By Nathaniel Gondo
The word ‘mucheno’ is derived from “kuchena”, which can be directly translated to ‘clean and smart.’ In the early 2000’s, Sungura legend Tongayi Moyo popularised the term to mean ‘fashionable and stylish’.
A decade after his untimely passing, MuchenoAfro has emerged to usher in a new wave of Zimbabwean fashion, and continue the tradition of “mucheno”. MuchenoAfro specialises in the upcycling of different fabrics, mostly denim and corduroy, to create unique and stunning pieces.
MuchenoAfro was founded in 2022 by Nomutsa Mukechi and Jonah Lesley Mupini. The two were classmates at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, where they both studied Visual Art and Design.
“Me and Nomutsa, we used to be classmates at National Gallery of Zimbabwe and we were both studying Visual Art and Design. Most of our time we spent it designing, drawing and painting at school and sometimes at his house,” Mupini explains.
Their shared passion for art blossomed into MuchenoAfro when Mukechi started making pieces for himself, and Mupini saw the potential to create a fully fledged brand out of it. He adds, “This other day Nomutsa came to school with a t-shirt printed ‘Nomukechi’ and I liked the idea. That’s when the journey started.”
Shingai Shamu (popularly known as Kwashingi Designer) joined the crew later on, to make it a trio. Shamu was already an established designer before joining MuchenoAfro, and what has made the team stronger and closer is the shared vision they have.
He narrates, “Before I partnered with the guys I was already doing my thing as a solo designer and I had my own vision. When I joined the group, we just clicked because we all realised that we had the same vision and to us that made us one family. We just had to stick to the theme that ‘teamwork makes a dream work’ and here we are.”
Initially, the brand was called Nomukechi Apparel, a nod to NOMUtsa MuKECHI, the one who started it all with his t-shirt. They later came up with MuchenoAfro, a holistic definition of what they seek to achieve. They now use both names interchangeably, to appeal to those who were there when it all started, as well as new markets they’ve been venturing into.
“MuchenoAfro is a name which came after we started the ‘Nomukechi Movement’, in order to create something unique and outstanding when it comes to art and fashion,” says Mukechi.
MuchenoAfro is what happens when visual artists decide to dabble in fashion. The result is a unique design that is unmistakably African, but still matches international standards. Think of it as a Moffat Takadiwa artwork or a Dominic Benhura sculpture, but you get to wear it.
“MuchenoAfro designs are primarily inspired by art, as well as a driven passion for fashion and style,” Shamu alludes to this fact.
Mukechi and Mupini decided to go beyond what they learnt at The National Art Gallery, and forge their own path. Instead of painting or sculpting, the decided to tell stories through fabric.
“We are visual artists we studied Visual Art and Design. We started to think outside the box and ended up doing fashion designing and print-making art. That was the way we choose to tell our stories and to express ourselves,” adds Mukechi.
MuchenoAfro’s success seems to have happened overnight, but the journey from virtually unknown to borderline mainstream has not been easy. The trio started off selling their merch to close friends in their neighborhoods, but business was slow. They then decided to make the bold decision to showcase their pieces at the 5th edition of the Fabrik Party, held in September 2022.
“Nomukechi has had a roller coaster journey, we started selling clothes before runways but the business was so hard because we had no influence and a few customers from Glen Norah and Houghton Park. We never liked the sales, so that’s when we thought of showcasing at Fabrik Party,” narrates Mupini.
Their first showcasing defines their humble beginnings. It was just Mupini, Mukechi, and his little brother (eLKay) who modeled on the runway. However, it was the social capital they gained from being around other fashion minds which contributed to the growth in influence, as well as sales.
Mupini adds, “From there on, we had value in the fashion industry, and we started making sales and having influence.”
From their first runway show, MuchenoAfro has never looked back. For their second appearance at the Fabrik Party, they didn’t even have to apply. They were invited, and this time as one of the superstars of the show.
“Fabrik Party called us for our second showcasing. Not to brag, but at that Fabrik Party we were the main focus. All cameras were on us, we had the best designs, we had more models, and we were even more influential. So what I can say is, the journey has been exciting,” beams Mupini.
Shamu showers praises for fashion shows like the Fabrik Party, which gives emerging designers a platform for them to showcase their talent to connoisseurs of the culture. He attests that their appearance at the Fabrik Party has been a major contributor to their success.
“The fashion runways have contributed a lot to the growth of our brand because it gave us the opportunity to show to the world what we can do and we believe that people believe what they see, and it really worked. We managed to get a lot of recognition and attention in all the runway events that we showcased,” he says
That recognition and attention has put MuchenoAfro in rooms with some of the biggest names in Zimbabwean entertainment. They have styled renowned hip hop stars and influencers from across the urban culture spectrum.
Mukechi expounds further, “Our biggest achievement so far is that we’ve dressed celebrities like Holy Ten and Michael Magz, Ras Pomby, Suhn, Young Gemini and Hillzy. We have also dressed Kelvin Apple Pappi (model) and King Rashee (choreographer).”
Within one year, MuchenoAfro has managed to achieve a great deal, beyond their wildest dreams. The market has been eating up the brand’s quaint fusion of fashion and art, and MuchenoAfro is here to stay, if not dominate.
Shamu says, “The reception of our brand has been so good, and we are happy that people are starting to understand what fashion and art is all about.”
The secret to MuchenoAfro’s success has been the brotherly bond forged amongst it’s three co-owners that Mukechi believes was written in the stars. This unity transcends any differences they might have or may have had prior to coming together to work on MuchenoAfro.
He describes, “We are different but we always believe that team work is the best, regardless of different backgrounds. Moreover, we really understand each other deeply. This bond between me and my two brothers Shingi (Shamu) and Lesley (Mupini), I always believe that it’s God’s plan.”
The team is always coming up with fresh designs by order, and they’re already working on a ready-made release. Shamu was, however, coy on the exact details or date of the release.
“Expect new pieces, it’s gonna be dope. Right now I can’t disclose more on that issue but when the right time comes we will surely notify,” says Shamu.
Whatever they release, we’re sure it’ll be amazing.
Whenever they release, Mcheno&More will be there to cover it. Meanwhile, to stay up to date with MuchenoAfro on social media, you can check out their Instagram page: muchenoafro_nomukechi.
To make a custom order, you can contact Lesley directly on: +263788955105. If Lesley is unavailable, talk to Nomutsa on: +263777229358. If both won’t answer, Shingi is there on: +263713541422.