HAMBA: Unapologetically African designs

Takudzwa Chihambakwe
In May last year, Robin Chaibva quit her full-time job at Zimpapers to open a travel business. Many tried to persuade her not to quit but she seemed to know something nobody else did.

“I left my full-time job in May 2017 to build my travel brand, HAMBA, with no idea that the fashion section which was part of the merchandise division would blow out to be the flagship project,” says Robin.

“It all happened in a flash whilst I was in Malawi where I met a fashion show host who assumed I was a designer given the unique African print wears I had. This inspired me to launch the merchandise collection in Lilongwe in June 2017 and the response was very good. I decided to take it up on a serious level and here we are today.”

Later in the same year, at the Shoko Festival, she sold out her jackets on the first night.

“I thought, wow, I have to continue making these clothes. It was a great feeling and I work towards making my clothes more refined and more accessible to clients.”

The bubbly Robin reveals that her main inspiration for HAMBA came from Zanzibar.

“I was inspired by African music at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar, the proud display of traditional music from Africa and the Diaspora, coupled with interviewing Ghana’s Rocky Dawuni. I felt so inspired and proud to be Zimbabwean I wanted to translate that to fashion.

“I collected fabrics that represented the places I had travelled to in previous years; that is Tanzania, Mozambique, Swaziland and around Zimbabwe. The collection was a cultural revolution, combining military khaki and military green with African prints.

“The combination was a statement that would say my generation is ready to reclaim our identity, we have our land now we need our culture,” she explains.

Robin has, amongst other things, shorts, jackets, shirts, T-shirts, T-shirt dresses, shirt dresses, tennis shoes, and caps in her collection. Not only are her wears uniquely designed but they also come with crazy names.

HAMBA custom made shoes
HAMBA custom made shoes

“I name the clothes according to a muse or the source or name of the fabric. A HAMBA jacket made with a traditional fabric takes on the name of the fabric. When I take on a muse a range of jackets emerge.

“One is inspired by fitness and is going to be for guys with a fitness physique inspired by our client Sensei Mugove Muhambi is called ‘Tiri wemaGainz’ collection. One of my collections which uses traditional fabrics like the retso cloth is inspired by a sangoma client Refentse Sebothoma who is young and I call it the ‘Millennial Sangoma’ collection.”

But who is buying these wears considering that many are now opting for cheap imports?

“My customer is a cultural enthusiast who is not only creative but unapologetically African and enjoys looking unique at whatever cost. I make clothing collections and clients buy from my designs, I custom make for my prime clients who I have built a relationship of trust with.”

She has her challenges, though.

“The conversion of bond notes to forex is a major challenge for me. As small business owners, banks do not give us special preference to access systems to curb these problems. Getting a swipe machine or merchant code is a challenge too.”

Looking to the future, she wants to use her brand to tell Africa’s story.

“The ultimate goal for the HAMBA brand is telling the authentic African story through the blog www.hambanow.com, everyday clothing from the merchandise, experiences and affordable curated trips for the young African at heart.

“We are starting up and intend to scale up our production, collaborate with more African artistes and create an online platform to sell our merchandise across the world setting up in major trade cities across Africa.”

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