By Nathaniel Gondo
A simple mention of the word ‘Babwe’ tells you whatever we’re about to discuss is about Zimbabwe. And truly, Babwe is the embodiment of the Zimbabwean story, from the iconic Great Zimbabwe ruins, to the diversity of our people, to the artistry that began with stone paintings over five hundred years ago.
Babwe is a fashion brand that creates stylish and trendy clothing that is inspired by Zimbabwean traditional culture.
The brand’s designs are modern and sophisticated, yet they use traditional Zimbabwean patterns and motifs in a way that is both elegant and edgy. Babwe’s clothing is perfect for anyone who wants to look stylish and unique, while also paying homage to their African heritage.
Babwe was founded by Lesley Manokore, who is also the head creative designer. He describes Babwe as a group of creatives who are using their creativity to showcase the beauty and diversity of African culture to the world.
They are committed to changing the narrative around African culture and showing the world that it is a living, breathing, thriving culture that is relevant today and for generations to come.
“Babwe is a collective of creative minds used to push the narrative of innate identity. We are trying to find ways to promote African culture, more importantly Zimbabwean culture, to the rest of the world. In a world where Western brands dominate fashion, media and creative industries, it is time to change the narrative,” says Manokore.
The label was established in 2020 when Manokore was working in corporate. It was during these days when he created his first design, which went on to become a classic release.
“I was working, I had a desk job and I would make all the designs during that time. So, I started off with a couple of graphics of the classic ‘Munhu Mutema’ design,” describes Manokore.
He goes on to explain “Then I went on to design the t-shirts and I got in contact with suppliers in Dubai and China. I will to say it was really hard because it is not just printing a t-shirt and you getting your product. It’s really tedious thing because you got to make sure the quality, print, colours are good and everything to it. I spend about three to four months refining the product to get something that I really like and that’s how I built Babwe.”
Initially, for Manokore, Babwe was more of an extension of his personal brand. It was his parents that saw it’s potential to become a fully fledged clothing brand.
“I always wanted to make something of my own and I always thought it will it be cool, just imagine wearing something of your own. Clothes that you made. Initially that’s what it was about. It was not meant to be a label but I wanted to wear clothes of my own and look cool and it started off as idea of my own, I did for self-satisfaction,” said Manokore.
He goes on to add “I ran my idea with my parents because I always run my ideas across them and luckily, they were really invested in what I as doing and they were the first ones to tell me that I should make it a brand because it has a strong message and actually build it and see what it leads to. So that’s how Babwe came to fruition.”
The founder of Babwe has been an artistic person from the tender age and has always wanted to create something of his own. A developing interest in fashion motivated him to create something that would leave an imprint on the industry.
“I have always been an artistic person you know I took on art at very early age, and I really enjoyed that scene. So, as I was growing up, I took an interest in fashion, and it wasn’t because obviously everyone thinks it’s cool. Me being creative I am, I wanted to see how I could implement and see what I can do in fashion instead of being someone who enjoys to consume, what is it like to be able to make something of your own,” he explains.
He continues “So that’s when I got deep into fashion and I wouldn’t call myself like professional or anything but fashion just came as the by-product of my curiosity and creativity. I have always been a person who creates things be it music, you know I made a song with my friends in high school.”
Manokore has been creating his whole life and he created Babwe which is proudly Zimbabwean, and African fashion brand that is committed to celebrating African culture and heritage and he believes that fashion is a powerful tool for self-expression and identity.
“It’s just that I’ve been creating my whole life, you know, and I really wanted to add something and I said to myself, I’m going to create clothing or do fashion. I needed to create something with purpose that’s where Babwe basically arose from. It’s clothing with a purpose, it’s clothing that makes you proud of where you come from, it’s clothing that gives identity to us Zimbabwe and Africans as well and it turned into a fairly exciting concept which I’m glad to continue working on,” he said.
The origin of the brand name ‘Babwe’ reads like a scene out of a movie. Manokore says he just awoke out of a deep slumber with the name on his tongue. He did not doubt his instinct, and that’s how Babwe the clothing brand was born.
“The name seems very simple, it’s Zimbabwe and I took the Babwe part of it. I tell this to everyone and I don’t know how believable it is. I just woke up like something wakes me up and I was like Babwe that has to be the name because I was thinking those generic Zimbabwean t-shirts that says Zimbo, I thought of a more interesting take on this and I was like Babwe is cool. It’s kinda cliché but it’s a way of I was thinking how can I be different from them.”
Manokore says the meaning of Babwe is almost self explanatory, as it is derived from ‘Zimbabwe’ which roughly translates to ‘house of stone.’ “The meaning of Zimbabwe is the houses of stone and the last part of it Babwe means of stone so, directly translated to the brand’s message and meaning behind it to be of stone and solidifying in what you believe. That’s what it means to be secure. It also symbolises a community that’s strong and that’s to create togetherness,” explains Manokore.
Manokore created Babwe with his homeland in mind, and initially, he targeted the Zimbabwean and African market. However, the brand has exceeded his expectations and now has a global imprint, with customers in Europe, Asia and The United States.
“Initially when I created this concept I said this is for Zimbabweans and Africans. The Zimbabweans in the diaspora the people in overseas they are going to love this. It was like that until I took my first trip overseas to Shanghai to study and I was doing the brand here and there, selling and doing a bit of social media advertising,” Manokore explains.
He adds “That’s when foreigners started asking, people from Colombia, Portugal, America were like where can I get this T-shirt even though they did not really resonate with the message of ‘Munhu Mutema’, they really liked the design and the whole concept behind it and the whole message that Babwe was pushing.”
He elaborates further “It was a very weird point for me because I had created this for Zimbabweans and Africans but other people wanted to wear this and that was the most interesting and exciting part because it became an opportunity for rediscovering and reshaping what I had created. Now I can safely say that this is not just a thing for Zimbabweans and Africans but it’s for everyone and it’s for people who resonate with each other, people who want to come together and share positive vibes. It’s been the most interesting part with really good reception from international people who got nothing to do with African culture but they can appreciate what is being built and the message being told.”
Manokore expressed his gratitude of being appreciated at home as it gave him the zeal to soldier on. His main concern is the typical Zimbabwean attitude of not embracing and appreciating each other.
“It’s always been great to see Zimbabweans reacting to it and that’s what gives me courage, helps and motivates me. The downside of it is that Zimbabweans don’t really support each other until they see your success elsewhere. So, I was fairly correct when I started the concept in 2020 and as soon as I went overseas and started doing a little bit of this thing, I started receiving more support from Zimbabwe which I thought was weird but typical of Zimbabweans.”
He bemoaned the disunity among Zimbabwean creatives and urged his industry peers to do away with this behavior. “I feel like there is a lack of support of each other as fellow Zimbabweans which I think it needs to be point of conversation with a lot of creatives but otherwise I have received the most love and appreciation from fellow Zimbabweans and Africans as well,” says Manokore.
There is a recent video posted on United States based MMA fighter Themba Gorimbo’s social media, featuring him dancing away with his peers whilst wearing a Babwe t-shirt. The video has since gone viral, of course.
It is testament to just how far and wide Babwe has gone and yet another crowning moment in the inspiring Babwe story. The young designer thanked Themba Gorimbo for supporting the Babwe brand and described how they got to link up.
“This thing was never planned, that’s why I say the brand speak for itself. Initially, we just gifted him a couple of t-shirts and hoped he likes them. I wasn’t expecting anyhing from him and that video he posted, I guess he just loved the t-shirts and the whole concept behind it and decided to post it. It has gone viral ever since,” says Manokore.
As for what comes next for Manokore and his bludgeoning brand, he expects for Babwe to keep impacting more people in more places. An end of year release is just speculation at this point, according to Manokore.
Meanwhile, you can check out Babwe online, and the recent media dropped for the ‘Munhu Mutema’ t-shirts, their first ever Harare photoshoot. Their Instagram is @babwe_official.