By Nomqhele Sisa Nkomo
If you’ve been following the rollercoaster that has been my introduction to fashion journalism, you must know that I rarely know what to expect. For my encounter with Tino Mufudzi, though, I already had some preconceived notions. Stars29 is arguably the most popular streetwear brand in Bulawayo, and to be given a glimpse into the story behind the story is nothing short of an honour. I was ready for the insightful conversation as always, albeit a little nervous.
At just 27, Tino Mufudzi is widely considered an industry veteran in Bulawayo’s fashion scene. As the creative director he started off retailing foreign brands with his brother, who he credits as the originator of the ‘Stars29’ idea. “Stars29 was never my idea. My brother was the one who started everything. We were initially doing retail, and from that base, everything else was set in motion,” he says.
Why ‘Stars’? You guessed it. The Mufudzi brothers took inspiration from the constellations we all see when we look up to the night sky. Apt if you ask me. He explains, “The way it originated is a rather funny story actually. The most beautiful thing you see when you look up at the sky is the stars, and so we just went with that because why not?” The ’29’ is simply an ode to where it all started; Shop 29 at Haddons and Sly Complex.
Mufudzi explains, “29 is the name of the shop number when everything started. We incorporated the shop number because we wanted it to be a reminder of where everything started, where the ideas originated. Even when we do get to point when we expand, we will never close this shop down because of the memories attached to it and all the hard work we put into it.”
Stars29 was launched in 2014, but Mufudzi already had an appreciation of culture from an early age, all thanks to his parents.
He says “Well it’s a very long story, but the basics of it (sic) is I’m a lover of culture, having being exposed to different cultures growing up owing to the differing tastes of my parents.”
He grew up as a shy, reclusive child, and it took a literal miracle for Mufudzi change his perspective, and his life trajectory.
He describes his journey, “I got hit by a car on my way to school and I was in Form Two at the time. After it happened, I just got up and went to school. After that incident, I felt more like myself. It was kind of like how you bang a radio when it is malfunctioning to get it working again, that’s what getting hit by that car felt like.”
Fourteen years later, Mufudzi is a trailblazing visionary who has changed the Bulawayo fashion scene forever. As you talk with him, the spark in his eyes is evidence of a man who believes he can turn his dreams to reality.
“I believe I am a genius and I believe I express that aspect of myself in my fashion, that’s who I am,” he boldly declares.
The creation of Stars29 was more of an antithesis to the proliferation of cheap knockoffs of foreign brands in the Bulawayo urban scene. “As firm followers of streetwear culture, we know the importance of having a Supreme t-shirt or hoodie in your wardrobe. However, getting an original Supreme t-shirt in Africa is difficult, more so Zimbabwe, and so the few you may find are usually knockoffs. A follower of the culture will never take pride in wearing fake branded material,” he elaborates. That distaste in the trends of the time is what motivated Mufudzi to come up with an idea of an authentic, affordable, homegrown streetwear brand.
He goes further, “So from there we decided to do something about that. We decided to adopt the Supreme ‘box logo’ design and put our name on it, and the Stars29 logo was born. We brought it upon ourselves to change that narrative and create an affordable local street wear brand.” In the nine years since it’s formation, the ‘blow up moment’ for the brand has to be in September 2017, when Gqom superstars Distruction Boyz came to perform at Club Connect.
Mufudzi narrates, “At the time gqom was the popping genre and Distruction Boyz was in town. One of our friends on the organising team called us, and said it was an opportunity for us to give them the T-shirts. I went to their show after having delivered the T-shirts that afternoon, and as they got on stage I was shocked to see them wearing the tees. From that moment, Stars29 blew up.”
The cosign proved to be the catapult that took Stars29 to dizzying heights, and at some point, the demand outstripped the supply. “We started selling a lot of tees and they ran out quickly and it got to a point where production couldn’t keep up with the demand,” recounts Mufudzi.
The brand grew immensely popular to the extent that some opportunists started reselling the merch at higher prices. He adds further, “We had students come make large purchases and then go sell the merchandise at a higher price to their boarding school friends. It was hard to deal with that, but we managed to find a way around it.”
It has not all been a walk in the park.
As for the challenges, Mufudzi echoes the sentiments of most creatives in Zimbabwe. It is the still the same as in 2014; cheap knockoffs of foreign brands undercutting the value of homegrown creativity.
He laments, “The economy is the biggest obstacle in our fashion industry. We are competing with ‘China shops’. I am selling my product for $30 because it’s my creative idea but a normal citizen will always (more often than not) choose to go to the ‘China shop’ because it’s cheaper and generally because that’s what they can afford.” The emergence of a thriving second-hand clothes (amabhele) industry has worsened an already dire situation for Zimbabwean fashion.
Despite these challenges bedeviling the industry, Mufudzi believes the market is slowly warming up to homegrown brands. He says, “It’s us who create the products that have to fight. We are slowly getting there because children these days do not want to own something that everyone else has. We are creating relatable merch for us by us local people.”
A consistent investment in quality has been the secret to Stars29’s success, and they have finally found their niche of loyal afficionados who take pride in supporting and wearing local. Mufudzi explains, “We have created a community in which people are now appreciative of local fashion.
People are now taking pride in it. We have grown to a point where it is now necessary for every fan of streetwear culture to have a Stars29 piece in their wardrobe.” The brand’s sphere of influence has transcended geographical boundaries, mostly due to the power of social media. They can make deliveries to anyone, anywhere, and at any time.
“At the moment we are using social media as a tool to reach out to our clientele and supporters and it has been a great help in reaching out to people all across the country and other parts of the world as well. When someone sees our products online , they message me and then we organize the best arrangement with which to send their purchase to them and so far this has been working well,” Mufudzi explains.
For any future geographical expansion, Mufudzi has set his sights on the capital. He adds, “We are still working on expansion of our brand but we have a number of clients who want to buy our products in Harare. So that is the first step in our expansion.” To date, Stars29 has only collaborated with Shadeogrey, founded by Mufudzi’s longtime friend Bez Ndlovu.
He says, “In terms of collaboration, we haven’t done any as of yet but we did do a little project with Shadeogrey, I wouldn’t particularly call it a collaboration because we are very close friends.” The brand has also been collaborating with personal brands by styling names like Holy Ten and Voltz JT whenever they come to Bulawayo. Are you even a celebrity if you come to Bulawayo and you don’t wear Stars29? He however promised there will be collaborations in future.
“We have styled a couple of artists such as Asaph and Holy Ten, as well as a few South African artists, but we do wish to do collaborations in the future,” explains Mufudzi.
Mufudzi is also planning for the return of the famous All Star Party, which had been forced into hibernation by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We used to host an event called the “All Star Party” but we stopped in 2019 because of the whole Covid situation but we are bringing it back this year.”
As for his event appearance criteria, Mufudzi likes to reciprocate the support that other Bulawayo brands have given him over the years. He says, “In terms of other events, I like to pour into people who put into me and the brand such as Richard Jeans and Shadeo’grey. But I am interested in attending this year’s October Fabrik Party.”
Mufudzi also gave me an exclusive sneak peek of Stars29’s SS23 Collection titled the ‘Crayola Edition’. I’m definitely getting myself a piece, I can’t wait on the future collaborations, and I’m definitely attending the All Star Party. What can I say, I’m now a disciple of the Stars29 movement. Whenever you’re at Haddon’s and Sly Complex, you should pass by Shop 29, to see the magic for yourself. You can also stay up to date on everything Stars29 via their social media :Stars29.