is respect. That's what I hope that my brand can pass on, the respect for yourself and for the others. It's just a piece of clothing, but it's also more than that, it's something that can highlight your personality, and for me, that's the beauty of it."