Fashion diamond shines in dirtyland
Daventry House is a hub of many activities, mainly sustaining informal indigenous businesspeople that pursue various trades to eke out a living from this dilapidated structure. Tailors, computer technicians, printing experts and other “small office” hustlers do not see this as a facility yawning for structural attention at all.
It is their source of livelihood. A place that has brought out some of the best works on showcase in the capital.
There are learners and experts in this community of hard workers. There are passionate and cunning tradesmen who have gathered decent belongings for themselves from their small corners of crowded offices in this city centre facility.
It is in this society that one of the best designers in town — Jay Tee spends most of his time.
The founder of Saints of God (SOG) fashion label makes some stunning outfits in there. His real name is John Tendai Mazhinye.
Could this be the workspace of the famous designer whose apparel has taken over the local scene?
The person whose designs make it to all high society gatherings of Harare, award ceremonies — the infamous Ginimbi’s all-white party included?
One breathes a sigh of relief after being directed to enter an inside room where all is transformed.
A nice touch of freshly painted green walls dictate a different mood.
A computer screen stands facing visitors’ chairs displaying various eye-catching designs some of which are donned by local celebrities.
He has a great hunger for success and, at 26, he seems to be on the right path.
Jay Tee started out on this path in 2014 when, as a rising gospel rapper, thought to distinguish himself with a touch of unique street apparel.
“I started SOG as a hip hop group and one of the members Kudakwashe Muzise designed our logo.
“I then printed the logo on my T-shirt which I wore going for a television interview and people loved it,” said Jay Tee.
The growing interest, especially after wearing his apparel at live shows led Jay Tee to develop SOG into a clothing line.
He developed various other designs including bucket-heads, snapbacks, woollen hats, hoddies, T-shirts which he supplied to a retail shop — Empire.
“This was the time I met a young designer named Christian whom I gave my sketches that had a bit of African print fused with urban wear.
“At the time, African attires were a hit, so I thought of ways to design them differently and Christian helped tailor the designs. The outcome was great,” said Jay Tee.
Another television interview wearing new designs saw the SOG clothing line grow bigger, attraction mostly going towards the Afrocentric designs.
As the number of orders grew, Jay Tee challenged himself to learn how to tailor the designs he kept on coming with.
“I learnt from other tailors how to sew my designs. The process took me about six months,” he said.
As he continued to learn and experiment with design, Jay Tee ended up employing assistants and interns who come from various learning institutes including Young Africa Academy, Harare Polytechnic and Kushinga Phikelela Polytechnic.
“To date I have trained nine people, some come on attachment from various tertiary education institutes while others come with no design knowledge, but passion to learn,” he said.
Although he does not have professional qualifications in the field, Jay Tee feels his practical experience will push him steps higher up the success ladder.
“I don’t feel any pressure to go for tertiary education right now, maybe later in life just for the fun of it,” he said.
Jay Tee keeps challenging himself to learn new things each day.
He has expanded business from just Afrocentric designs to different styles.
“SOG is much more than Afrocentric designs, we do bridal wear, men’s suits, evening wear; you name it, we design it,” he said.
The growth of his business means he has to put in more work, sometimes sleepless nights to fulfil orders.
“I usually don’t want to turn down orders because people may take that as pride, so sometimes I work with my team overnight.
“There was a time I was so overwhelmed with work, designing for three bridal teams, about 15 men’s suits and 16 bridesmaids’ dresses.
“We had to finish the order in a week,” explains Jay Tee.
It is because of the heavy demands that come with huge orders that Jay Tee has been hesitant to approach big retail shops with his designs.
“Working with retail giants will mean more work and, as of now, I don’t think I will be able to cope with that,” he said.
“I’ve been dressing many celebrities with my AI sweaters in an effort to generate great interest locally and with the aim of enticing the international market,” he added.
“I want to inspire African pride, driving a message that it’s still cool to look to our roots.”
SOG has dressed people like Enzo Ishall, Noble Stylez, DJ Krimz, DJ V Candy and Zazalicious among others.
Though having dressed many high profile people to the most exclusive events, Jay Tee sees his greatest achievement as employment creation.
“Being able to employ other people, helping them feed their families out of my idea in a challenging economy is something I’m really proud of,” he said.
Jay Tee grew up wearing only tailor-made clothes, except for special occasions like Christmas and birthdays.
This was not out of option but because his mother was industrious to dress her children out of her creations and save money while at it.
He grew to love tailor-made clothes because of their great fit, and now he dreams to have as many people being able to experience their comfort.
He now dreams to grow his company into a multinational business that exports, not only clothes, but also spin cloth for local use and export.
At the centre of his dream obviously lies Afrocentric design which he believes in time will rule the fashion world.
It really does not matter that as of now, he works from a rundown building, all that matters for him are the steps he is taking towards creating his perceived fashion empire.