Inside La Mode: Harare Fashion Industry and the Fashion Mashup

A column by: Leah Misika

Harare isn’t the wreck we all image it to be. My constant thought as I was driven from Robert Mugabe International Airport to town? What a privilege it is to experience things in life. To see with my own eyes that Zimbabweans are not at war with themselves, that they are at peace and have found other ways to positively channel their grievances. They found solace in hard work.

I guarantee you that if Harare does nothing else for you, it will definitely inspire you to work. It will motivate you to be more than the limitations forced upon you by your country and exceed what people expect from you. It will influence you to tell your own story in a way only you can.

Yes, I’m gushing over Harare. I spent a lot of time looking at my hands whilst I was there.  I think we forget sometimes that our hands are the source of our creativity. Not in Harare. Zimbabweans are highly aware of the creative spirit they possess, all the dreams being sold around them are of and for their own people. Something I cannot say the same for where I come from.

Thanks to the Creative Mash Up Event hosted by The British Council of Zimbabwe, Moto Republik and Creative Nestlings I got to spend six days with a small group of very cool creatives from Uganda and Ghana. Together we got to explore Harare’s fashion scene and exchange perspectives during the amazing tours we got to go on. Harare is creative melting pot and to luck I was allowed to stir that pot for like five seconds and so I cannot tell you all the ingredients, but I can share what I did get a taste of.

The Zimbabwean Fashion Industry is alive. They may not tell you this themselves because they seem to still battle with believing in themselves but as an observer who has also been a part of a few fashion industries, the Zimbabwean fashion industry is very much a thing. Now if only they could recognize that, they would be well on their way to solidify its identity.

One thing I have noticed about developing industries verses developed industries is that in developed industries, defining and containing a whole creative sector seems to be the main concern. Fashion has always been about building a system that has the capacity to safeguard itself and only welcome those who will contribute to the growth of the industry. This is not about respect or bowing down to follow industry professionals (as far as I’m concerned very few designers will ever respect each other’s work) but all should have a respect for the fashion industry and share a common vision of how it should function. If we keep missing that point we will continue to fail.

Achieving this is difficult and is the reason places like Zimbabwe and Namibia are taking so long to form what they would be proud to call our fashion industries. There is something that Elorm Yankah said, a Fashion Business Consultant who was a speaker  at the Fashion Mash Up. In talking about her experience she expressed that the trip gave her “a well rounded understanding of the state of fashion”. Not just in Zimbabwe but in Africa generally. “I only wish more people had this opportunity to learn and connect like I did”, she added. This sentiment was shared by many.

My overall take away is that we need to  start engaging with our neighboring industries to really figure out how African fashion can work for us as a unified continent and all that has to start at home.

Thank you for the hospitality, Harare.