Focus on ‘African Hippie’ – An Artistic ‘Act of Rebellion’ Expressed Through Fashion And Love For Fabrics

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By Rue Rusere

When people in Africa and all over the world commemorated Africa Day, it dawned on us at Mcheno & More that we had to do something to celebrate this significant day; we had to write something. Or showcase a picture or two. Something of that sort.

And desiring to do so in a manner expressing our being young and African; yet, we didn’t want to be like everyone else: wearing African print clothes and posting “Happy Africa Day” on various social media.

Not that this is not important. It really is. We just desired a slight shift in not appearing as somewhat banal.

The disdain of being platitudinous –  just posting without actually celebrating being African in the wholesale sense of what that means –  is what had us looking deeper into our Zimbabwean fashion industry in a quest to find someone, or some people, whom we could celebrate and get to know more.

Perhaps that qualifies as a more intentional way of celebrating African liberation – vague as it may seem.

Enter African Hippie – The Bold Stylists

And so, we got to explore ‘African Hippie’. The name itself sends a message. African Hippie define themselves as “an act of rebellion”. That’s a whole vibe of creative defiance. And innovation. For African Hippie, it’s all about “the need to resist the pressure to be normal”. Bold.

See, being bold is a quality that is close to being extinct here in Zimbabwe; not many people have the guts to stand up for what they believe in [at least in a progressive manner; some have regressive beliefs] even where there are no outside forces.

It’s as if people are content with what has been defined as the norm by “society”. But not African Hippie. This is the fashion revolution of Zimbabwe. And, ladies and gentlemen, dear readers of this blog, by the time it hits you (that African Hippie is a serious existing brand), may you be prepared. Like, for real. Be prepared.

After a few taps and interactions, it was agreed I had to converse with and interview African Hippie.

This was my first  time interviewing someone (hence making this one of my first long posts in this fashion blogging life) and despite it being an online interview I was kind of uncertain how this will turn out.

Having had a bad encounter with one fashion designer once I was sort of hesitant, and I must admit: I thought fashion designers were people of little words after that one isolated bad encounter.

To my surprise, African Hippie was all there, gracefully and joyously; it was an effortless, smooth, enjoyable interview. And I could tell that this guy loves what he does. You could feel the passion and drive in his words and that made me more drawn to the whole group.

The person I interviewed is called Leeroy Jawala. He started African Hippie with his brother Elvis Jawala, then they later joined forces with Blu Smoke and Xandiee and Devine to form, African Hippie, our subject at hand here.

And below are the excerpts of our interaction for Mcheno & More:

Rue Rusere: Who/what is African Hippie? (break it down like you’re telling a grade one pupil and make me understand what makes you tick and all)

Leeroy: So my government name is Leeroy Jawala. I am a boy. Haha. And I am a social work graduate. So I am far away from my field of study. Lol

So African Hippie is no longer one person but rather it’s a collective of stylists.  I started the collective in 2021. I had been styling individuals before but I went pro in 2021. We started out as a duo, there was myself and my brother Elvis Jawala. We then added Xandiee , Blu Smoke and Devine. So the team currently has five members.

What brings us together is our love for fabrics. We find great joy in looking good and  showing out but we discovered that fashion is much more powerful.  We discovered how we can influence people and motivate people using fabrics. Out of the messages we try to promote, the greatest one is how we believe in living our own truths. We believe that every individual was created differently so therefore their lives should align with that; and one of the best ways of living our own truths is through fashion. So as stylists our jobs are not to tell people what to wear but we are there to facilitate individuals in exploring their unique tastes.

Rue Rusere: Where does your love for vintage sprout from?

Leeroy: Basically it’s a case of life giving you lemons and making lemonade. And later on realizing that lemonade might actually be better than orange juice (I am getting carried away with the analogy haha). But yeah…we don’t come from rich backgrounds so most of the clothes we would wear growing up were hand me downs or ‘bhero’ (second-hand clothing that comes in ‘bales’). So what this does is it teaches you to be hella creative with your outfits.

With time we then discovered how cool those vintage pieces are – for starters, the pieces are unique unlike the mass produced pieces  (you walk in town in and you meet a clone of yourself three or four times). The quality of vintage pieces is also unmatched,  they don’t make anything like they used to anymore.

And most of vintage pieces are gold because they are pieces of history.  There is just something about wearing something that was, say, made in the 80s that makes you feel like you are a time traveller.

Oh and the fact that wearing vintage pieces is good for the planet doesn’t hurt either.

Rue Rusere: We’re well aware that you’re a stylist to some big names. How has working with big artists been for you?

Leeroy: We have had the privilege of working with some prominent artists in the industry like Nutty O,  Enzo Ishall, Ishan etc. We have learnt a lot through working with these artists..

Firstly, to put it into context the industry of styling is still starting out. What most artists are used to is simply pulling up to gigs and styling themselves and usually that means they wear their everyday clothes.

So when we started we were trying to make a case for stylists trying to show why it’s essential to have stylists on sets because the thinking was [and is] ‘ndingabhadhare munhu kut andipfekedze shuwa (you want me to pay someone money just for clothing me); I will just wear my own clothes’. But with time they begin to understand the importance of stylists. So the biggest lesson has been the power of collaboration. We have seen what can be achieved is bringing our different talents together to make one thing.

Rue Rusere: A little bird also told me you recently produced a fashion documentary. Now, I know it’s true because I trust my source, but can you take me through the whole process, from conceptualization to publishing and have you released it yet?

Leeroy: Yeah you on your Nardwuar haha! Yep,  we did a mini documentary titled ‘Africa Hippie’. We worked with the talented director Blu Mordecai to bring the vision to life.

Rue Rusere: This documentary could be a first of its kind and we can’t say we don’t have other fashion artistes who could have done the same but there are non or so I think. What gave you the courage to say, I need to do this ?

Leeroy: We wanted to answer the question who and what is African Hippie.  The doccie covers who we are and what our goals are as a collective. The visuals in the doccie are meant to represent how we are out out of the box thinkers (or have screws missing). I wrote the doccie and produced it and it one of the ways in which our brand is expanding.  We are not just stylist but all round creatives.

We released the project last month on YouTube on 99 Orange TV channel, a page run by Blu Mordecai.

The documentary by Kanye, jeen yuhs motivated us to start documenting our story. Coz if you don’t tell your own story someone else will and it will be according to their own lenses.

 We were also motivated my local brands like Haus of Stone who make amazing films for their brand.

The documentary is also like an affirmation for our brand… it’s a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder of how far we can and will go.

This project taught us that as much as money is important it is not everything when it comes to creating. We had a limited budget (limited means zero) but we managed to produce a good product.  This was a product of collaboration

 Rue Rusere: Who did you work with on your documentary and why those people?

The director was Blu Mordecai, one of the best upcoming directors in Zimbabwe.  He is a very creative and has amazing passion for story telling.

The colorist was Jasper Samutisi, who is a magician when it comes to colour grading.

The voice over was done by the amazing Tanatswa Masangomai (she made my writing sound amazing).

The video stars Devine Farahini, who is a member of African Hippie and a very talented model as well.

Despite being talented we have great synergy and that’s what made the project a success.

Rue Rusere: What were you trying to achieve?

Leeroy: We are announcing ourselves to the world and taking our place in the industry. We want our brand to be associated with excellence and pushing boundaries and we believe that the documentary is a good start.

The doccie was also way of branching into film. We want to show that we are more than music video stylists.

The doccie also offered me an opportunity to learn script writing and producing.

Rue Rusere: What challenges did you face during the whole process, and in generally in your journey?

Leeroy: We are facing an issue of publishing.  Finding the best way to push the project is proving to be difficult

The lack of finances also made it difficult for us execute all the ideas we had in mind.

Oh and Zesa of course,  power went out while shooting…and then trying to edit the project proved to be difficult with no electricity.

Rue Rusere: What should we expect from you in the near future in terms of projects?

Leeroy: More films. We recently shot a short movie that we are so excited about. It is a mix of fashion and Afro surrealism.  Movies are beautiful as they give us more room to go as crazy as we wish (esp. when we write the movies)

We also have a lot of music videos coming up for artist like Kae Chaps, Nutty O, etc.

Rue Rusere: What would you pick out of these:  pudding, ice cream, yoghurt and jelly?

Leeroy: Dang its the most difficult question out of the lot haha; it’s a close race btwn pudding and ice cream but pudding will take it.

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