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African Fashion Designer Taps Into Billion-dollar US Industry

The Moyo 1 Chinhoyi kids sneaker by The Rad Black Kids pictured, undated (Courtesy: @theradblackkids, Instagram).

Major U.S. retail stores Macy’s and Finish Line recently partnered with Thulani Ngazimbi, the Zimbabwean founder of The Rad Black Kids fashion and longboard brand.

Ngazimbi is a Portugal-based designer who previously lived in California to create and distribute his designs. VOA’s Mike Hove spoke with Ngazimbi about his journey through the fashion industry.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: How did you start The Rad Black Kids?

Ngazimbi: I started the company in 2014 after I had graduated at the top of my class, and I moved to Los Angeles where I struggled to find a job. No joke, I must have applied for over 500 jobs, and I could not land a single interview. Seeing as though I was an international student at the time, I needed a reason to legally stay in the U.S., so I decided to start the company to make sure that I could help my peers who were in the same situation as I was.

VOA: Tell us more about how you landed the deals with Macy's and Finish Line.

Ngazimbi: I applied for my first trade show in October 2020 where I dismally failed. When January came around, I had run out of cash, and a gentleman named Brian reached out to me to do another trade show. As irresponsible as this sounds, I tapped into my savings and used the rent to do that trade show. Luckily my success at that trade show is how I got deals with huge fashion companies. Macy's came before the trade show ended where they said they were very keen on working with me. One trade show led to a deal with Macy's and Bloomingdale's. JD Sports and Finish Line came soon after.

'The Inkwell' capsule collaboration between The Rad Black Kids, Finish Line and JD Sports pictured, undated (Courtesy: @theradblackkids, Instagram)
'The Inkwell' capsule collaboration between The Rad Black Kids, Finish Line and JD Sports pictured, undated (Courtesy: @theradblackkids, Instagram)

VOA: How much do trade shows cost, and how does one find themselves as part of a trade show?

Ngazimbi: My first trade show was in 2017 and the cost was $6,000. I did not have the money. I tried to apply for loans, but a lot of institutions declined because my earnings were not good. The place that eventually gave me funding was The Opportunity Fund who specialize in loaning money to underrepresented communities. They gave me $5,000 which was just enough to pay for the trade show, but I still had to foot the bill for other things. It was by God’s grace that I made it through that.

African Breaks Into US Fashion Industry
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VOA: How are you able to maintain your relationships with big companies like Finish Line?

Ngazimbi: You must have a good relationship with your suppliers so that when a Finish Line approaches regardless of the prices for your items, your suppliers deliver high quality goods regardless of costs because they understand your vision.

VOA: There are a lot of emerging young Black designers who would love to meet up with people like you. Are you open to collaboration?

Ngazimbi: We're open to it, and also mentorship is something that I think is really, really big.