As you read this, I’m sure a flurry of preconceived notions crossed your mind. No need to spell them out, we can no longer continue on that dark road.
Before I met Ishmael Ncube, founder of Kasivage, I might have shared the same notions of the kasi, drilled in by inescapable programming from neocolonialist media.
Born and raised in Plumtree, the 27 year old moved to Harare for school in 2018, which is where the idea for Kasivage was born. As we start this long overdue sit-down with Ncube, he tells me;
“When I was in college there was a challenge when it came to clothes. You know college, there is always pressure to wear designer brands and if you didn’t have them you were considered uncool.
“So, me, Nkosikhona Sibanda, and Bokani Nleya decided to do something about that, and that’s how Kasivage was born. It started as a college brand but it grew a lot from there.”
Thus, Kasivage was launched in 2019 in Harare. The initial reaction to Kasivage amongst Ncube’s fellow classmates was fairly underwhelming, which Ncube alludes to underlying tribalistic stereotypes.
“We started this brand in Harare, and maybe it didn’t grow as much as it could have because of the name. I’m not saying people were suppressing us, they were just not as welcoming as we would have liked,” he says.
For Ncube, the vision was bigger than the reality, and so he endured until he finished school. It only took a feature in Matebeleland’s biggest daily newspaper for the people from Ncube’s hometown and beyond to take notice of Kasivage.
Speaking on how the brand name came about, Ncube says;
“Kasivage is a noun that I coined myself. It means, ‘From a cashless society where growth is deprived, but hope for a better tomorrow.’ We dream like obstacles don’t exist and anything is possible”
Where Ncube and his friends come from forms a core part of the Kasivage vision. Through Kasivage, Ishmael Ncube aims to shape perspectives and change narratives about his community; and ultimately heal the internalized inferiority complex that has dogged his people in the post-independent reality.
“The main goal of Kasivage is to change the reality we live in. It’s all about hustling and trying to make the best of your life with what you have access to.
“Our vision is to make our own people recognized and see themselves as stylish. We use our clothes as a form of expression, and at this point it’s now like a second skin,” he proclaims.
With a vision this big, it’s not enough for Kasivage to just do streetwear. Ncube shares with me advanced plans to expand the Kasivage aesthetic beyond just streetwear, saying;
“Our focus is on streetwear because that’s how we started but we have been experimenting with other ideas as well. At the moment we are still testing out some ideas and designs for events and collections.”
Five years after inception, Kasivage is well within its path, but Ncube still finds himself having to work where it all started, mainly due to the centralization of resources to the capital.
“It’s hard to work sometimes because resources are mostly available in Harare, and so we work from there a lot of the time. But it would be ideal to set up shop in Bulawayo,” he says.
As if working far from home is not hard enough, Ncube is sometimes forced to import materials for manufacture, due to issues with unavailability and quality. He laments;
“I get some of my items in South Africa. The quality of material in Zimbabwe is sub-standard, but because we want people to get value for their money, we are forced to import the material.”
As for the thorn in the flesh, Ncube shares the sentiment of most Zimbabwean clothing brands that cheap imitations of foreign brands are what is affecting the marketability of their merchandise, and therefore impeding their growth. He explains;
“The biggest challenge, besides the economy of course, has been the rise of China shops. I wish the government could do something about this because it affects entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe.
“It makes it difficult to have a market for our products and it’s slowly killing the fashion industry in Zimbabwe as well as the art.”
Ncube’s panacea to this seemingly unsolvable problem is simple – collaboration. He believes if the current crop of Zimbabwean creatives come together to support each other’s works simply by sharing and wearing each other’s works, we will reach the Canaan we all desire.
“I believe collaborations are key to the growth of the creative industry. Let’s collaborate with musicians, endorse them and make them wear local,” says Ncube.
That is the vision, but for the execution, Ncube decided to start off as a teacher, rather than a collaborator. He shares;
“We haven’t done any collaborations yet but I’m mentoring someone who is getting ready to launch his brand and so I have been focused on that and I have really been enjoying it.”
As we conclude the conversation, Ncube’s final words echo why it’s essential for us to support homegrown brands, instead of continuing to patronize foreign brands.
“I just want a brand that is rooted to our culture. All these foreign brands can never give back to our community but if you support Kasivage we will be able to give back to the community,” he concludes.
What Kasivage is doing to shape narratives about the kasi is worth supporting. Surely, the kasi should never be confused with the high-density dwellings that the Rhodesians forced our grandfathers into. The kasi is where we come from, it defines us – our creativity, our resilience, our sense of community.
We are all the change we seek. For the kasi to become better, we have to do better. Ishmael Ncube is playing his part— making a difference in their community through fashion.
You can stay up to date with everything Kasivage on Instagram and Facebook, where you can make place your order via direct message. You can also visit their website or talk to the man himself, Ishmael Ncube, on WhatsApp.