Fashion Futures in Bulawayo: Collaborating For The Future

Around three months into my pregnancy, I embarked on what would become a life-defining journey. Despite being in the pit of an uncomfortable first trimester, it was during this time that Farai and Chipo from British Council and I began a series of conversations to shape the Fashion Futures project. It was very clear going in that this would be a special project.

From the beginning, collaboration was a key component of this female- led project that brought together 4 women from different professional backgrounds to research underground fashion industries in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi and the UK.

Working very closely with Farai and Chipo, we went back and forth tossing the project concept, trying to figure out the best possible angle to pursue in order to leave no stone unturned. Through this process came what I now call the sisterhood with my British Council sisters, from a professional as well as a personal capacity. As you work, you get to know each other, and you really get to appreciate the value of everyone. I knew that I would derive a lot of lessons through this project.

L-R Farai Ncube (British Council), Hannah Robinson (British Council UK), Chenesai Mukora-Mangoma, Chipo Kanyumbu (British Council)

Eventually, the party grew with the inclusion of British Council UK and a pivotal third partner Nataal Media. Our official newly formed partnership for Fashion Futures was now between Nataal Media, British Council and Chenesai.

We were also clear from the beginning that we wanted Fashion Futures to be about youth engagement, underground, undiscovered fashion talent and we wanted to tell stories that were fresh and transcending, that no one has heard of, and as we were couching our call out, this is what we premised it on. The cherry on top was when the Bulawayo angle of Fashion Futures came to fruition. This painted an all-important picture because inclusivity was principle to the Fashion Futures project.

Bulawayo was exciting for me because it has always been a cultural hot pot. Something about the Ndebele has always inspired me from a style and fashion perspective. I have family in Bulawayo and I had been immersed in some of the culture over the years, so I was looking forward to creating and sharing in the ‘City of Kings.’

On International Women’s Day, we went off to Bulawayo with our team which included our 4 researchers Lucia Nhamo, Leah Misika, Thokozani Phiri and Adjoa Armah, as well as Rudo Nondo, the country representative for Fashion Revolution, Chipo Kanyumbu from British Council, Tatenda Kanengoni our lively photographer and Extra-Blessing Kuchera from British council for good measure. Not forgetting our
special baby, Kudzwai Munopa, now six months old whom I call the ‘Fashion Futures baby’ from being in my belly during the project conceptualisation to now being part of this journey with Jennifer ‘Mai Fraser’ Chafa, who was coming along to help care for Kudzwai while I was up and about.

Tendai our lovely driver carrying Kudzwai

There’s something personal about road trips, conversation was bubbling with bouts of sleep in and out to recover from hectic scheduling from the Harare leg of the project. We made a quick stop in Selous and squeezed in a recording for International Women’s Day expressing what it meant to us. In this, I warmed up to and saw the souls of these amazing women.

We passed through Kadoma Textiles along the way, where we met Dave Archibold an amazing man who is passionate about his work. He took us through the factory thread-by-thread, fabric-by-fabric, machine-by- machine, thoroughly explaining the history, work and aspirations of Kadoma Textiles and importantly, their openness to collaborating with people within the fashion sector. You could feel the rhythm and warmth in his heart and we were overwhelmed with gratitude. It was also amazing for some of the girls working on sustainability in fashion to see how Kadoma Textiles employs sustainable methodology through landfill recycling during their dyeing process.

L-R Chipo Kanyumbu, Chenesai Mukora-Mangoma, Dave Archibald, Lucia Nhamo, Rudo Nondo, Thokozani P
L-R Chenesai with one of the lovely ladies from Kadoma Textiles

We took affectionate pictures with some of the staff at Kadoma Textiles, and discussed the possibility of doing an installation at the plant with one of the researchers.

Finally, we got to Bulawayo and made our first stop at Bulawayo Home Industries. Bulawayo is conventionally known for its basket weaving and as fashion people, we could not pass an opportunity to visit the space located at the same complex as the Muzilikazi Art and Craft Centre. The space was almost closed, but thanks to Melody who is running the British Council Bulawayo office, we managed to explore the woven baskets and other memorabilia, tripping over the commodities in awe. It was a gold mine and for people like me who like unconventional pieces, I found this amazing hat and little bag that I carried around during the mixer later that evening.

With the amazing Bulawayo based creatives

The rest of our stay in Bulawayo can be captured in two words ‘Sustainable Collaboration.’ We worked closely with Gilmore Tee and his Paper Bag Africa team to plan the Bulawayo installations. Gilmore and his team delivered above and beyond expectation. Bulawayo would not have been the same without the work of Paper Bag Africa. I was excited to work with Gilmore having followed his work for years and to see him in action wowed my spirit. We worked closely and made very good relations with the whole team including Charlotte Sengu, Tinashe Charleson and Emmanuel ‘Slick’ Dove.

I also got to meet amazing artists from Bulawayo, their warmth and willingness to participate was good to witness, considering that this is a project that they had not heard of until it came to their city.

What I learnt about sustainable collaboration from the work done by Paper Bag Africa is that when you think about collaboration, you think about working as a team. A product that comes from collaborated effort should be bigger and better. It requires that everyone put their joint efforts to carry their weight for the end product. Collaborating with Gilmore and Paper Bag Africa made that happen. It becomes sustainable because if you do a good job the first time around, you will continue to try and synergise in order to work together.

Bulawayo showed me the potential that our creative industries have if we foster sustainable collaboration and work together meaningfully.

I walked away from Bulawayo congested with feelings that to this day, I am still struggling to define. Bulawayo was explosive; it brought about so many elements, so much sisterhood. To see women that did not know each other come together, work together, support each other, and embrace a totally different culture and city. To see them wake up early everyday, ready to work and not complaining was more than I could have ever asked for.

In my heart, Bulawayo is our fashion and cultural capital. I sincerely look forward to working with Bulawayo creatives and building onto the momentum and spirit. I look forward to more projects such as these that foster sustainable sisterhood and women’s empowerment.

For me, Bulawayo was the final piece to the puzzle. It was only fitting that we concluded phase two of the Fashion Futures project there.

Thank you the City of Kings Bulawayo! Siyabonga Khakhulu, Ndinotenda zvikuru. Until we meet again.