When Thembani Mubochwa spent evenings at his uncle’s tailoring shop at the turn of the millennium in Harare’s Southern suburb, Glen Norah, little did he know that he was being molded into becoming a trend setter.
Those cold nights where his companions were stacks of fabric and different types of sewing machines looked set to confine his aspirations nowhere beyond a mere tailor.
Yet as time would have it, Thembani has grown to become one of the most sought after designers in Zimbabwe and looks poised to continue on the same tempo in his African offensive.
His recent show at the Africa Fashion Reception (AFR) in Addis Ababa can be anything but firm attestation of his prowess.
The designer who was appointed the Elephants Ambassador by his country’s government after designing the famous Elephant Dress that has rocked different red carpet platforms in the region in an attempt to address rampant poaching of wildlife in the Southern African country and it has been winning him fans across the region.
Held from September 27 to 29 at the African Union headquarters, the AFR kicked off with a summit where designers were coached about different facets of their trade.
Starting five years ago in France and now jointly held with Ethiopia since two years ago it is aimed at enhancing designers’ networks while at the same time empowering them with the business side of their trade.
“It was a powerful networking summit centred on culture exchange and business. There was at least one designer from every country and on the first day we had a summit that empowered designers with useful knowledge on how they can break into important markets as well as access bigger brands with their designs,” said Thembani.
About 30 African diplomats attended the event and Thembani said they were thrilled with his Elephant Dress concept.
“It was amazing and what other participants loved the most, is how we are using fashion to address conservation of particularly the African elephant and wildlife in general as well as addressing the issues to do with environment. They have never seen that,” said the designer adding that they were making strides to come up with a partnership between AFR and Zimbabwe.
The next event to be hosted will be the African designer awards.
“We had a great time and were honoured to get an opportunity to showcase on the closing show. I am happy to say the experience will help us revive our fashion industry as there are no reasonable fashion platforms back home. A country’s fashion tells a lot about a people’s culture especially to tourists and we want to ensure that happens,” said Thembani.
“We have managed to get into discussions with designers from Ivory Coast, Zambia and DRC and other countries with huge elephant populations that are now trying to come up with similar concepts to the Elephant Dress.”
A father of three girls, Thembani spent over 10 years in South Africa where his talent took him from being an aspiring designer to wardrobe designer for soaps like Generations and ‘A lister’ designer for hordes of artistes and celebrities.
Among the celebrities that have donned his apparel are the late Sfiso Ncwane, Crown Gospel Awards’ Sipho Kaleni, Zanele Mbokazi and even ministers like Zimbabwe’s Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri.
His designs have rocked KwaZulu Natal’s premiere showcase Durban July on several occasions but he left all that in 2015 to resettle home and direct his efforts to shaping the Zimbabwean fashion industry leaving an indelible mark across the mighty Limpopo River.
Thembani’s return home coincided with his appointment as the Elephants Ambassador post and he hit the ground running launching a clothing line AfroJu, whose section of proceeds goes to efforts in preservation.
Among the partners of AfroJu are WildIsLife, an animal sanctuary in Harare where the photo-shoot for the clothing line was done with models like Candice Mwakalylye, Zandile Zaza Ndlovu and superstar Oliver Mtukudzi’s daughters Selmor and Sandra.