Thembani Mubochwa sewing himself to the top
By Robert Mukondiwa
When Thembani Mubochwa put together an iconic dress which he named the ‘Elephant Dress’ and showcased its Zimbabwean debut at the premier Zimbabwe Music Awards (Zima) early this year, many knew he had sewn poetry in motion.
Yet few knew that this would mean a great and incredibly life-changing turning point for arguably one of the best and most decorated fashion designers ever to come out of Zimbabwe in the youthful modern era.
At the behest of Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri, Thembani was commissioned a youth ambassador for the conservation of elephants in Zimbabwe and was looking forward to telling the elephant story through his works. But he hadn’t bargained for what the honour of ambassador truly meant.
After his first assignment, Ambassador Thembani Mubochwa suddenly sees reality sinking in as he gives a brief of his work after returning from a fruitful Cites convention as part of the Zimbabwean diplomatic convention.
“I got the call and was told I had to do what I had pledged to do. What I was passionate about. And that is to tell the conservation story of the African elephant and the Zimbabwean elephant in particular, through my art form as a fashion designer,” says Thembani.
But the beeline, or probably elephant trail, that led to his exhibition booth under the Zimbabwean government’s auspices was something he had never expected.
“The response was overwhelming and I am still tongue tied to this day as to how powerful the message that resonates from the elephant dress is,” he admits as he ignores a glass of water he has poured before himself on a scorching summer day in Harare.
“Scores of people came to the booth to hear the interpretation of the dress and what inspired me. Many applauded Zimababwe for coming up with a unique and innovative way to tell the story of conservation and the number of people I exchanged details with was overwhelming,” he admits, as his doting wife sits next to him sipping on her soda water and orange cordial and helps him recount the overwhelming events.
That he can now be called ‘His Excellency Ambassador Thembani Mubochwa in his ceremonial role and at a very youthful age in his mid-thirties is something that the boy who learnt his craft by accident from his uncle’s tailoring shop at spaceman in Glen Norah could not have ever fathomed.
That anybody can sew their way up to the high echelons of power, influencing dress sense, conservation as well as dressing the political and entertainment elite in the region is in itself a fairy-tale rise of the sweetest story of positive thinking and the never-say-die mentality of a Zimbabwean millennial.
He could have ignored his allure to a craft which was otherwise a job for the ‘girls’ but he ignored stereotype in a largely patriarchal bigoted regime of a society and decided to be ‘different’ according to what he wanted to pursue.
“I was the only guy at the polytechnic studying cutting and designing but the fact that my brother and mentor was paying for my course strengthened me. If he could show faith in my choice and saw a future in my decisions then I must be on the right path, I told myself.”
And he was on the right path.
Today, designing clothes for the Minister herself, Oppah Muchinguri as well as a host of South African stars in the galaxy of entertainers including diva Lira as well as having worked with soapies Generations, Jika Majika and Muvhango, Thembani has seen it all with an A-list clientele and yet he is only just beginning.
A journey that has taken him from street-wear to bespoke and beyond as he has tried discovering himself, Thembani is well on course to be the Zimbabwean face destined for world design history no doubt.
Thrice a winner for his collection at the Durban July Fashion event, Thembani wants to lay down the needle for another heir from Zimbabwe so that a new person gets exposure-a selflessness that is very rare in the cutthroat dog eat dog world of fashion where people hardly get any prizes for playing the angel.
Perhaps as his star continues to rise, it is the great karma from his beautiful heart as well as guidance from a grounded surrounding that ensures that he will continue to rise and shine for his country and his chosen profession.
This article first appeared on Robert Mukondiwa’s blog. Read more here.
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