Focus on Phony Studios: A decade of keeping a dream alive, from Bulawayo to Indiana

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For most, the diaspora has become somewhat of a paradise. Those who leave ‘dysfunctional Zimbabwe’ are somewhat justified.

Who wouldn’t want to spend the rest of their lives in a ‘functioning 21st century society’ with ‘all the amenities’ that make ‘modern day living a bit easier’?

But does that mean one has to completely unroot themselves from their homeland?

Peter Savanhu thinks otherwise, and thankfully so.

Phony Studios founder and Creative Director, Peter Savanhu

Now based in the Plainfield, Indiana; the 29 year old founded a streetwear brand called Phony Studios in Luveve, Bulawayo in 2015.

At the time, the inspiration for Savanhu was the fact that him and his friends didn’t have access to the popular foreign brands that media keeps reverring and forcefeeding to youth in the Global South.

They, therefore, resorted to thrifting to get the brands second-hand.

“We would wake up at the crack of dawn and go downtown where several vendors would lay a large pile of imported used clothes from all over the world. I still have my first Levis jacket that I thrifted from there,” recalls Savanhu as we start this long-ranging conversation with him.

Humble beginnings — Phony Studios’ first releases

Over time, Savanhu slowly entertained the idea of starting his own brand, supported by his friends. He started off with simple branding of caps and tees, and that’s how Phony Studios was born.

“Ironically enough, that was the most genuine form of art as we maximized our surroundings,” reminisces Savanhu.

Bulawayo days [Image: Captured Moments Photography]

In 2016, Savanhu had to leave his creation, still at its infancy, in the hands of his friends to pursue his education in the United States of America. Like a baby starting to walk, it took a few steps but eventually fell down as it needed the touch of the propagator who had birthed the vision.

“I took a step back when I moved to the USA for college and work and left it for my friends to try and continue when I left the country. They did make some small drops here and there, but I wasn’t part of those collections,” shares the creative mind behind Phony Studios.

Even though it fell in his absence, the baby had fire in its eyes, the passion to walk again, but no one could ignite that spark except the creator himself.

“It faded in my absence, but the desire still existed,” laments Savanhu.

Even though Phony Studios had started out humbly in Luveve, Savanhu still harboured dreams of reviving the brand in America. When he graduated from Kelly Business School in Indiana in 2020, he decided to revive his baby. Or maybe his baby decided to follow him, as he explains;

“Like a passion you don’t follow, it followed me as fashion and art have always been prominent highlights in my life. I decided to start it again and revive it, since I now have more access to resources.”

Almost a decade after inception, and thirteen thousand kilometres away; Phony Studios had its phoenix moment – its first collection produced in the States titled The Soccer Collection.

Rebirth — Phony Studios SS23 | Mandarine Madness jersey

“I decided I am going to make this work as I’ve always seen it as my ‘baby’. I started off with The Soccer Collection,” beams Savanhu.

The four-piece collection comprises of four different colourways of jerseys that have been given names that speak to Savanhu’s roots and yet appeal to his immediate market.

There is Mandarine Madness, Pink Dlozi, Somnyama, and Green Mamba.

Somnyama jersey and Pink Dlozi jersey

What makes this collection unique and precious is the jersey design, which is captivating and resembles a puzzle, pregnant (pun intended) with symbolism and several analogies that people may not have discovered.

Savanhu adds insight into the collection, saying, “I love it when, after several months, someone comes to me and asks if I noticed a hidden name on the jerseys. It’s all part of the piece. They’re all statement pieces.”

Somnyama jersey

What inspires the brand’s collections and how are themes or stories incorporated into the designs?

Savanhu narrates how growing up in Bulawayo, particularly in the ghetto streets of Luveve in the early 2000s, where kids spent more time outside playing social soccer in the neighbourhood, influenced the collection. He explains;

“My collections are inspired by themes in my life. For example, The Soccer Collection was inspired by the importance of social soccer in the neighborhood.

Mandarine Madness jersey

“Growing up in Luveve, we’d make soccer balls out of recycled milk plastic cartons and take pride in crafting our own balls from scratch. I played soccer during my primary school years and have always been a Manchester United fan.”

He continues to narrate how football has always been a part of his life and its impact on how it will continue to influence the future collections of Phony Studios;

“Soccer has always been present in my life to some extent. Most of the collections to come will revolve around themes that have impacted my life.

Somnyama jersey

“I incorporate them by integrating them into the pieces. Since I currently only have one collection out, I can only reference the soccer collection, but there are so many Easter eggs.”

Savanhu admits he is painfully perfectionistic, and this characteristic reflects itself in Phony Studios.

Their secret formula for producing such high-end merch is their flexibility, readiness, and attention to every detail and stage while remaining resilient in their craft.

Green Mamba jersey

“The ability to envision something and be willing to go through all stages to make it a reality. The actual secret formula is not giving up. Achieving your desired product relies on patience and repetition,” shares Savanhu.

With trends dominating most brands, Savanhu’s brand is different as they have been able to balance staying original while adapting to evolving fashion trends.

“Fashion trends will always partially influence a brand, no matter how much they want to admit it. It’s just important to portray your message and stay consistent with your mission statement.”

It is that approach to design that has made Phony Studios stand out from the sea of emerging African brands. The brand was recently featured on Hypebeast Africa, a confirmation that the work is being noticed and recognized.

Savanhu was at a loss for words with such recognition, noticed throughout Africa, telling us;

“Being featured on Hypebeast was a highlight for me. Having a leading media outlet in fashion recognize a small brand is always amazing.”

Being featured on one of Africa’s leading fashion publications is already paying dividends for Phony Studios, as fellow African creatives have been reaching out to Savanhu for collaboration.

Hypebeast feature

“That feature resulted in several creatives reaching out to collaborate. Currently, there’s a collaboration in the works with a Kenyan creative due to this,” mentions Savanhu.

After reading this article, you will definitely wonder if you will ever bump into a Phony Studios pop-up shop in Zimbabwe.

The answer is left to you, our reader and fashion aficionado – make noise, support, and increase the demand for Phony Studios in Savanhu’s homeland.

Mandarine Madness jersey

Savanhu confirmed that it is only possible with high engagement, hence why we said the answer rests with you, as only you and him can make this possible, fulfilling the dream of the creator of Phony Studios.

“I would love to. If I am able to grow to a point where there is demand for a pop-up in Zimbabwe, then I will do one. It’s always been in my plans to have a pop-up in Harare and in Bulawayo for a limited drop,” he shares.

Although he has been away from home for so long, Savanhu has not lost touch with his roots as he is glued to his beloved motherland country to know what is happening in the spaces.

From his takeaway of Zimbabwean fashion right now, he had only positive words for it, saying that only the sky is the limit for the industry.

Somnyama jersey

Savanhu was rather impressed by people opting to be creatives rather than the old traditional jobs that people are accustomed to, saying;

“Personally, from what I see online, the fashion scene in Zimbabwe is bigger than I thought it was. I think it’s still growing.

“I’m seeing more work from Zimbabwe artists, more clothing brands, more artists, more creativity, more people pursuing arts rather than a traditional career, which is something that is exciting.”

To conclude, Savanhu teases Phony Studios’ first release of 2024 – a mixture of both winter and summer aesthetic.

“We will be releasing another one in April, likely a summer collection and a winter collection all within the same year,”reveals Savanhu.

If you’ve been paying attention, Mcheno And More is a stubbornly patriotic publication. We are well aware of so many Zimbabwean-born names and brands that are doing wonders overseas, yet we never pay no mind to them — simply because they tend to forget that, ultimately, they are Zimbabwean.

Mandarine Madness jersey

This is how Peter Savanhu and Phony Studios stood out from the rest for us. This is why we had to feature him and immortalize his work. Even though he is thousands of kilometers away from his homeland, Peter Savanhu has continued with the vision that he started in Luveve almost a decade ago — creating a proudly Zimbabwean, authentic brand.

Thus, Phony Studios remains rooted in Zimbabwe regardless of where the merchandise is being made or sold. It is, at it’s core, an antithesis to what drove Savanhu to create a brand in the first place.

Phony Studios can replace the foreign brands that are constantly touted as ‘cool’ in this here teapot country and become our very own international streetwear brand.

You can stay plugged in to everything Phony Studios on their Instagram page and visit their website to place your order.

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