Tateguru Clothing and the freedom of expression

Art & Design | By , Designers | 06 April 2013

Dialogue with Tofirei Makinya and Tinashe Mabeza the creators of the Tateguru clothing brand.

POVO: Give us some background about yourselves and how you created Tateguru.

TOFI: My background is basically graphic design. I always wanted to get into something that I can use to express myself and being a graphic designer gives me that room so I did my graphic design diploma at ZIVA (Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts) for two years and from there ventured into the corporate world but I found it kind of hard to really fit in and gel in terms of creative freedom so I had to let go of that and start something where I can really express myself.

TIN: We are very similar in that i have always been an arty person since high school. After high school I got into the corporate world where I didn’t feel I fitted for the 2 or so years I worked there. That's when we got together with Tofie and we decided to do something that we really love, something that's really us. I have to say I'm an art person, I'm self-taught, everything I do, the designs, I didn't go to any school or anything it’s all self-taught.
POVO: Why the name Tateguru? 

TIN: The brand represents something that’s truly Zimbabwean. We want to use the Zimbabwean culture, illustrate it in all our designs and something that is recognizable wherever you are as a Zimbabwean product.
TOFI: there are billions of t-shirts out there but our concept is not about illustrating for its sake but to convey a message with history behind it.

POVO: What has been the reception so far? 

TIN: Reception has been great; it’s been amazing because people did not expect something like that. It’s one of those simple designs with a Zimbabwean Shona feel and international quality.

TOFI: It’s really international and people are looking forward to more designs because from here we are going to introduce more designs that fuse the modern world with the past.

POVO:  How old is the brand now?
TIN: I was doing something else called N D U Wear, an idea from a Shona slang word. I was still young and wanted to do something humorous which Zimbabweans could also relate to. Later, i settled for more substance and deeper meaning to cater for an untapped market. Tofi then approached me and realized we were thinking on the same level and had the same vision.

TOFI: When I started at ZIVA, it was called Ray Ray which I felt wasn't saying much. Then came Highflyer, same concept trying to do something that is not cliché but with a message. About a year and a half ago I pitched the Tateguru idea with Effiel Gumbochuma, a friend before Tinashe and I launched.

POVO: What kind of challenges are there?
TIN: Trying to understand every culture in Zimbabwe and travelling extensively across the country to get a feel of different cultures and their historical background. The name also has different meanings for various people for example some associate it with ancestral spirits and the land of Zimbabwe. 

TOFI: The other challenge is translating the Shona word Tateguru into Ndebele. It would have been nice to use some of the people like Mbuya Nehanda, who unfortunately have been politicized.

POVO: What do you think about the freedom of expression in Zimbabwe?
TIN: You really have to careful, you don't want to end up in hot soup, so we are just trying to play it safe because there is no freedom of expression in the first place.

POVO: Yet T-shirts are a form of expression…
TIN: You really should express yourself in everything and like we are saying Zimbabwe has got deep roots, in Southern Africa, I think in the whole of Africa we are the ones who have really got roots, like Mbuya Nehanda. On Independence Day, Bob Marley actually sang a dedication song called Zimbabwe.

POVO: Is that song still played on radio in Zimbabwe?
TOFI: Maybe towards Independence

POVO: Because the lyrics of that song are touchy?
TIN: Yes
TOFI: We are trying to capture all this on our T-shirts. Our brand is based on identity and self-expression. We can even come and scan your finger print and put it on the t-shirt or your face as an illustration of identity. We are trying to go deep and if you look at the logo itself, what do you see?

POVO: The deep roots for me kind of come out like a brain
TOFI: Exactly! The brain representing wisdom in our Shona culture, the proverbs are wisdom and that’s why you have a healthy tree, representing our culture.
TIN: That’s exactly what we are saying. We are not doing designs to make a T- shirt look pretty. There is a meaning behind it

POVO: What about tags with a history of the identity so people can buy into the intellect of the brand as well?
TOFI: We are working with a poet called Aura, to write a poem that’ll make Tateguru more like a movement. She may even do it per design, explaining why it is black and put in a poetic way

POVO: Where are you going with Tateguru?
TOFI & TIN: Everywhere, we are going to take over

POVO: How are people going to buy your brand in Zimbabwe and abroad?
TIN: We will have an option to buy online on our website.
TOFI: We are trying to manage the brand itself. We don't want to be a wholesaler, because you find that people will buy large quantities of our brand in Zimbabwe, and sell it from their subpar shops which damage our reputation as Tateguru. Presently, we do the distribution ourselves at Sam Levies flea market on Sundays from 10-5 and Saturdays we are at Avondale flea market. In future we will be expanding our product range to jewelry, sneakers and sandals. We are also working with artists to fuse clothing side and the music together

POVO: Zubz and Outspoken wore your T shirts, how did you get them on board?
TOFI: Surprisingly it wasn't difficult; it was through friends and connections. We were working on a tight budget so you find you have to work with friends and family.

POVO: Final words about Zimbabwe and the future.
TIN: Zimbabwe has got so much talent in the arts industry. It is very unfortunate, growing up; parents do not support their children enough to realize such potential. We should support each other and convince our parents that following your passion is the only way to go. We need to support our local brands and musical artists.
TOFI: We should stop imitating other people and be ourselves.