Top Of The Classy: Thobekile Zondo Q & A

No. You should not put your other interests down.

Words by Alex Gwaze (Researcher)

Questions by Alex Gwaze and Joanne Peters (Model Coach / Image Consultant)

Sketches, patterns, scissors, and fabrics. This is now just a small part of the dress-making process for Bulawayo Arts Award winning designer, Thobekile “Thoe” Zondo, that almost never happened. This is because Thoe initially started her career as a Social Worker after she completed her diploma in social work at the Women’s University in Africa, in Zimbabwe. But fortunately, she did not let go of her passion for fashion. 

Thoe discovered her passion at an early age when she started making dresses for her dolls. By the time she was in high school she was drawing sketches during classes, and when she entered university she would research the fashion industry during her lectures, so that she could teach herself how to design clothes at home. Once she finally got a sewing machine, she admittedly quit several times when she found it harder than she thought to turn her theory into practice. But, she always picked up her scissors, needle, and thread, put her foot back on the pedal, and got back to work. And it’s paid off. To date, Thoe has showcased her designs at the Intwasa Fashion Show, Zimbabwe Fashion Week, Ekurhuleni Fashion Festival in South Africa, Mozambique Fashion Week, dressed Miss Tourism Zimbabwe – and she is the owner of the Leverange (LVR) fashion brand.

In a country where the fall of the Zim dollar and massive unemployment has prompted a wave of entrepreneurs – by force, it’s rare to find someone who voluntarily quit their job, embraced their talents, succeeded, and now employs other people. That’s why we caught up with Thoe to talk about how far her side interest has taken her.

AG: Let’s talk about Leverange (or LVR) first. Where did you get the name? Everywhere I looked, nobody seems to have asked you what it means? 

TZ: Well, Leverange is a combination of part of my Dads name and Ange. My second name is Angie. At first my Dad expected me to continue as a full time social worker, but after seeing how invested I was in fashion, he became very supportive.

JP: You are a self taught designer, but also you interned at Ara Kani. Not long after that you had your first showcase through “Heralds by Ara Kani” at Intwasa Fashion Show. Was that the event that kick started the idea to start your own fashion label?

TZ: No hey. Actually, I already had passion for fashion and I was already building my brand. At that time my brand’s name was Angie T Fashions. But, Nkululeko (Ara Kani), did give me my first real breakthrough. And, he helped me fulfill my dream to be real designer.

AG: Angie T Fashions is now LVR. Funny thing, LVR is known as fashion label for women, but a lot people recognise the brand from ASAPH’s hit song “V.I.C.” – aka “the vibe is correct” video. So, my personal question, in a round about way of asking is – do you make clothes for men or is that t-shirt ASAPH was wearing as far as you go?

TZ: (Laughs) Sorry, but for now LVR only makes dresses for women. But we do have T-shirts and bucket hats that are unisex like the ones in the vibe video.

JP: You know what else LVR is know for – the fabric! It puts smiles on women’s faces. Obviously the design brings out the material, but your outfits are custom made. So, there is a personal touch, right. How do ‘you’ personally want women to feel when they wear your clothes?

TZ: Personally, I always describe my brand as ‘classy’. I want women to feel classy when they are wearing my brand. Also, I want them to look good and feel good about themselves – therefore, the fabric is everything. I always try to find good quality materials. But, because of COVID, it’s not that easy to do these days – because I usually travel to South Africa to find my stock.

AG: Finding the right material that inspires you must be even harder now. Probably just as challenging and exciting as preparing for a fashion show. I’ve seen, “Project Runway”, “The Devil Wears Prada” and “McQueen”, but tell me – what exactly goes into preparing for a fashion show?

TZ: Preparing for a fashion show is never easy, trust me. Let me describe the process. For instance, for big shows like MFW (Mozambique Fashion Week), they organise everything. Then they just send you measurements for the models that you are going to dress. Then you make your garments according to those measurements. From there you go and see your models. Usually a day or two before the show – for fittings. And for me,at the time – I was just praying that they all fit perfectly; because they won’t be any time for alterations. So it’s not easy because you have to make sure that everything is perfect. But, I do enjoy seeing it all come together when the models walk down the runway and you see the reactions on people’s faces.

AG: You mentioned that everything has to fit perfectly for the models, but off the runway women come in all shapes and sizes. And, some women are not comfortable wearing outfits that flaunt parts that they usually ‘hide’. As a bespoke brand you must have had several conversations about body structures. How do you talk to women about embracing their figure?

TZ: Well, this is always a sensitive topic. People are always encouraged to love their bodies – however, we can’t run away for the fact that not all dresses are for all same body structures. Some dresses look better on certain body structures. So, it’s my job as a designer to help my clients choose designs that suit their body ‘better’. My brand is about making women look and feel classy. So, I always make sure they are happy – and most importantly comfortable with the design and fit.

AG: I might get some flack for this but  – the Internet (especially Instagram) – must be a blessing and a curse for the fashion industry because people bring their own ideas (pictures) for outfits that do not necessarily ‘fit’ them or your brand. How has social media impacted your business?

TZ: In the fashion industry, social media plays a big role in everything we do. But for me it is mostly in terms of advertising and marketing. I get most of my clients through social media. And, the fact that I post my work on different social media platforms, people can see my work and get to know my brand, former clients, and my personal style.

JP: When I go online, it’s rare to see Zimbabweans setting fashion trends. Honestly, I don’t think we have our own unique style. As a designer who lives in the fashion capital of the country (Bulawayo), what is your take on the Zimbabwean ‘look’?

TZ: There is no Zimbabwean look – except our old traditional looks. Zimbabweans are trend followers. Most people like wearing something we have seen before. However, it’s our job as fashion designers to look into that issue and try to find something distinct and unique that inspires us to look to ourselves for style influences.

AG: On that point. Ain’t it just irritating when something goes out of fashion but you still like it. What are your favourite trends in the fashion industry, past or present?

TZ: It is! Trust me. It’s irritating. But you know what? Nothing ever goes out of style really. Because style and fashion are two different things. Fashion is something that is there and Style is unique and different. Some say Fashion says “me also” and Style says “me only”. My point is that style is created by an individual who wants to look good and be unique / different. As for my favourite fashion trends, I hardly ever follow trends. I wear anything that makes me feel good. I don’t like following trends and honestly, I really don’t know any current trends either.

JP: But I’m pretty sure you do follow musical trends. So, lastly, tell us  about the music that’s always playing in your studio. Music is obviously a great source of inspiration for you. Who are your go to artists that put you in the mood to create? 

TZ: I love music! I always say if I wasn’t a fashion designer I was going to be a DJ. I love the noise! I listen to everything. But, well, as for now I currently love Amapiano. I also listen to a lot of old school 80s and 90s R’n’B though. Music is always playing around me because I can’t work without some sort of musical inspiration.

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