A Tribe Called Zimbabwe
Program Lead at Magamba Network
A Tribe Called Zimbabwe
A Tribe Called Zimbabwe is a powerful Zimbabwean brand and company that celebrates Zimbabwean culture and heritage through fashion and architecture. It is the brainchild of Nomakhosazana Khanyile Ncube, known popularly as ‘Zana K’. She is a multifaceted Zimbabwean woman, former Miss Zimbabwe 1st Princess, Former Miss Bulawayo 2005, an Architect, Poet, Blogger, Cultural Activist, and Founder and Creative Director. Zana’s brand positions itself to explore creatively what being African and Zimbabwean means in today’s world, showcasing the nation’s fashion and cultural identity to both Zimbabweans and the world around it.
Zimbabwe has a broad spectrum of tribes, including the Ndebele, Kalanda, Tonga, Venda, Sotho and the Shona, the latter of which is an umbrella identity of an ethnic Bantu people that comprise the Zezuru, Rozvi, Korekore, Karanga, and the list goes on. While different in language and practices, there are commonalities, and one of the strongest is cattle. The tribes place great value on cattle and their role in society. Viewed as a symbol of wealth and royalty, cattle also carry socio-cultural connotations. A Tribe called Zimbabwe expresses the differences in ethnic roots and identities between the broad communities that make up Zimbabwe, while also amplifying the shared values that unite them as one. Drawing from the shared view of cattle, the brand’s choice material is cowhide. Handmade, the products are built on a concept of durability and recycling.
Header Picture: Zana K, Copyright by Ernest Mackina
Picture left: Zana and her mother at Zana’s graduation, Copyright by A Tribe Called Zimbabwe
In an interview on Asante Africa, Zana says that “our vision is to grow into Zimbabwe’s centerpiece of Afrocentric Apparel and Interiors, and master the art of translating our African identity and heritage into relevant modern products. We aspire to make an overwhelming impact in the fashion industry by creating a high consumer demand for our products through strategic relationships, advertising and participation in local and international fashion shows, as well as other relevant trade shows.” This vision in itself shares a commitment to get not just Zimbabwe, but the world understanding and appreciating the concept of Zimbabwe culture and identity.
»The same way I envision making art out of how concrete, steel and glass join together to form an aesthetically pleasing building, is the same way I make art out of how cowhide, chiffon, feathers and horns come together to form a beautiful garment.« – Zana Kay
The integration of architecture and fashion is potentially the most fascinating aspect of the brand. “I see no difference between the principles in architecture and those in fashion, because both are about tectonics… which is the technique of how materials come together,” says Zana. “The simultaneous transition between architecture and fashion for me is easy. The same ‘presence’ and experience I want to create in my architectural spaces is the same presence I like to invoke in my fashion garments, which is Royalty, and the celebration of rich African/Zimbabwean culture.”
Picture above: Detachable Bows, Copyright by A Tribe Called Zimbabwe
Picture left: Zana K with Sandra Ndebele at Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards in A Tribe Called Zimbabwe Outfits, Copyright by CNC Productions
The brand in today’s world
There has always been a question about Zimbabwe’s sense of cultural identity, particularly because of dominance of a more Westernised fashion culture in the continent. The fashion world continues to shape narratives about the identity, practices and value systems of countries and societies. The threat of generations growing up ignorant of their cultural roots and identity is one the brand is standing up to. The brand is a leading voice on what being Zimbabwean means, and speaks to the responsibility creatives have to use their art to preserve identities, while also utilising others’ discarded materials to create masterpieces that can be used to sustain cultural identities and create employment. The brand has tailored products that celebrate and recognise the powerful role of women in our past and present, and while this may not present itself as political, it carries the potential and capacity to use fashion to demystify the views that have for generations been used to confine women to certain gender roles.
Zana has challenged the use of colonial regalia by the Mayor and town clerk in council chambers. She still feels that the colonial identity runs the city because while whites were removed from the governance of cities in independent Zimbabwe, the blacks that came after couldn’t wait to step into their clothes and shoes. She has on different occasions proposed a commitment to help re-approach council regalia to ensure it is a representation of the society it stands for today. While that door remains closed to her, she remains convinced that genuine appreciation of the Zimbabwean identity involves adoption of materials in clothing that define the nation. This action speaks into the powerful reflections cultural fashion allows people to have, the manner in which it challenges us to rethink how our lives everyday feed into or take away from who we truly are.
As the world looks forward, to learn from each other, to share ideas, to ride the wave of change occurring in different ways and places, fashion must be seen for what it is. As an advocacy tool. As an educational instrument. As a marker of identity. It must be allowed through brands like Zana’s, to breathe life into a world that might otherwise be lost.
Mantate Q Mlotshwa
Program Lead at Magamba Network
Mantate coordinates Arts4Change, a creative arts and media program under the new Narratives for Accountability in Zimbabwe (NNAZ) Project which is a joint initiative of Accountability Lab Zimbabwe, Magamba Network and Kubatana Trust. She sits on the national board of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) and the African Women Leaders Network Youth Caucus Committee for Zimbabwe. She is a producer and co-host of ‘The Resistance Bureau’, a podcast that convenes leading voices on critical issues confronting Africa. Mantate is the Founder and CEO of the creative fashion brand U Motle. She is a poet, speaker, blogger and published co-author of Turquoise Dreams. Mantate is a Psychology graduate from the University of Zimbabwe.
Picture © Naka Visuals