The Story of Guided Youth - Activism Through Fashion, Empowering Conversations & The Youth's Cultural Moral Compass

 By Takudzwa Hillary Chiwanza 

The contemporary lived realities of the youth, not only in Zimbabwe but in the rest of the world, are a stark contrast from the promises made by the devisers of free-market enterprise principles. The youth find themselves in an existential and generational conundrum – bombarded with the infinite allure of material riches yet kept far away from such. Denied, actually.

Guided Youth, a brand of Loft Clothing Co.

The resulting identity crises have made the youth appear lost and confused, but such abstract critiques are reserved for another article. What can be said with optimistic triumph is that the youth are trying, with all their might, to create sense in the world; and such valiant attempts at finding their space in the world need a bit of fine-tuning – a bit of ideology and consciousness.

And this is what a new Zimbabwean fashion label called Guided Youth is attempting to do through its fashion enterprise as will be elucidated by this feature. Call it fashion with a narrative [and counter-narratives].

The Crises of the Youth, and their Marginalization

Given this context of the contemporary youth particularly for Zimbabwe, one would still be vindicated in asserting that the picture for the youth is grimly unpleasant. And this is precisely because the cultural base for the young is dominated with hegemonic narratives of materialism, desires for recognition and fashionability, as well as a grotesque individualization of opinions – again for egoistic forms of recognition. Even if this does not find weight in the immediacy of popular urban cultures.

As far as driving a ubiquitous and fashionable consciousness unifying the youth is concerned, this is a herculean task. And it is understandable. Neoliberal forms of capitalism have ostensibly devoured the already dissipating sanity of the youth. And again, one cannot entirely put the blame on the youth. Bigger forces unbeknownst to the whole populace.

The absurdities of these contradictions have driven the youth to the peripheries of capitalism where few opportunities in the normative world of work and wages come their way – and the existential crises that this comes with is often unbearable to endure. The youth have now come to forge their separate world filled with its own [informal] structures, modalities of politics, methods of production and recreation, and a virtual connectedness that is inspired more by consumerist envy.

These separate worlds are informed with remarkably innovative means of thinking – counterbalanced by destructive forms of existence as well. One can easily observe how the youth are caught in the tentacles of mimicry as they try to keep abreast with global trends that engender the individualism and narcissism that characterize the default order of neoliberal globalization. There is less regard for cultural contexts as the “global must meet the local” in postcolonial Africa.

Enter Guided Youth – Activism Through Fashion

But this is where a nascent fashion label in Zimbabwe comes to the fore. Loft Clothing Company are acutely aware of all these contradictions highlighted above, and through fashion, they want to create counter-narratives regarding the stereotypes hurled towards the youth in postcolonial Africa. Their spirited desire is to create new, sustainable conversations that can dilute the toxicity of capitalism’s influence on the youth.

In their arsenal of novelty, Loft Clothing Company have birthed a new fashion brand called Guided Youth – a form of activism through fashion and art. Guided Youth is a concept they have come with (in line with the informality that the youth have been compelled to undertake in this neoliberal dysfunction) in which creativity [without bounds] takes centre stage to ameliorate the existential crises burdening the youth of today.

It is a movement to give the youth a voice and embolden them in their quests to spread meaningful art to the world – art speaking substance; art that is not thrust in a vacuum. Guided Youth provides the latest Zimbabwe urban fashion trends but with a solid backstory. 

Guided Youth has been an exciting phenomenon to watch, in all honesty. Their repertoire of fashion items is refreshingly authentic and gives one a sense that this new fashion wave is contributing positive narratives to this planet.

Unbound Creativity for Zim Fashion

Here is revolutionary art – even if the founders of Loft intimated to this author that there needs to be a bit of caution there. But in the broadest sense of the phrase, what wearguidedyouth as a label is providing to Zimbabwe and the world is in all essence revolutionary art.

Loft Clothing Company – the venture behind the Guided Youth label – was created by Ngaatendwe Mapako, Sanders Mutsimba, and Kingstone Zimunya, who passed through the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) for their tertiary studies. The aim of these three men; buoyed by restless yet artsy youthful zest, is to give the youth the agency they lack because of dispossession, displacement, climate change, and mimicry/copying.

Guided Youth is the manifestation of homegrown teamwork and solidarity, elements now exported to everyone else. As a team, they transcended their failures to produce an amazing strand of ingenuity that is increasingly capturing people's hearts/conscience. Guided Youth is an amazing label. More so because there is a concrete story behind it.

As for the unique, fascinating, and appealing Guided Youth logo - the compass - the co-founders assert that it is meant to guide you, and it came after Guided Youth had already been created. A compass is a good icon that people relate to as far as guidance is concerned. On closer attention, there's a G within the campus that represents the 'guided youth' and the arrows representing the directional forces.

Guided Youth and Creating New Conversations via its Statements

The crux of Loft Clothing’s raison d’etre through their Guided Youth label is hinged on creating thought-evoking conversations that lead to a better present and future not only for the youth but for everyone. These conversations are engraved on the merchandise they offer as [youth empowering] statements - the "Statements Series".

Loft’s conversations are exceptionally infused with ideology. Such conversations, predicated on a unique conflation of sensible liberal and left-leaning ideologies, are not carved in an abrasive manner but they create a chance to mould a better youth for today and tomorrow. Guided Youth is not an ‘attention-seeking’ movement.

Guided Youth is more than rocking this tee, or that bandana, or that tote bag – Guided Youth symbolically proclaims that we should have faith in local products for local contexts, as asserted through one of its 10 statements, “Support Local; Local Is Lekker.” A good time for fashion in Zimbabwe.

What Guided Youth conveys to us in a charming but resolute way is that we should cease viewing local brands with contempt given the way we glorify foreign brands such as LV, Dior, Gucci, Ellise, etc. Supporting local is the new wave and that is one thing we should collectively take pride in.

The ten statements that Guided Youth postulates are: 

Everyday Is Mental Health Day; Listen To Your Body; Say It With Your Chest; Support Local, Local Is Lekker; Africa Is Not A Jungle; Phusha Phanda Pressa; Kapula Dongo; The Future Is Yours; Plastic Pollution Solution [via tote bags - large and often unfastened canvas bags with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch usually for shopping]; and What Am I Supposed To Do Outside But Get Rich?

In this vein, Guided Youth is a “label with a difference,” as Kingstone Zimunya puts it. The goal is to change perceptions – Africa is not a jungle for sure, mental health matters in daily existence, one has to hustle and push every day, support local because yeah, it’s lekker, the future is yours, and so on.

At the Tennis Court shoot for the breast-cancer and mental health awareness/releases, model Shane Macheche spoke of revolutionary art saying that all these statements are issues not prioritized and this alone is a revolution. Rutendo Matemai, another model who participated in the shoot, remarked of highlighting these serious issues for the betterment of the youth and all.

Shane Macheche - the 'Tennis Court' shoot.

These statements are conversation rousers to counter neocolonial/neoliberal influences that have damaged the persona of the youth, to counter consumerism – it’s beyond fashion, it’s guided youth conversations.

The Unbridled, Untamed, and Restless Youthful Zeal Channelled By Loft Clothing.

This author had the chance to witness Guided Youth first-hand for ZimSphere. Kingstone Zimunya, the executive director of Loft Clothing Co. and one of its co-founders, says Guided Youth was launched on the 16th of August 2021 with its Spring/Summer collection series and the attendant statements, but that this actually goes way back – it came forth as a result of timing and execution.

Kingstone had initially created a fashion label called Sauce Boys back in 2016 but its failures (which he ruminated over during his time at UZ), coupled with the creative input of Sanders Mutsimba (creative director of Loft) for sustainability and a lofty fashion-sense combined to create a conceptual framework for Guided Youth.

They wanted to get rid of the idea that the youth are unfocused and only chase highs from instant gratification via binges in social media ephemerality, unchecked sex, drug abuse, and other morally questionable practices.

They wanted to show that the youth are guided by their inherently meaningful destinies – hence Guided Youth.

And with their logo which shows a campus, Loft hope that perhaps in 20 years’ time the whole landscape of fashion labels in Zimbabwe will be speaking sense. Not vanity. Guided Youth is you, dear reader and potential purchaser of the fashion merch – everyone is a guided youth.

Guided Youth, Business & Zimbabwe’s Urban Cultural Contexts

Loft Clothing Co. recently released a Guided Youth breast-cancer awareness campaign through a photoshoot and merchandise – the ‘Tennis Court’ shoot – that was done at the University of Zimbabwe last month.

The statement accompanying this is, “Listen To Your Body.” Previously, Guided Youth collaborated with Yanaya restaurant for a shoot in marketing its products to the world – a collaboration that conflated fashion and organic health [Yanaya] which we think was pretty cool.

Loft Co. have regular photoshoots that propel their products to the world, and we absolutely love them. Guided Youth also appears in the latest Zim Hip Hop music video by Reap3r and VI THE Law called Body. Their presence in urban cultural discourses is enviably palpable.

This author had the chance to interview Loft Clothing Company's co-founders and below are the excerpts of the exchanges we had [slightly edited for clarity and brevity].

[Interview done by Takudzwa Hillary Chiwanza for ZimSphere.]

ZimSphere: What is the story of Loft Clothing Company in bringing up Guided Youth?

Sanders Mutsimba: Loft was an idea that came through as the mother brand for Guided Youth. The Loft part came after we had already conceptualized Guided Youth. The whole Guided Youth scene came through after we realized that as the Zimbabwean youth, we have a determined way of growing, but there are so many loopholes and issues unaddressed for the youth, issues we can address through fashion in Zimbabwe. Guided Youth is a brand of Loft, and Loft is going to encompass many other brands with time.

ZimSphere: What are your counter-narratives? What is it that the system says which you go against?

Sanders: Basically, we don’t want to come off as explicitly "against" the system – the system is not giving enough opportunities for the youth and we are here to give awareness. People need to know that people are going psycho out there, that everyday is mental health day, be careful with drugs, people should know that. 

Awareness is a counter-narrative in itself. Our counter-narrative is that there isn’t enough content talking about issues affecting the youth. We address issues that are given little attention.

We just released a breast cancer awareness campaign - campaigning for early detection and treatment. People need to listen to their bodies. We want to campaign and bring more insight and attention to issues affecting the youth.

Guided youth zw listen to your body UZ
'Listen to your body' - the breast cancer awareness campaign; 'Tennis Court' shoot, UZ

ZimSphere: Would you describe it as an artistic rebellion against the system?

Ngaatendwe Mapako: In a world which is governed by lack of self-esteem for the masses, believing in yourself is a rebellious act. Everyday, standards are set in every industry, but coming with something new is a revolution. Call it what you may – activism, awareness, rebellion – it’s about interpretation because it’s art at the end of the day.

ZimSphere: Do you see yourself fitting in Zimbabwe’s current urban cultural contexts?

Ngaatendwe:  The cultural urban scene is quite interesting now because countless youths are coming with many crazy/innovative ideas; people like trendy stuff; but our position as regards where we fit is that we are guided by our destinies, hence Guided Youth. Whatever context there is now; we can redefine and change it.

There is no one specific answer to where we fit. We are targeting the youth, we speak to and for the youth, and the youth speak to us. Our statements on t-shirts are a reflection of what we think the youth should say to each other.

ZimSphere: From your statements, what conversations do you wish young people should be talking about daily - on social media, at the workplace, at church, at social gatherings, etc.?

Sanders: As of now, the conversation getting the most traction is “Everyday is mental health day.” Mental health is one of the biggest issues affecting a lot of youth and accompanying this is unemployment. Another conversational point getting interest relates to overall physical health – “Listen to your body.”

For instance, whenever you feel unwell, don't go to work. Your instincts should inform your next step. We're promoting awareness in mental and physical health. 

Then there's the hustle; you need to find your space of excellence. Our hustle is fashion, and we express ourselves through fashion. People should learn to support someone's local hustle.

Ngaatendwe: Our release of tote bags is meant to start conversations about plastic pollution and environmental conservation.

Sanders: Adding to this, tote bags are a slight twist from the statements where we support environmentalism, and how people need to shop using tote bags because it's plastics littering the whole town. We need substitutes for plastic bottles. 

Tote bags are an act and a statement environmentalism. 

ZimSphere: Will you create solidarity with the rural youth who often view the city with envy and glory only to be disappointed by its chaos?

Kingstone Zimunya: Our ultimate vision as Loft is to plant seeds. We're still new, with our statements, but we want to change the fashion landscape to new levels in Zimbabwe. Of course there's a constant fear that the idea we're coming through may not translate into what we desire in 3-5 year's time, but the hope is what keeps us going. If the fear were winning, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Sanders: We want people in rural areas to know and appreciate that local stuff can be done, and it can "blow". That's our awareness. They don't necessarily have to come to urban areas, with aspirations to go outside borders - we've had so much brain drain in Zimbabwe.

ZimSphere: Take us through the stock on offer. 

Ngaatendwe: We have t-shirts, bandanas, and tote bags. Tees come in black and white, with all 10 statements on them. Also, there are pink and grey t-shirts - pink for breast cancer awareness/conversation and grey for mental health everyday, since we talking about grey matter. Tote bags are available but they only come with 4 statements. So far, there are only black bandanas in stock. 

ZimSphere: How do you plan on presenting yourself to the world?

Ngaatendwe: At this point, social media has been the biggest platform for us i.e. WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. That's where we've been getting the most attention. We did a photoshoot collaboration with Yanaya Lifestyle - a healthy food joint - to reach through the restaurant market.

Yanaya Lifestyle healthy food joint guided youth zw harare
Collaborative shoot - Yanaya Lifestyle and Guided Youth Zimbabwe, Harare.

ZimSphere: Every new enterprise breaking the confines of artistic conventions faces some challenges. Have you conquered these? And how do you conquer them?

Kingstone: The biggest challenge we have faced, as also faced by other young creatives and entrepreneurs, has been that of [prejudicial] perceptions. People think you are not serious enough. We work with other older people [some being the parental generation] in the production processes and they really don't get our idea -  to them it's about money, never the art.

Then the challenge of skepticism - people think it's all about drip, looking good or money but for us our vision is bigger than all these metrics.

Our solution, up to now, is simply sticking to the vision. The vision we had when we first met as co-founders. We are working with people who are loyal to the vision. It's better that way. The universe responds to such manifestations. We don't want to forget the initial vision.

ZimSphere: Why is it important not to copy/mimic Western trends, the so-called "international"?

Sanders: We want everything to be relatable to Zimbabweans first before it goes outside. We don't want to copy, creating something that comes off as Italian or French. We want something rooted from Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. We don't mind external markets - someone from outside buying our merch simply because someone understands the narrative, but the indigenous first. 

Ngaatendwe: It makes sense that we show people it can be done locally, as we also address rural areas - we can show them that you don't have to come to Harare to keep up with trending American labels. It's all about inspiration - let's not copy America because sometimes they even get inspiration from us. 

ZimSphere: What are your merch release cycles or patterns?

Ngaatendwe: I cannot say we have a specific pattern so far; we sometimes work with the calendar. For example we did the breast cancer awareness release because October is the month for breast cancer awareness, and the same goes for Everyday is mental health - mental health month. No specific cycle yet.

Sanders: We also work with seasons of nature in Zimbabwe - Summer and Winter - but also planning on a Fall release for the rainfall but it's basically Summer and Winter releases.

ZimSphere: Art is a noble calling yet always downgraded, condescendingly. But with this, what's your word to people whose conviction and purpose is Art?

Ngaatendwe: Art is everywhere - architecture is art - either you believe in art or you don't. The importance of art gives people therapy and forms of escape especially in this pandemic era. Art decisions have impact everywhere, for everyone. Art saves, anyone can do art. 

That's that. Follow Guided Youth on social media platforms via the links below - #GuidedYouth #WearGuidedYouth #GuidedYouthZw:

IG - @wearguidedyouth 

Twitter - @wearguidedyouth 

Facebook - Guided Youth (clothing brand).

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