“I think clothes is sort of like our second skin. The more we can actually wear things that represent ourselves that showcase us, I think that's even better.”
Sylvester Ndhlovu is the creator and designer of the lifestyle brand RuvaAfricWear with the mission to infuse responsibility, unity, value, creation, and appreciation into everything they make. RuvaAfricWear is an athleisure brand using traditional African prints on non-traditional designs. Encouraging consumers to “dress like a queen,” and wear “clothes fit for a king.”
“Traditionally African fashion, people reserve it for three events, church, weddings, and funerals. We're trying to get away from that. From that narrative to say, well, you can wear African fashion any day and every day,” said the Zimbabwean designer. “I'm always playing around like, how can I make something multifunctional or take something that's not very functional and make it functional? And also, incorporate African print into it.”
RuvaAfricWear was born from Ndhlovu's love and pride of his culture and his understanding of influence. Ndhlovu, who had a love for fashion and stylish things early, quickly understood the impact fashion has on people. “In college, I got to this point where I was like, all these brands don't mean anything to me, they don't represent who I am. I’m literally just a walking advertisement for these brands that I'm wearing. So, I got to put on, I need to start creating something that actually means something to me,” said Ndhlovu.
NdhlovuNdhlovuNdhlovu participated in the first AFROPUNK and Shopify Black Fashion Accelerator Program this year. The program was designed to provide a platform for Black designers to move the needle not only in Black fashion but fashion in general. This six-month program equips nine Black business owners with the skills needed for long-lasting careers in the fashion industry; an industry in short supply of meaningful Black representation. Designers worked with several successful fashion experts including designer and creative director at sportswear brand Dyne, Chris Bevans. Adding to fashion’s reach while removing barriers to access.
“I think that's why the program was great. It's this whole idea of owning our narrative, right? I feel like a lot of Black men’s stories… their biography is there, but they're not autobiographies. That means we're not writing our own stories; you’re not owning your narratives. The more we can sort of write our own stories and our narrative in whatever you want to do, the happier you'll be,” said Ndhlovu.
The designer is most inspired by the potential of collaboration with other Black designers and larger brands. “If you take look at what's happening now in this space, in the fashion space. There is no reason why Gucci and Adidas shouldn't be collaborating, but they are not collaborating because they're not thinking we are competitors. We could actually collaborate and make more money and sort of amplify our story. So that's what we need to get to as well,” said Ndhlovu.
The MBA holder always approached fashion as a business, understanding that you need others to be successful. “We have to get away from this idea that everybody's all competitive. We can learn a lot more from each other. And then we can support each other as opposed to trying to compete with each other,” said Ndhlovu. “I'm rooting for everybody, like rooting for them to do great. We are all fashion designers. We do clothing but at the end of the day, we’re actually not competitors. We’re business owners that should learn from each other.”
“What inspires me is, is changing the narrative,” said Ndhlovu whose advice to up-and-coming designers is pretty simple. “You have to know your why and why you want to do it. And with that, also stay true to who you are,” said Ndhlovu. “I think of what my brand is. I want it to be a celebration of something. Whether you’re caucasian or Black, if you want to celebrate, I'm making something for you. I'm designing something for you because you want to celebrate the culture.”
Photo Credit: Twin Cities Digital Marketing