Model Zana speaks on culture-inspired designs

SNEAK PEEK :Sindiso Dube

FORMER Miss Zimbabwe Tourism first princess 2005 and Miss Bulawayo Nomakhosazana “Zana Kay” Ncube, who recently took up fashion designing, has produced a new brand of neck-ties made out of cow hides under the name A Tribe called Zimbabwe. The designs, clad by musician Sandra Ndebele, were a talking point at the 2019 Bulawayo Arts Awards.

The designs were also showcased at this year’s edition of the National Arts Merit Awards (Nama). NewsDay Life & Style (ND) reporter Sindiso Dube met Zana Kay (ZK) — who is also an architect, entrepreneur, blogger, poet and cultural activist — for a chit chat and below are excerpts from the interview.

ND: A Tribe Called Zimbabwe. What’s in the name?

ZK: The name represents all Zimbabwean tribes. Zimbabwe has many tribes, the Ndebele, Kalanga, Fengu, Tonga, Venda, Banyai, Sotho and Shona. There is one thing that we all have in common regarding the things we value, and that is cattle.

ND: Why do you say so?

ZK: Cattle play a very (important)role in Zimbabwean society. They are fundamental to our economy and play very important socio-cultural roles. A Tribe Called Zimbabwe brings us all under that one umbrella that celebrates our shared values and represents a united people, who are proud of their individual ethnic identities.

ND: Besides neck-ties, what other ornaments do you make?

ZK: We make cow hide apparel and this includes caps, jackets, belts, custom wedding and occasion gowns. Our flagship products are the prime Zimbabwean Nguni cow hide neck-ties.
We work with cow hide, goat hide and sheep hide.

ND: What’s special about the Nguni cattle hide?

ZK: The Nguni cow breed is indigenous to southern Africa and is known for its high fertility and resistance to drought and disease, strong and resilient like the house of stone —Dzimbadzemabwe — Great Zimbabwe.

The Nguni cow is characterised by its multi-coloured skin, which can present many different patterns. The colours on the skin are a signature themselves as they have no duplicate. Every skin piece from each cow has its individual colour and spots. No other Nguni cow can have a similar pattern ever.

ND: Do you do the design yourself or you have craftspeople?

ZK: Yes, I do the designs myself. As the creative director, I do the design work myself and I am hands on in the bulk of the production process. I work with a team of five artisans, with different skill sets in the fashion and leather business.

Occasionally, I involve painters, sculptors and carpenters, among others. Creative work is really unpredictable and I will invoke whatever skill I need to invoke to execute an idea that is the addictive, adrenaline that comes with creating something new.

ND: When and how did you start designing?

ZK: The idea was hatched in 2013 and officially launched in 2018. I studied architecture and so I guess I would reluctantly say that architecture is my day job. Reluctantly because I find I flourish in other art forms just as well and I’m able to turn those forms into value and revenue.

ND: Where is the connection between architecture and fashion?

ZK: Architecture is in essence the art of creating spaces, habitable spaces and in my view fashion is also the art of creating spaces, intimate spaces. Whereas, in architecture one would design a space for multiple-people or bodies, in fashion one designs a space for one body, as it were.

In this regard, I see no difference between the principles in architecture and those in fashion because both are about tectonic, which is the technique of how materials come together.
ND: So you basically use the same concepts and skills?

ZK: The same way I make art out of concrete, steel and glass join together to form an aesthetically pleasing building is the same way I make art out of how cow hide, chiffon, feathers and horns come together to form a beautiful garment.

The simultaneous transition between architecture and fashion, for me, is then effortless. The same “presence” and experience I create in my architectural spaces is the same presence I like to invoke in my fashion garments, which is royalty and rich African culture.

ND: What is your major goal in all this?

ZK: My goal is to celebrate the unique and rich heritage and culture of Zimbabweans and showcase our fashion and architectural identity to the world.

ND: What are some of the challenges you have had to deal with?

ZK: Firstly, it was raising the start-up capital without a bank loan after a loan I had applied for did not come through. It is the conviction and passion that kept me going against odds.

Secondly, like architecture, the leather manufacturing industry is male-dominated and I had to overcome the belief and stereotypes that women cannot produce meaningful value in the industry. I had to convince people against the popular misconception that hide could not be a wearable fashion material in the modern era.

ND: The majority of your craftspersons are women. Why?

ZK: The brand philosophy is about empowering women and is hinged on the anchor scripture, Proverbs 31:21. It speaks of a woman whose household has no fear of the winter as they are covered in scarlet.

Scarlet wasn’t just a colour. It spoke of distinguished identity, honour, royalty, special skills, wealth, elegance and divine protection.

The brand is an expression and call out to Zimbabwean women to honour their homes and nation with their skills and bring back wealth and identity. It’s about activating the underutilised energy and initiative in Zimbabwean women.

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