Fashion designer and entrepreneur Joyce Chimanye says the government must enforce the ban on the importation of second hand clothes to protect Zimbabwe’s struggling textile industry.
Chimanye (JC), who is also a trainer, told Alpha Media Holdings chairperson Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that the country’s textile companies were struggling because of an influx of cheap imports, including second hand clothes.
She called for strong policies to encourage the growth of the industry.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Joyce Chimanye, what a delight that you finally made it.
Last time we had an appointment, you got a big flu, but I am so happy that you are here. Welcome.
JC: Thank you Trevor. I am glad to be here, and thank you for having me.
TN: Fantastic. Joyce, you have done so many things, and as I was looking through stuff that you have done, beautiful stuff, very creative you brought us some of your work there.
- In Conversation with Trevor: Chisamba: Let’s be proud of ourselves
- In Conversation with Trevor: ‘I tried to change Zanu PF from within’ – Margaret Dongo
- In Conversation with Trevor : How car crash changed my life
- In Conversation With Trevor: ‘We lost our humanity’
I said to myself, why does Joyce do what she does?
So I am going to ask you why do you do what you do?
JC: I am an artist, I like to create.
I like to imagine something and then make sure I materialise it. I have had this love ever since I was in primary school, my mom was telling me.
TN: Your mom was telling you? Does your mum give you an indication where this love came from so early?
JC: She just said like when I had dolls I would like to actually make up the clothes for the dolls, or even make up the doll, because back then when we used to stay in Mutare and the parents were struggling to send us to school the money was low,.You had to be creative to make up your own things to play with.
We did not have money to actually go shopping for things, so you would actually use what was available to make up things to entertain yourself with whilst you were at home, yeah.
TN: And the passion carried on?
JC: And the passion carried on and then I remember when I was in high school and my mom and dad would buy us clothes, let us say at Edgars or Truworths.
But we would not go at the beginning of the range when the stuff came into the shop.
We would go at the end of the range when the stuff was on sale, because of the financial commitments they had.
So, then I said to my mom please do not buy me any more clothes, can I make my own things?
Then she bought me a sewing machine.
She would actually give me the money then I would go and buy fabric and then I would make up something for myself as opposed to buying it from the retail space.
Then also when I was at school, and we had fellow students competing in let us say in a lip sync competition; back in the 1990s that was a big thing when people used to lip sync.
And also, proms at the end of the year, so I used to take orders from my schoolmates and then I used to make the things for them over the school holidays because I was a boarder.
For my ‘A’ levels I was meant to have done biology, geography and English, and then at the beginning of my Lower Six I said to my dad I don’t want to do biology, could I drop biology and do art.
I had done art in Form 1 and Form 2, but I stopped it at Form 3 and Form 4.
Then he said okay fine, I dropped biology and then I did my ‘O’ Level art in my Lower 6 year, but I did my ‘A’ Level Art in my Upper Six year because I knew I wanted to do something that was art related and it was fashion.
When I was in Upper 6 I applied to a couple of factories to go in for an internship, so I could start in the industry before actually going through and studying.
A Harare factory actually took me on, it was called Coco Tage owned by a guy called Glyn Cohen, son to a guy called Victor Cohen.
I knew nothing but they took me in because normally they would take on interns from the Bulawayo Polytechnic.
They worked closely with them, but they agreed to take me in.
I was in the factory and experiencing it, I knew this was what I wanted to do. But my parents wee not happy that I decided to do this...
TN: I was going to ask you that?
JC: No, they were not happy at all.
TN: What did they want you to do?
JC: After I went into the factory I realised why they were against it.
Because in terms of your top management, your creative staff, they weren’t black ones huh? They were all white.
So, I suppose black people experience clothing manufacturing from a tailor’s perspective.
So, my dad thought I wanted to be a tailor, and my mom’s uncle was a tailor and he had a table outside, like at the grocery store in Bulawayo.
Though he was from Manicaland, he went and settled in Bulawayo.
So, (dad) said no you cannot do that.
So, they did not even give me their blessings when I actually left to go to the factory, but it is something that I really wanted to do, so I just went ahead and did it anyway.
TN: Stubborn? Ha ha ha. It is so interesting that your school schoolmates were singing, going through those proms and lip-syncing. You were not joining them there?
JC: To sing?
TN: Deciding to rather make clothes for them? Fascinating isn't it?
JC: Well I could not sing!
TN: At least you made the decision or discovery earlier on that you cannot sing, isn't it?
JC: Yeah. Also, I just like the fact that someone would sit there and then describe to me an outfit, that they wanted it to look like this or look like that.
Then I would actually draw it and then they would be so happy when I come back with the outfit and it was looking as they had they had visualised it.
So that was very encouraging for me.
TN: The people watching at home, there are kids wanting to go the route that you have chosen.
I think parents tend to push back on things that they are not familiar with.
Mothers and fathers tend to say no do not go there, like your parents did.
What advice would you give to parents who are right now dealing with a child who's either finished ‘O’ Level or ‘A’ Level, and says I want to go and be a designer, or to be like Moffat Takadiwa who was here.
What advice would you give those kind of parents?
JC: I would advise parents to just look into the areas that their children would want to go into.
Study, do your research.
When you look at, for example fashion, before Covid, the contribution of fashion into global GDP was about US$3 trillion, and I mean everyone is wearing clothes, people are making clothes.
So it is an industry that is very viable, but I suppose the training.
I suppose why a lot of especially Zimbabwean parents, I will speak from a Zimbabwean point of view, do not want their children to go into it is because I suppose as a nation we were affected economically over the years and we have seen a lot of factories closing down.
When I first joined the industry in 1991, we were exporting to the USA, we were exporting to Europe, we were exporting to South Africa as Zimbabwe.
We had so many factories between Harare, Kadoma, Bulawayo.
There were so many factories.
We had buyers coming in from Europe and the US to actually order our cotton and to have the stuff manufactured here.
TN: Those were the good old days?
JC: I am always reminding young people that this is where we used to be, and we need to...
TN: Can we ever go back there? Particularly with the Chinese influence, the coming down here and loading of cheap, offloading cheap stuff?
Can we be competitive at all in this sector?
JC: I suppose this is where our government really needs to seriously look int.
To look at what fashion is contributing, the figures it is contributing into the global GDP.
Who are the brands that are manufacturing?
Where is manufacturing being done?
And then look at how they can protect our industry in terms of second-hand clothing.
I have just done a training with ZimTrade, in partnership with an expert from Germany, and she was once into garment manufacturing and she is now into training.
You find that she was sharing the fact that she was in Rwanda a few months ago and Rwanda banned the importation and the sale of second-hand clothing in their country.
I think it is really up to governments to look into what areas the people can benefit in terms of job creation and make a deliberate effort to actually ban (second hand clothes).
I know they have banned it, there is an SI (statutory instrument) that was put out some years ago, but the policing, there is no policing because it is happening.
You find that, for example, in certain countries there are certain things that import duties on those things are heavy in order to protect the local industry.
When you look at the case with Bangladesh for example, the Bangladeshi government came up with the policy, I think it was in the 1970s, and they decided to actually slowly reduce imports and start producing.
And at some point, Bangladesh was the second highest exporter, and even exporting so much to the USA because of a policy that their government had put in place to actually protect the industry.
I think a conversation needs to be held between government and the private sector, and even young people to say what is our future in terms of garment manufacturing in Zimbabwe.
How are we going to secure jobs for our young people in this industry? And then for people to actually execute that plan.
TN: So, protecting the market could be one way where government intervention could help?
You say there is a law, but uh like all laws that we have in this country, most of them do not get policed.
What other thing would you say the government ought to look at?
What other issues would you say the private sector ought to look at to give impetus to producing our own garments?
We have got the cotton, and what else can we do?
JC: I think on cotton, if you look historically we have had so many textile companies going to judicial management over the years.
So, I think that needs to be explored deeply to say what happened?
Why are they going into judicial management?
What could have been done to actually save those companies?
Then secondly, the issue of technology transfer; so I was doing this training with this German expert in partnership with ZimTrade, and you find that she was just saying the technology, because she has travelled wide to different countries.
China being the main one in terms of manufacturing, so she was designing and retailing from Europe, but she was outsourcing her manufacturing to China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and she was saying the level of technology out there is amazing.
I think there needs to be a partnership between government, the private sector, tertiary institutions, and the technical institutions in terms of what we are teaching.
Is it globally relevant? Because when I am trying to make a garment here, and I am trying to use a machine that was made in 1990.
I still have machines like that in my workshop.
- “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. The conversations are broadcast to you by Heart and Soul Broadcasting Services. The conversations are sponsored by WestProp Holdings.