By Nomqhele Sisa Nkomo
Bulawayo street culture has grown and evolved from the Ama Kip Kip days to us having our own proudly homegrown brands. For us to appreciate where we are, we have to look at how far we have come, and remember the people who started it all.
One such person is Shadeogrey founder, Bez Ndlovu. The visionary has been at the forefront of Bulawayo streetwear since 2014, from Shadeogrey being name-dropped in Asaph’s raps, to collaborations with Stars29, to even making an impact in the crowded South African street style scene.
As I started talking to Bez, I was most curious as to how he manages to juggle Shadeogrey, being a family man, and a career in IT. All my curiosity diminished with each answer, and by the time we finished, I had figured it’s Bez’ belief in self which has taken him thus far.
It’s very assuring to know that regardless of external influence, there are people who still have faith in the talent they possess, and are still willing to put their creativity to the test.
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Who are you?
My name is Bez Ndlovu. I’m an entrepreneur, a creative, a graphic illustrator, Creative Director,
ICT professional, husband and a father, born and bred here in Bulawayo. I’m a global citizen
who travels regionally, internationally and across the country as well.
What inspired you to start a clothing line?
So many things inspired me to be honest. I used to do graphic work for a few clothing brands.
They inspired me to one day start something of my own. Something I could use as a creative
output. To communicate whatever I was resonating with at whatever time.
Why the name Shadeogrey?
The name was initially three syllables. Shade of Grey. Which was derived from the idiom, life is
not just black and white, it’s a million shades of grey. So, I wanted the brand to follow that line
of thinking. That it’s not about being right or wrong, but perception. It’s not about truth or
false, but circumstances. After a while I decided to combine the name to be one word,
What’s your creative process? And how long does it generally to implement an idea and bring it to life?
All the pieces of a collection are connected and are part of a theme. The theme may be
influenced by music, art, what’s trending in the fashion space etc. Once I have a concept it can
take between a few days or weeks to put it all together. The creative process is the fun part.
Especially seeing the final product. The feeling is special.
How has the journey been from where you started up until the point where you are now?
It’s been hectic to be honest. So many hurdles. So many hard lessons. But, there were/are so
many great moments as well. A lot of growth and maturity for both the brand and myself. I’ve
watched the brand grow and outgrow certain spaces which has allowed us to break into the
How supportive has friends and the community been on this journey?
There has been mixed receptions from both. But the positivity, the love and support has been
overwhelming. There’s customers I have met and people in my team that have a genuine love
for the brand. So it keeps us going. Keeps us motivated to do better. To offer better quality
products because these people genuinely deserve it.
Who is involved in all your projects?
There are various people involved. The team, the brand and the company that owns it is 100%
based in South Africa. The team is spread between Johannesburg and Cape town. We work with
different photographers, graphic artists, models etc. Remy Shoots, a good friend of mine, is part
of the team and is involved in a lot of the projects. Locally I work with a close group of
friends/creatives whom I respect greatly, namely Tino Mufudzi, Creative Director of Stars 29.
Which of your projects are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the collaboration we did with STARS29 at the beginning of it all. Really loved
the Fuego Capsule collection as well. That project sold out so quickly and people kept
requesting for a re-release. We listened. We restocked and that sold out quickly too. The mind
of Pablo project hit different because we totally went against our usual style and aesthetic but
people loved those. I’m actually looking forward to the projects coming up next year. They will
be huge and I’m sure I will be pleased with those.
How do you wish to impact street fashion? And how big of a contribution do you believe you
are making to influence Bulawayo street culture?
I’d like to build and help grow and nurture streetwear culture in the city. To get more people,
more corporate entities involved in its evolution and grow its support. So far, I believe we
setting the tone on providing quality creative work.
Who have you collaborated with apart from Tino?
Honestly, we haven’t had any further collaborations. We open to them, but we believe who
ever we work with, the collaboration has to feel natural and make for everyone involved.
How do you deal with feedback from the public especially the negative kind?
Any form of publicity is great. It’s often difficult to deal with anything negative especially
something you passionate about. But the fact that people are having discussions about the
brand, brings about an element of relevance. As a team we listen to all the feedback and
access what we can correct. Then move forward.
How do you balance everything? Your professional and personal life?
It’s not easy because sometimes you work long hours. Especially on weekends and public
holidays. Family is important to me. I always try to make time for them. Ultimately I’m building
a legacy for my family. I guess that’s the motivation.
What was one experience that had a significant impact in your life that you wish you could
have happened differently?
One experience that changed a lot is my experience with local supplies and local retailers. I feel
there is a lot of lack of professionalism and it makes it difficult for the industry to grow. I feel if I
had stepped away and focused on finding a manufacturer who would fulfil all my needs for the
brand, I feel like we would be farther as a brand. It was a good thing and a bad thing that
impacted me personally, as well as the brand.