By Nomqhele Sisa Nkomo
The Zimbabwe Fashion Week(ZFW) was billed as one of the most anticipated events on 2023’s fashion calendar. Announced in April after a four year hiatus, the two day soiree was scheduled for 20th to the 21st of October.
This year’s fashion week was hosted in Zimbabwe’s most treasured tourist town, Victoria Falls, as a ‘relaunch’, the beginning of a new era, the turning over of a new leaf.
I was extremely excited to be a part of this amazing experience and I felt so honoured to be allowed the privilege to document what would essentially be a moment in Zimbabwean fashion history.
Cocktails and Ice Breakers
I arrived in Victoria Falls merely moments before commencement, panicking that I’d been late. Luckily, an unexplained delay gave me ample time to settle and join the opening ceremony just in time.
The opening night was essentially a cocktail party organized for the main purpose of getting models, designers, attendees and the organisers well acquainted with each other. This worked out well for me because I got to know and understand the experience from the perspective of the people making it all possible.
The Zimbabwe Fashion Week did well to select the very best of Zimbabwean runway models. The star studded repertoire included reigning Mr Supranational Tatenda Njanike, the towering Aaron Kahari, Miss Super Globe 2022 Ashley Blantinah ,and Vivian Maseko—who impressed last year in Eswatini. There were also models from all over Southern Africa; that is Zambia, Namibia, DR Congo and Botswana.
The Zimbabwe Fashion Week was made possible by The Zimbabwe Fashion Week Trust, fronted by founder, Priscilla Chigariro. They collaborated with Victoria Falls Wine Experience and AM Cosmetics to host this event. Sponsorship was received from the European Union, South African Airways, The Culture Fund, and The Victoria Falls Hotel.
Chuck Nova and Marshal were hosts, while songstress Beulah Unathi Moyo was responsible for event setup for both days.
The opening cocktail night was a resounding success, as the party went on late into the night.
Delays and Hiccups
Perhaps that’s why Saturday was off to a slow start. You must think I’m being dramatic. I’d seen the program five days prior, so I was anticipating some sort of alignment with what was promised.
As per the program, the Saturday activities were supposed to start at 1000. I arrived on time, as I expected everyone to. My initial enthusiasm quickly turned to impatience, and then finally defeat.
It was only until two hours after the set program time that I saw some sign of action, which would have been forgiven had something actually happened.
I accepted that nothing was going to happen, most notable being the panel discussion people were so eager for. An opportunity to gain knowledge forgone.
After the failed afternoon installation program, the models showed up two hours before the main event. The models were dressed in outfits from various designers, mostly Chinhoyi University of Technology students chosen for the Creative Accelerator Program.
The compensation for the installation we were initially promised was a quick photography session to document this moment in history—the Zimbabwe Fashion Week giving a platform young fashion talent, on its much anticipated return.
I ended up casting my personal feelings aside. I was here on an assignment after all—to tell the Zimbabwe Fashion Week story. As it is, from Mcheno&More’s perspective.
Redemptions and Child Prodigies
All that was left was the main event, scheduled for the majestic Victoria Falls Hotel.
Upon arrival at the Victoria Falls Hotel, I was awestruck by the rustic appeal of the whole place, and the view of the Zambezi was amazing. Such an uplift from the disappointing prelude. Maybe there was hope after all.
Surely enough, they were able to redeem themselves from the afternoon chaos. The arrangements were just perfect. Beulah Unathi Moyo showed her expertise and experience to deliver an aesthetic that confirms it— the Zimbabwe Fashion Week is a world class fashion show.
Surprisingly enough, the runway started exactly on time. I was obviously excited to get a front row seat to my very first fashion show, I mean who wouldn’t. The CAP cohorts got a chance to showcase two pieces each as a curtain raiser for the main runway, which featured four designers. Charlington Moyo of I Am Charlie designs impressed everyone, with some doubting if he was still a student, or already a master.
My absolute favourite of the night was Evelyn Mubochwa, the brilliant mind behind Afro Jumbo. She showcased a gorgeous array of Afro inspired streetwear with an Avant Garde edge.
I know you already had a preconceived notions of a fashion designer. Cancel them all. Evelyn Mubochwa is just twelve years old, and daughter of South Africa-based designer Thembani Mubochwa. It gave me hope for the future to see a little girl showcasing her talent at the Zimbabwe Fashion Week. Talk about young, gifted and talented.
Close second was Kundai Mangena of Caryn Amani, an afro-couture brand that specialises in ladieswear and bridal wear.
The pieces are themed around African royalty, and Mangena expertly combined African print fabric and couture fabric to deliver unique pieces. My favorite piece was a dress that was mainly Ankara fabric with glimpses of black at the edges, complete with a headpiece.
Next up was Mehreen Kamal Khan, who also featured at the 2015 edition of the Zimbabwe Fashion Week, with her couture brand Reen Zara. The pieces had a Middle Eastern influence, with the glitz and glamour indicating that these pieces would be perfect for evening wear.
Last but not least was a streetwear brand called Yet Galore, the work of Tashinga Chigombe.
I’m all for comfort before fashion, and Chigombe managed to combine fashion and comfort in a
stylish manner. And if you haven’t heard of it before, now you do.
Yet Galore’s strongpoint is denim. The jeans are then distressed, embroidered, painted or sewn in a patterns that I didn’t think could be made with denim. I was intrigued by the phrases on the pieces, particularly ‘Perfection is boring, just create.’
After a long, eventful weekend, the night was concluded with a dance performance, and an
after-party for people who had the energy and the tolerance for alcohol. Not my cup of tea.
Afterthoughts and Overall Sentiments
The Zimbabwe Fashion Week spent the better part of the 2010’s as Zimbabwe’s most significant fashion and urban culture event. They attracted international designers, models and fashion publications to participate and document what was at the time the crème de la crème of Zimbabwean fashion and couture.
Four years on, most of the brands that the Zimbabwe Fashion Week gave a platform to have become industry leaders and beacons of Zimbabwean fashion. Nehanda and Co just showcased at the Austin Fashion Week in the US. Gutu Tich has become a worldwide premium African streetwear brand— featuring in GQ, dressing international artists, collaborating with the Vic Falls carnival. Maison Du Style has become the go-to stylist designer for Zimbabwe’s esteemed public figures.
For its relaunch, the ZFW went back to the basics and applied the same formula that had worked so well in the 2010’s. They announced their return with the Creative Accelerator Program, an initiative designed to empower ten young designers from the Chinhoyi University of Technology. This was in April.
The ZFW Trust upped the ante and announced their first ever Advisory Board in September, followed by the tentative date—21 October. Open calls for designers and models followed, and already heightened expectations were further heightened.
It was clear that the ZFW Trust understood their responsibility. What they might have overlooked was their power. Between the 2018 edition of the Zimbabwe Fashion Week, and this recently held relaunch; Covid-19 came and went, the youth went from Snapchat to Tik Tok, and the Zimbabwean fashion and urban culture landscape evolved.
New age curators of the culture had emerged to fill the gap that the ZFW had left agape. In 2021, as Covid-19 eased, there was an influx of events and initiatives targeting creatives and connoisseurs of the culture. Thanks to social media, these events have garnered a cult following; and revellers consider themselves as part of a community, rather than merely event attendees.
Most of these events have never reached the heights that ZFW has reached. Regardless, comparisons were going to be made. That is the inevitable result of variety. It was no longer enough to just host the event. Scrutiny was at its highest—from the fashion enthusiasts, from institutions, from the media, from “the competition.” The runup to the ZFW was flawless, and we all expected that pattern to continue right to the end. Alas!
The hiccups that dominated Saturday afternoon are an unnecessary blemish on an otherwise triumphant return of a much needed event for Zimbabwean fashion. It’s even more concerning that no apology or explanation was offered for the delays, or as to why we couldn’t have the panel discussion or witness the CAP installation.
Nonetheless, what the ZFW lacked in organisation, it did well to make up for it with the fabulous fashion. The CAP cohorts reassured everyone present of the bright future ahead for Zimbabwe fashion. I was impressed by the raw talent and creativity displayed in the designs. When it comes to discovering and uplifting homegrown talent, no one does it better than the Zimbabwe Fashion Week.
The combination of streetwear, contemporary design and couture that was displayed by the four designers on the main runway left us all clamoring for more. What I loved about the runway is that it was unmistakably Zimbabwean. One could tell the pieces were made by Zimbabweans, with Zimbabwe in mind. This might be wishful thinking, but what I saw is the foundation for a distinguished cultural identity for Zimbabweans, expressed through fashion.
A fair, objective analysis is essential. We cannot look at ‘the most significant fashion and urban culture event in Zimbabwe’ with rose-coloured glasses. In fact, it is important to offer critique before showering praise, for if the ZFW improves, so does the industry as a whole.
The important point to make is— the Zimbabwe Fashion Week is back, and still being the launchpad for homegrown fashion talent that it has been from its inception. We’re hoping to see the fashion extravaganza become a regular fixture on the fashion calendar. I, for one, am still looking forward to that panel discussion.