Focus on New Image Kingdom: The Bulawayo Brand Championing a New Reality for Zimbabwean Fashion

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Zimbabwe churns out thousands of graduates annually, who are then met with the stark reality – akulamsebenzi, hakuna mabasa, there are no jobs.

For most Zimbabwean youth, the disenchantment and disillusion that comes with graduation is what jerks them out of their comfort zone, and forces them towards anything that puts food on the table.

The rare few will use this as an opportunity to follow their passions.

For Keith Ryan Chikoza though, he didn’t need to be capped to realise. And it was more destiny than it was disillusionment.

Dropping out to follow his dreams — Keith Ryan Chikoza

In 2021, he dropped out from Bulawayo Polytechnic where he was studying towards a National Diploma in Boiler Making to pursue a full-time career as the founder and creative designer of New Image Kingdom – a booming Bulawayo streetwear brand that expertly combines upcycling, painting and fabric manipulation to deliver outerworldly pieces.

He had launched the brand in 2020, whilst he was still learning at the Polytechnic. His passion and talent as a creative designer was impossible to hide from the beginning, something that his classmates and even lecturers easily noticed.

Speaking on his journey from dropout to designer, Chikoza tells us;

“One of the major reasons why I dropped out was the pressure I was given by my classmates and even lecturers. During my free periods in college, not a day went by without me creating. Everyone kept asking me ‘what are you doing here?’”

Despite the rave reviews from his peers, Chikoza was reluctant to follow through and take the bold leap from manufacturing to fashion, until he confronted himself.

“I ignored that question for a long time until one day even I asked myself the same thing. I asked myself ‘what am I even doing here, who am I?’” explains Chikoza.

Humble beginnings – early works of New Image Kingdom

Of course, the introspection resulted in Chikoza making the decision to leave it all and follow his dreams.

But, being the child of parents who grew up in a reality where education was the only way out, Chikoza reminisces how his parents took the decision;

“It was so heartbreaking to take the step because my parents couldn’t understand the decision. Imagine after all their efforts to take me to college, and then at the end I just gave up. But I had to.”

Despite his parents’ qualms, Chikoza soldiered on towards his dream – it was going to be New Image Kingdom or nothing.

The name New Image Kingdom suggests the introduction of a new perspective to a reality that is inuandated with the same old boring things; and this new image is here to change the narrative.

For the founder through, the name arose from an undeniable realisation that their creations were not something that people were accustomed to, but something new to the ‘kingdom’, hence New Image Kingdom.

“The ideas we had were out of this space, so it was like – let’s bring a new image to the world,” the 24 year old explains.

Triple threat — New Image Kingdom is a collaborative effort between tailor Vusumuzi Ngwenya (left), stylist Ashton Nkala (middle), and designer Keith Ryan Chikoza (right)

In explaining the name, Chikoza uses the term ‘we’ because New Image Kingdom is not just him – it’s actually a trio.

Tailor Vusumuzi Ngwenya (left) and stylist Ashton Nkala (right)

He incorporated tailor Vusumuzi Ngwenya and stylist Ashton Nkala in July 2022, to create a super team where the creatives keep pouring into each other to propel New Image Kingdom to new heights.

They might be barely two years in, but New Image Kingdom’s creative process already emulates that of an established fashion house due to their specialized abilities.

Everyone is involved in brainstorming, then Chikoza comes into play for the design conceptualisation. Once the designs are ready, Ngwenya plays his role by sewing the pieces together. The final stage is Nkala’s responsibility, which is styling the models and artists for marketing shoots.

Chikoza breaks down the creative process as follows;

“The first step is usually brainstorming or idea generation. This is where we come up with ideas and possibilities for our project.

“The second step is usually research, where we gather information and inspiration related to our project.

Outerwordly concept shoots — New Image Kingdom’s specialty

“The third step is usually planning or outlining, where we figure out the specifics of our project.

“The fourth step is usually execution, where we actually create our project.

“And the fifth step is usually evaluation, where we reflect on our project and see if there is room for improvement.”

The coming together of a designer, a stylist and a tailor makes New Image Kingdom a rare gem amongst Zimbabwean brands. With their talents, they are able to create independently – from concept to product to marketing.

Surely so, this gives the team the confidence that they can do it all and achieve their dreams, as Chikoza alludes;

“It feels like we are unstoppable, and if we can manage to do this, we can do anything. We believe a dream alone is just a dream, but a dream together is reality.”

Almost four years since he started making pieces inbetween classes, and three years after leaving Poly to pursue his dreams, Chikoza’s parents have warmed up to the idea of him being a visionary designer.

This is evident in the support they have given their son in his endevours, as Chikoza describes;

“In fact, before even getting money out of it, after seeing my capabilities my dad started believing in what I was doing.”

He continues;

“I can’t forget that he was the one who funded my first journey to Harare to attend the Skeyi & Strobo Fabrik Party for the first time. Till today, just want to keep on making my parents proud.”

Come 2024, NIK has grown and they set to deliver a new baby called Heaven on Earth. Although this baby is yet to be known when it is expected to be delivered, Chikoza gives us the inside scoop, sharing;

“’Heaven on Earth’ is our motto for 2024. Expect the unexpected; we’re looking forward to creating designs that are out of this world, something that people have never imagined. Something that people will treasure for generations to come.”

A chef never reveals his secret until the food is served, and Chikoza is no exception on that. He simply gave us the appetizer, and shied away from the particulars of the main course.

He however did confirm that the collection will comprise recycled custom jeans, customized khaki pants, tote bags, and “a surprise package”.

“For the collection, we’re looking at recycling old clothes and creating something outstanding. We also want to create necklaces using different types of media,” shares Chikoza.

Well, Mcheno And More has already done its part – immortalized Keith Ryan Chikoza, Vusumuzi Ngwenya, Ashton Nkala and New Image Kingdom. It’s up to the trio to continue delivering, thus slowly but surely etching their name in Bulawayo fashion history.

We’ll be looking forward to “Heaven on Earth’, and ultimately, what New Image Kingdom achieves for Bulawayo and Zimbabwean fashion.

For now, you can check out New Image Kingdom on Instagram to see their journey as they have documented it.

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