Haleema Mekani is a Milan- trained Zimbabwean designer who owns NGUWO.inc. She is making her mark in her local fashion industry through her debut ECO-Fashion Capsule Collection. The whole idea behind ECO- Fashion is to showcase eco-conscious products to consumers and fabricate environmentally- positive designs. The ECO- Fashion Collection will be presented in Poland this July. Ayiba’s Brenda Masayila spoke to Haleema via email about her collection and her life as a designer.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how your diverse experiences have led you to start NGUWO.inc?

It seems my family has always been somehow influenced by design. I’m the first of two kids and only girl so I was always exposed to different types of fashion as a child. My great- great grandfather on my mother’s side was a very well known suit Tailor and my grandmother on my mother’s side always made her own curtains and cushion covers. I spent most of my school holidays as a child at their house so naturally I grew a curiosity about fashion. My family also moved around from place to place and all these different environments also came with a different style of fashion. When I went to Milan, Italy to study fashion design I was really immersed in the culture of fashion but most significantly the psychology of fashion. I realised that fashion is a language which helps us to speak to and on behalf of our inner spirit. So when I wanted to start working in fashion I wanted to create a company that represents the unique experiences of fashion. And so NGUWO.inc was born. Nguwo is the Shona word for cloth, but not any particular cloth, which symbolizes for me the diversity and potential for creating anything to be an accurate representation of yourself.


What challenges have you faced in starting NGUWO.inc?

It’s never easy forging your own path and it’s even more difficult to create a new sector of business. Setting up the company structure and profile had been one of the biggest challenges but not impossible. It’s still something that I’m working on because it’s important that NGUWO.inc remains relevant in fashion art direction. Finding the right mentors, connecting with the right brands and recognizing the “chancers” and the users were some of the initial challenges I faced. Once I had set up the company and experiences have been the best teacher for overcoming these instances.


What’s your design process? How do you decide which fabrics and materials to use?

NGUWO.inc is a creative agency, so we don’t follow a process of picking out materials. I believe in allowing the essence of the project or show guide the design process. This way each experience is truly unique. Research at the start of any venture always goes without saying but being a fashion creative I always leave room to explore.

With ferocious competition and a booming trend in fashion designing, how do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

The beauty about selecting designers to work with and engaging in different exhibitions, shows and installations is you aren’t guided by the fear of competition. Instead my focus is always on creating an authentic memorable experience.



How has social media helped you build your NGUWO.INC brand?

Social media has actually built me through this journey. I was never active on social media which was actually preventing me from networking with other creatives and also depriving my brand of opportunities to grow and to learn. It’s important to be active on these platforms, not to copy which is a problem now with some African brands, but to emulate the work ethic and build relationships with peers and potential clients or partners.

What sets Zimbabwean fabrics and traditional designs apart from the flood of West African designs and the rest of Africa?

At the moment Zimbabwe doesn’t have an authentic voice in fashion. We have brands which are truly original points of view, brands like Haus of Stone, Ndau and Vimbai Natatsha Naomi but nothing that distinctly states our traditional fashion history.

What experiences lead to the genesis of the idea for Project ECO Garden Design?

Along the journey I have encountered many people from different walks of life. While I was preparing for a pilgrimage to Germany and Poland, the Eco-Fashion Capsule Collection was actually pitched to me from a Jesuit Brother. My family is Catholic and the church’s network is very vast. The Jesuit community in Germany is very strong and Germany is a leader both in eco-living and eco-fashion. Together they are engaging the young people of the world to be more environmentally aware and to promote eco-living.

What was your inspiration for the ECO- Fashion Collection?

While researching and speaking to existing eco-designers. I came across one young lady who simply stated that eco- fashion does not actually help prevent the millions of tonnes of clothes in the landfills. It’s made consciously but ends up in the same place. This notion challenged me to create a collection that could be redesigned over and over without having to purchase anything again. 



I understand on the ECO project you used locally- sourced, locally- grown cotton thread and twine and everything is handmade. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges and benefit of designing, manufacturing, and distributing your products on the continent? 

The challenge of using locally sourced materials will always be availability and quality, especially if the supplier is small scale but the consumer is large. But the benefits make the challenges worthwhile because you are promoting local, money is circulating within your sector, it maintains equilibrium in the trade processes. And you have fewer structures to overcome (import tax, shipping, e.t.c.). 

Do you have any plans to expand the project?

I’m hoping that during my time in Germany I can create a network for eco fashion trade between Germany and Zimbabwe so we can learn and develop the idea before we begin to expand.

Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs in Africa — on launching, on marketing, etc.?

Go to the experts, and not just one. Always keep an open mind about where knowledge comes from.

The global village has made it so easy for things to go viral on the internet. Can you please share how you protect your intellectual property and designs?

The nature of my work is such that the experience can only be experienced if you are there. This has helped to keep my IP under control. You can’t copy something you didn’t experience.


Do you have any plans of expanding your brand to other countries in the region?

NGUWO.inc is not only for Zimbabwe. It’s for Africa to have and for the world to experience. But it’s not a race; we will get there when the time is right.