The economic troubles in Zimbabwe have spanned decades now. Nearly 3 decades since the first signs of trouble started showing up in the Zimbabwean economy. And while the whole country is ravaged one group that has been affected the most by the economic trouble are the youth. The current and knock-on effects are huge. Youth entrepreneurship is encouraged in the country and it’s always wonderful to see a real example of it at work. Black Effect Apparel is one great example of what young Zimbabweans can do. I caught up with MD Maximillan Chikwati (pictured below with Fortune Chasi) to learn a bit more about the business.
Black Effect Apparel is a youth-created and run brand that produces luxury urban wear. They modestly call themself the University of Zimbabwe’s finest clothing brand but what these young people have built is a little bit bigger than that. They manufacture t-shirts, caps, tracksuits, sportswear and face masks among other apparel items. The team behind it are young Zimbabweans currently in university but their business journey started while they were in high school. In 2018 they started Censored which rebranded to Black Effect in 2019. 2 years later they can count customers all across the country and even in international centres.
As a youth company focused on youths you could say Black Effect have the advantage of being on the pulse when it comes to youth issues. The company counts their capitalising on the social media boom, particularly through Zimbabwe’s favourite social media platform Twitter, as one of the big factors that have contributed to the success of the brand. Smart partnerships have also been a big part of their success. In a great example of being seen where your customers are looking” the brand partnered with Miss UZ 2020 which was being streamed live on Nash Tv through YouTube. Dressing the models for the show gave the brand exposure to a wide audience and to date they look back at that campaign favourably.
The urban wear business in Zimbabwe is popular, to say the least. One might go as far as to say it is flooded. However, companies like Black Effect show that saturation, at least for now, is theoretical at best. There is still room for many more brands and as the market grows the market niches further. So much so that Black Effect has found its success appealing to the somewhat niche market of university students. They have learned to hard on their target audience without allowing themself to be distracted by the numerous other brands and market niches that exist in the space.
All Zimbabwean businesses face similar challenges in general. Currency issues are a dire headache for many as they are for Black Effect. These issues feed into issues such as finding and opportunities for financing. Thus far the business was started and grown out of pocket. Unlocking funding or financing would help them to further their expansion efforts. However, the Zimbabwean economic issues also have effects that are unique to the clothing and textile industry. With the textiles production sector in Zimbabwe shrinking the opportunities to find material locally are extremely are limited. Black Effect like others has been forced to import material but the additional acquisition costs have to lead to compromise along the way in quality. Being an end to end business can get quite capital intensive. They handle everything from manufacturing to the final sale.
The partnership with Miss UZ was huge for them but that is not their only accolade. They are very proud of their nomination for best youth entrepreneur at the Ignite Youth Awards 2020. This is set the pace for the high standards the team hold itself to going forward. While they currently ship internationally and count customers in places such as Namibia and as far afield as Europe the goal is to grow to a point of representation or full-on distribution in major international centres.
As a parting shot, Max thought to share some advice with others. Firstly he encourages others to stay true to their dreams. Secondly, he maintains that believing it can be done is a big part of the battle. His third piece of advice is to just do. Nothing beats action. Finally, he said taking risks is what pays off. Rewards come to those who take risks but do with an appropriate understanding of the factors involved.