In Conversation with Keith Chikumbu: The Learned, Ambitious Mind Behind Kikings Wearables

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If you’ve been paying attention, the discourse around creative disciplines has evolved over the years.

What used to be last option careers for those who couldn’t grasp mathematical concepts and the colonizers’ language quickly enough has become an acclaimed profession — gifted minds sustaining lives through the work of their hands.

But it has been a long time coming. Indeed, music, visual art, film and fashion weren’t always something to aspire to do for a living.

Locally, fashion was always deemed a hobby, and those who did ‘fashion’ were mostly the tailors making school uniforms and cliché ‘African attire’ costumes for special occasions.

Zimbabweans are not necessarily expressive, and self-expression through fashion seemed like a farfetched idea until the advent of the internet in the early 2010’s.

A new generation of Zimbabweans that have been exposed to the trappings of the Global North via social media have picked up a thing or two about creative culture.

Inspired by fashion legends in the Global North, and seeking fulfilling careers; ambitious youth are balking the trend and expressing their teeming talent through creative fashion – a sharp turn from the school uniforms and African attires.

Perhaps the most talented and surely ambitious of creative fashion designers that have emerged are the upcyclers.

The confidence and creativity required to take an old piece of clothing and resurrect it into a one-of-one masterpiece is surely something to marvel at, considering the stigma surrounding mabhero in Zimbabwe.

Naturally gifted and mostly self-taught, upcyclers have risen from their comfortable seats to go all in, upcycling every fabric, with the most popular being denim.

Mcheno And More had the privilege to sit down with Keith Chikumbu, the founder and creative designer of Kikings Wearables — a fast-rising sustainable brand that is coming off a brilliant 2023 which saw them enter the conversation of upcycling brands to look out for.

As the following excerpt of our conversation with Makumbe will reveal, the ambitious creative is looking to change fashion as we have known it for a while. Enjoy!

Ambitious, talented, and educated — Keith Chikumbu is taking Kikings Wearables to the top

First off, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I am based in Harare, I’m 24 years old, and I’m the Creative Director of Kikings Wearables.

I attended Emelda Sewing Institute, a fashion house which teaches fashion designing skills from interior decor to cutting and designing of various fabrics.

I’m also studying towards attaining my Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Environmental Studies with the Midlands State University, I finish in June 2024.

Tell us about Kikings Wearables?

Kikings Wearables is a subsidiary of Kikings Designers & Apparel Co. (Pvt) Ltd, which is a fashion designing company of high-end corporate wear for SMEs and bespoke custom streetwear designs for individuals who wish to stand out from the crowd through a unique representation of what they wear.

We launched in 2020, right at the onset of Covid19. We have thrived to make ends meet during what has been known as a critical phase for most industries.

We have since been formalised and we operate legally. This has enabled us to enter into competitive bidding of supplying corporate wear – worksuits, cargo shirts, and golf tees, to mention a few.

Kikings Designers & Apparel Co. bespoke fashion designing has emerged to be the talk of the industry since people have found out that they have different and unique needs and wants in terms of what to wear, where and when.

Kikings Wearables is on the move to sustainably source, design and make high end fashion using recycled and upcycled materials especially denim jeans.

Sustainable fashion has been the motive of the brand since its establishment so as to competitively align its goals with the international sustainable motives of the industry of producing more for less, thereby reducing waste.

On the bespoke streetwear segment, individuals propose their designs and what they want them to look like then it is our duty to make the outfit come out as expected.

How is Kikings Designers & Apparel Co. going to achieve all these goals you have mentioned?

To achieve this, the brand seeks to collect all torn, abandoned, rejected, donated and tattered denims from individuals to them process the jeans into new custom-made products, for instance — denim bedspreads, distressed jeans and wearable objects.

Upcycled custom denim products are known to be of higher quality, expensive and unique.

By 2028, Kikings Designers & Apparel Co. would want to achieve a goal of having set out a denim recycling plant, where the collected denims will be reprocessed to come out with a brand-new fabric.

It’ll be a collection centre for people to come with their old and tattered denims and we’ll pay a substantial amount for their efforts. It’s part of our vision of supporting local and empowering youths.

Where does the name ‘Kikings’ come from?

The brand name comes from a replica of my name — Keith, with a styling of kingship within the fashion fraternity. Keith is King of Kings.

In terms of fashion sense, it just means I’m a virtuoso of my game.

Therefore, l had to shorten it to Kikings. Also, the motto of the brand being ‘Key Things’ from the name Keith.

So, l just played with my name to come up with that mantra.

Why upcycling?

Upcycling denims has been an effective way of resolution to the sustainable fashion drive.

It is also one of the cheapest ways of sourcing fabrics whilst helping to secure more profits out of cheap raw materials.

Also, upcycled garments are a top-notch kind of fashion designing which has helped me to emerge as an innovative and vibrant designer since it involves a lot of thinking and visualising because it requires a designer to turn older, tattered and torn jeans into a new wearable garment.

The aesthetic of an upcycled garment tells a lot about the creativity, uniqueness and brilliance of designer, hence the reason why l also focused on this type of designing. It shows people my ability to transform an already made piece into a new wearable garment.

How many collections have you released so far?

  • • Kikings Establishment (July 2020)
  • • Situation Controlled (December 2021)
  • • Key Things Volume 1 (January 2023)
  • • Key Things Volume 2 (August 2023)

How do you come up with your impressive designs?

My designs come from my creative sense because I’m certified to do this. It’s a skill invested in me, so it’s easier to manifest itself.

I also take time to research and meditate on how to create catchy designs.

Who are you targeting with Kikings Designers & Apparel Co?

On the streetwear segment, my target audience are 10 to 40 years. According to my research and industrial analysis, these youths find my designs catchy and have ordered custom apparels from Kikings from time to time.

As for for my corporate designs, I’m targeting all SMEs. As time goes on, the brand seeks to broaden the horizons by supplying big companies too. This is achieved when the brand has acquired enough equipment and experience to meet demand.

My long-term goal is to end up redesigning military uniform for both the Zimbabwe National Army and Airforce of Zimbabwe.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by various artisans, stylists and models both locally and in the international community.

Levi Strauss is of no exception when it comes to the denim game. The internationally renowned designer label has emerged to be one of the best denim producers as far as quality is concerned. They have kept the texture (thickness) of their denims as their trademark, its non-changing color and high-end stitching.

These are the standards that l aim to achieve too, so that l earn loyalty from my clientele.

Locally, I would say Tatenda Njanike. He’s a commercial fashion model who won Mr Zimbabwe People’s Choice in 2020 and competed globally at the recently held Mr. Supra International 2023 in Poland.

The man has got unmatched etiquette, which distinguishes him from other wanna-be models. He inspires me to put God first, at work and beyond.

I worked with him on my first collection (released in 2020). He assisted me to fully commit and devote myself to fashion design as a career, especially at one time when l was on the verge of quitting due to hardships and other setbacks.

How has been the response since you embarked on this journey?

There has been an overwhelming response, especially from the SMEs.

I have managed to supply corporate wear and regalia to different companies which have built trust with the Kikings Designers & Apparel Co.

Also, a week does not pass without receiving a custom order for streetwear to make cargo outfits, distressed jeans or tracksuits.

For SS23 alone, the brand managed to distress 150 jeans for clients out of upcycled jeans. To me, there is no better reflection of how much the movement is growing.

How was 2023 for Kikings?

Kikings’ 2023 was quite convincing for me.

There was some noticeable growth of the brand due to an expanding target audience. I supplied my biggest corporate wear tender so far in 2023 to a firm called Millenco Plastics. And we managed to sign a pact to supply them corporate uniform till 2026.

On the streetwear segment, having managed to distress 150 jeans means a lot to the brand, considering that we upcycled barely 100 jeans the previous year.

Are you working on any collaborations? Would you collaborate?

So far, there are no collaborations in the works.

However, I look forward to engage my senior colleagues within the field for us to put our hands on one collection.

I don’t hesitate to collaborate with other designers if the need arises. If you’re working in fashion, there is no need for selfishness because there should be division of labour to come up with masterpieces.

More so, working with other designers brings about more insights, various ideas and teamwork makes dreams work.

2024 is here and brands are readier than ever to deliver mesmerizing designs to a growing market. What does Kikings Wearables have in store for us this year?

In 2024, I plan to open a physical studio in Harare CBD, maybe at the start of the second half of the year. This has been necessitated by the growth of our clientele base, and for easy access of our distressed jeans.

This move had been delaying because I had to juggle between school and my work with Kikings. My final semester is bound to end in June this year, so I’ll be free to devote my time and effort to Kikings.

Most of my other plans are long term and they are just continuing as we go forward.

If you had any doubts and qualms about creative minds, we hope our conversation with Keith Chikumbu just dissipated them all. It’s his visually alluring designs that have powered his rise to stardom, but it’s the 24 year old’s mind that will take him to even greater heights.

Armed with a natural talent, formal education at his craft, and unbridled ambition, Keith Chikumbu can do more than just make you look good in a one-of-one Kikings piece.

You can stay up to date with everything Kikings Wearables on Instagram. There, you can place your own custom order via direct message. You can also get in touch with the man himself, Keith Chikumbu, on his WhatsApp.

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