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Monday 4th of March 2024

Nairobi, Kenya

Rising label LABRUM Weaves Untold Stories of West Africa into its Clothing

Community-focused designer Foday Dumbaya is bridging the gap between Britain and West Africa with his culture-blurring collections

Foday Dumbaya first became aware of fashion at an early age. “In Sierra Leone, when I was young, my dad was in the police force and always dressed immaculately. He had this great authoritarian military uniform,” the East London-based designer, who was raised between Sierra Leone, Cyprus, and London reveal.

“My mother loves to dress well too. She’s more extravagant and to this day wears traditional African dress coordinating colors, a headscarf, it’s a whole look,” he adds. When it came to his parents actually allowing him to go into fashion, however, things got a whole lot more tricky. “It wasn’t always on the table in my African home. My parents were determined I chose a more stable career – as immigrants themselves, they recognized we faced an uphill battle as it was.”

Instead of heading to fashion school, Dumbaya studied information design at university, going deep into the ways in which humans interact with computer interfaces. After an internship at tech powerhouse Siemens, he dipped his toe into fashion for the first time at Nike, where he created bespoke designs for the sportswear giant. “I’m largely self-taught but fashion isn’t so different (from information design),” he says. “I create stories within a fashion that humans respond to.” After his stint at Nike, he laid the foundations for his own label, LABRUM, with the intention of exploring both West African and British heritage, and bridging the gap between the two.

Past collections have seen Dumbaya look to Sierra Leonean capital Freetown, his grandmother, and the West African diaspora for inspiration, with classically tailored suits, clean indigo denim, and slick, functional sportswear-indebted pieces sitting alongside his own takes on the agbada and other traditional silhouettes. “A lot of our pieces are an amalgamation of cultures,” he explains. “We have British tailoring in the shirt, with the addition of ruffle sleeves, which is more traditionally West African attire.”

More recently, as part of his AW21 collection at London Fashion Week, LABRUM paid tribute to “the heroes of St. Giles Blackbirds” – a community of sailors, soldiers, and former slaves that came to England from Africa in the late 1700s and ended up living in poverty, shunned by society. “We wanted to tell the story of a group of people that were downtrodden and went against the efforts made to forget them,” Dumbaya explains. “It was important that we told it now because it’s a story of resilience and migration, which feels very poignant right now.”

Inspired by the stories of figures including writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, who came to the UK after buying his freedom and fought for the abolishment of slavery, Dumbaya reworked and reimagined historic dress for 2021, enlisting Dazed editor-in-chief and longtime collaborator Ib Kamara to bring the offering to life on the runway. This saw trenches with dramatic ruffled panels matched with louche, wide-legged trousers, structured coats layered over tailored, printed suits, and new iterations of his signature balloon-sleeved Mamie Bakie shirt – named after his grandmother – all on the line-up for the new season, with 80 percent of the offering crafted from offcuts and salvaged fabric.

For Dumbaya, it’s not just about the clothes, though fostering and supporting a sense of community, as well as empowering a new generation of creatives, is high on the agenda, too. Having long worked with Hackney’s Wickers Charity, which supports and uplifts disadvantaged youths in Hackney, he also founded Sierra Leone running club Labrum Athletic. In addition to donating funds and equipment to the group, he also stepped in to create the Sierra Leone Olympics kit when some of the club’s members were chosen to represent the country in the postponed 2020 games.

Working in partnership with Converse, the designer is also attempting to open up the fashion industry to a wider, more diverse demographic. Having first linked up for a creative project and collaborative runway footwear, Dumbaya’s relationship with the legendary label has evolved into something a lot more expansive. As part of Converse’s All-Star program, LABRUM has been able to access mentorship and funding that has allowed Dumbaya to grow its brand and community significantly.

With many brands – both emerging and, more dismally, established relying on low or unpaid interns to support their businesses, those from lower economies have historically been locked out of fashion. In a bid to combat this, Converse has begun funding paid placements with its All-Star designers – allowing growing businesses to thrive and young talent who otherwise might not have been able to get their foot in the door to gain experience, knowledge, and guidance.

Ahead of the AW21 season, LABRUM was one of the labels that benefit from the initiative, with a number of interns and a studio manager joining its fold.

“(The interns) were an incredible support,” says Dumbaya. “Each of them brings different experiences and energy to the team, and I really valued their input. We’re developing a platform where there is knowledge sharing between West Africa and the West – and especially London. We want the people interning to share their knowledge too.”

With Dumbaya intent on telling new stories and merging the borders of West Africa and Britain as the label grows, he’s determined to also keep the door open for the creative new gen. ”Nurturing talent is so important to me. LABRUM will continue to create and support communities linking back to Sierra Leone and London, as this is so much more important than simply designing clothes. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that we all need to think about each other more.”

Content courtesy of Dazed Digital & Nairobi fashion hub 

The Folklore website is elevating African fashion and helping designers get paid

“This is going to change the way people value Africa and its creators,” says Amira Rasool, founder of The Folklore, which sells clothing and accessories from prominent and emerging African brands.

Amira Rasool is the founder and CEO of The Folklore, an online concept store featuring contemporary African design. She spoke to Doreen Lorenzo for “Designing Women“, a series of interviews with brilliant women in the design industry.

Doreen Lorenzo: How did you first find your way into design?

Amira Rasool: I was a creative kid. I used to make these huge forts out of sheets all around the house. I actually used to want to be an architect. Then I failed algebra my freshman year of high school. I figured if I was going to be an architect, math would be something I needed to be somewhat good at so people weren’t walking into their homes and sliding to the right because I measured wrong.

I thought, “what’s something creative that doesn’t have to do with math or science?” I started thinking more about interior design because my dream was always to build a community of really cool houses that all look different.

I also always had on these funky outfits, so my older sister Jasmine told me: “Why don’t you just get into fashion? You watch The Devil Wears Prada all the time. You’re always getting dressed up. You like writing.” She suggested that I start a blog back in 2010 when blogging was really big. So I created a blog and an alter ego named Bobby Austin posting outfits of me wearing purple wigs and black lipstick.

 

I also started taking FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) pre-college courses, so all my friends were just as weird as me and also had wigs on. I grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, about 40 minutes outside of New York, so I would take the train on the weekends, do my college courses, then go hang out with my friends afterward. I was one of those weird creative kids that were also a great athlete and could fit into both worlds.

Doreen Lorenzo: What made you decide to go from creative fashion blogger to entrepreneur and founder of The Folklore?

Amira Rasool: The blog is what let me know that my passion was in writing. I started doing internships as soon as I got into college floating between interning for fashion market editors, stylists, and features editors. I interned at Women’s Wear Daily and I really loved that experience. From there, I went to Marie Claire, which was really eye-opening for me because I was given a lot of responsibility.

It made me understand how hectic magazines were and learn how to take charge without anyone telling me to. I realized I was super good at organizing and providing top-quality results. My boss from Marie Claire then referred me to V Magazine where I interned in their fashion department, and later their editorial department.

During my internships, I made really good connections with the people I worked for. They saw I was a hard worker. By the time I graduated, I had multiple magazine jobs that I was up for. People in media know it’s so hard to get that entry-level job when you’re coming out of college. The fact that I had my choice between jobs was a testament to me busting my butt and always being reliable. I ultimately ended up choosing V Magazine where I worked full time for a year as their fashion coordinator before I decided to start The Folklore.

Doreen Lorenzo: What made you decide to branch out and start The Folklore?

Amira Rasool: When I was majoring in journalism at Rutgers, I started taking a bunch of African American studies courses. By the end of my junior year, I had more African American studies courses under my belt than I did journalism. I decided to change my major to African American studies. Growing up they did not do a good job teaching us about Black history outside of Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and the few other Black people they let us learn about. So when I started taking those African American studies courses and started learning about so many inspiring people, I was shocked.

I became obsessed with Black literature and started reading James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison, and a lot of the people who came from the Harlem Renaissance. I learned how the creatives during the time we’re able to create these great publications like Fire!! that was a part of activism, but more creative activism. I related to that because I felt like I was put on this earth to uplift my people in some powerful way. I had this fire under me to go out and make an impact within the Black community.

Fashion is very whitewashed. I’ve always been the only Black girl in every meeting and every company I go to, and they weren’t having conversations about race like they are now. I started feeling like fashion was so vain. People thought that they were curing cancer with what they were doing, but they weren’t even going beyond surface-level conversations. I liked fashion and felt I shouldn’t have to give up what I love because I want to pursue something that’s a little bit more serious and impactful. How could I do both? That’s when I started thinking about Africa.

I had taken a trip there my senior year of college and fell in love. I went to South Africa and discovered all of these cool designers, creatives, and music. I bought a bunch of clothing and accessories when I was there and started wearing them when I came back to the United States and people were stopping me and asking: “Where did you get those sandals from? Where did you get this hat from?”

I started thinking about getting access to these products again, but most of them did not have e-commerce sites and weren’t sold at retailers outside of Africa. I didn’t have access to them unless I hopped back on the plane. That’s when I came up with the idea. Why is there a whole continent full of designers that cannot penetrate the international market, and how can I help them do that? How can I use my resources, network, and overall creativity to find a way for them to have access?

I started creating a business plan and applied to the University of Cape Town for a master’s degree in African studies. Once I got in, I moved to Cape Town, South Africa, and lived there for two years learning about the designers and what they needed from an e-commerce platform. At the same time, I got to learn about various African cultures.

That informed how I thought about communicating these designers’ stories. Halfway through my program I ended coming back to the U.S. to launch The Folklore site.

Doreen Lorenzo: How did you find these African designers and fashion styles you wanted to represent through The Folklore?

Amira Rasool: There’ve always been so many different stereotypes of Africa. There’s definitely poverty in Africa, but at the end of the day, that’s not only Africa, and Africa is not the only place with widespread poverty. For a whole continent to be defined by that is ridiculous. I wanted to be able to reflect that and show this whole renaissance happening with designers incorporating their heritage into modern and contemporary forms of expression.

Being on the continent was really important because I was able to touch and feel the fabrics and most importantly, connect with the designers. I knew I wanted to stay away from Ankara prints or anything traditional because I wanted everyone to be able to wear these pieces.

I wasn’t going to be the American that came in and started selling white people Ankara prints, advocating for cultural appropriation. I also did not want to be a cultural appropriator myself, so I purposely go after pieces that can be worn comfortably by anyone.

There was already a market that catered to Black people who wanted to feel connected to the continent and their cultural heritage. I wanted to provide that counter-narrative where someone could see a piece and not know where it was created. People universally can wear these products and we know the only reason why these designs are as unique as they are is because of these designers combining their heritage, culture, and their natural environment in Africa that’s not typically portrayed.

When you don’t know that this place exists, everything’s going to look new and unique to the outside person. I’m excited to be the person to help the designers introduce this counter-narrative and share their unique stories outside of Africa.

Doreen Lorenzo: The Folklore became a 2021 Techstars accelerator company. What does this mean to you and for the future of The Folklore?

Amira Rasool: It means a lot.

The network, resources, and overall knowledge Techstars provides are extremely beneficial. I like to think that when The Folklore got into TechStars all of our brands got Techstars. Whatever knowledge or resources we absorb during the program, we are going to make sure we share with our brands.

One of Techstars’ mission statements is “Give first” and everyone who I’ve encountered at Techstars has really embraced that mission. So much of the focus is on how to help you raise money and build a profitable company. That’s a great thing because they realize what it takes to build a great company. Everyone’s been super supportive, so I’m really excited and honored to be a part of it.

Doreen Lorenzo: How do you believe Folklore will change the way people view the fashion industry in Africa?

Amira Rasool: This is going to change the way people value Africa and its creators.

The value that was placed on African designers before was the number of clicks their creativity could generate for fashion publications featuring African brand look books. They didn’t care that the press these brands were getting did not convert to dollars because a lot of the brands did not have a website to link back to. It was an afterthought.

We created a dialogue around economic opportunity and put pressure on the industry to actually put their money where their mouth is. Now they can write about these brands and link them back to The Folklore. We want to put as much value on these designers as people put on Gucci or Alexander McQueen, and honestly, there’s more value in these goods because most of them are unique and sustainably made.

People pay luxury prices because they were told these brands are important. When we’re pricing our goods, it’s really because it costs a lot of money to ship these products from Africa to the U.S. The e-commerce infrastructure has been set up, whether consciously or not, to exclude people like us.

If you’re truly committed to diversifying the designers that you work with and fighting for equity and inclusion, you have to make compromises that you would have otherwise not made for more established brands. When you’re paying for a product from our website, you’re buying something because it is amazing. People have asked to donate to my company but no, you can invest in my company, our brands, and their products. We don’t want charity.

Nobody wants charity. I want to change the way that people talk about contributing to Africa and help people recognize the value in not only how these products are produced, but in the story and the exclusivity behind them.

Written By Doreen Lorenzo

Content courtesy of Fast Company & Nairobi fashion hub 

Socialite Mollie Moon Used Fashion Shows to Fund the Civil Rights Movement

In the 1950s, famed Harlem socialite Mollie Moon transformed the Ebony Fashion Fair into a powerhouse fundraiser for Civil Rights activities. When she did so, she took part in a long tradition of fashion shows fundraising for Black political causes.

The glamorous Mollie Moon sauntered around the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan’s famed Waldorf Astoria hotel as she made minor adjustments to the decor. It was October 4, 1959. Moon, the founder and president of the National Urban League Guild, was preparing to bring the Ebony Fashion Fair to New York for its Big Apple premiere.

A mother and daughter at an Ebony Fashion Fair in Denver, Colorado, 1978. KENN BISIOGETTY IMAGES

A pharmacist by training and a veteran fundraiser, Moon paid meticulous attention to every detail of the events she hosted, because she believed guests could feel her level of care. The Waldorf, with its Art Deco luxury, had hosted European monarchs, diplomats, and New York’s white upper crust. Why should the Black American guests Moon was hosting on this evening expect anything less than the royal treatment?

Moon, wife of the former NAACP public relations director, Henry Lee Moon, understood that Black Americans were generous givers who loved to dress up for a good cause. Give them an opportunity to show out and the money would show up! Ticket prices for the fair ranged from $3.50 to $12 (roughly $25 to $100 today) and came with a subscription to either Ebony or Jet magazine.

Proceeds from the NYC show would go to the National Urban League, the interracial civil rights organization Moon’s guild supported through savvy fundraising campaigns and volunteer work. In cities from Washington, D.C., to Peoria, Illinois, powerbrokers like Moon hosted Ebony Fashion Fair events to fund local nonprofit organizations, racial justice causes, and HBCU scholarships.

The idea for the Fashion Fair originated in New Orleans in 1956. Jessie Covington Dent, an accomplished pianist, a socialite, and the wife of Dillard University president Albert W. Dent, reached out to media mogul John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing about cohosting a fashion show fundraiser for Flint-Goodridge Hospital.

That first show was such a success that Johnson and his wife, the fashionable and cosmopolitan Eunice Johnson, decided they should make it an annual touring fundraiser. Ripping “Fashion Fair” straight from Ebony magazine’s monthly column of the same name, Ebony Fashion Fair took shape under the leadership of Johnson Publishing’s home services director, Freda DeKnight. The rebranded traveling fashion extravaganza launched in 1958 with the theme Ebony Fashion Fair Around the Clock, featuring the wares of American and European designers, a few models, lively music, elaborate stage props, and colorful commentary by DeKnight.

Give them an opportunity to show out and the money would show up

Ebony Fashion Fair was the perfect fundraiser. “It was ready-made,” Joy Bivins, curator of “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair,” explains. “For the organizations, they don’t really have to do anything but bring the show. It’s a package deal.”

And for the attendees, the shows created an opportunity to “get together and do what rich people do with each other: show off! But it had this philanthropic aspect to it that, in many ways, made it okay,” Bivins says. The shows also gave exposure and brought new clientele to Black ready-to-wear designers and milliners who were struggling to launch their careers due to Jim Crow racism and cronyism in the mainstream fashion world.

A model at the Ebony Fashion Fair in Denver, 1979
DENVER POSTGETTY IMAGES

By the time Moon brought the event to NYC in 1959, it was among the hottest Black social events in the country. That year with an Around the World theme the tour expanded to 51 cities in 31 states. Moon supervised as DeKnight and the Fashion Fair team transformed the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom into a Black traveler’s paradise, replete with stage props that included hat boxes and luggage with the names of European destination cities fancifully written on them.

Press coverage that ran in the Amsterdam News and the New York Age played up the exclusive nature of the event, dubbing the two-hour show a “one night only affair.” It was a massive show that featured 200 garments and more than 400 accessories personally selected by DeKnight.

The models swayed and sashayed across the stage in haute couture garments by Arthur Jablow, Martier Raymond, Maggy Rouff, Harry Young , and others. With more than 3,000 people in attendance, the standing-room-only event was a roaring triumph. It further cemented Moon’s status as the grande dame of Black social and civic life in New York City.

Models at the Ebony Fashion Fair, Denver, Colorado, 1979
DENVER POSTGETTY IMAGES

Fashion show fundraisers like the Ebony Fashion Fair were ubiquitous in the Black community during World War II and well into the Black Power movement era. The Fashion Fair reflected the Johnsons’ particular brand of Black cultural elitism, evident in the mink stoles, silk chiffon dresses, hand-beaded gowns, and dripping diamonds that were on display during the shows.

But any crowd, regardless of income, taste level, or political leanings, could find a fashion show that catered to their interests and supported causes they could throw their hard-earned money behind. Designer to the stars Zelda Wynn Valdes directed a show for Harlem’s Salvation Army, much to the delight of the neighborhood’s elderly and infirm population.

The Black Nationalist organization African Jazz-Art Society & Studios toured its Naturally fashion show down the Eastern Seaboard and through the Midwest. Naturally’s Afro-sporting Grandassa Models wore African-inspired dresses and pantsuits, which they had designed and sewn themselves. Other community shows featured local folks from maids to transit and postal workers who modeled clothes from their closets. Styling out in garments of their own choosing affirmed that they were much more than uniform-wearing laborers. Churches, youth groups, sororities, and fraternities all found a sense of Black pride and Black economic self-help through fashion shows.

A model at an Ebony Fashion Fair sponsored by the Links in 2004
HELEN H. RICHARDSONGETTY IMAGES

Any crowd, regardless of income…could find a fashion show that catered to their interests

Moon and her contemporaries demonstrate how Black women have defined and redefined the contours of American philanthropy. “The biggest misconception is that Black women don’t give and that they’re not involved in philanthropy,” says Tyrone Freeman, author of Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving and assistant professor of Philanthropic Studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

“The truth is, Black women are on the leading edge of generosity in their community.” Philanthropy for Black Americans has never been the province of the rich or even of the middle class. Black, community-based giving circles and mutual aid societies can be traced to the Caribbean and West Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, Freeman explains. Enslaved and free Black women’s philanthropic efforts helped to fund the abolitionist movement, the Black Freedom movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and the Black Lives Matter movement today.

Studies have also shown that Black Americans give a larger percentage of their disposable incomes to nonprofits than other races. Thus, giving was foundational to Black life long before exorbitantly wealthy white capitalists became the face of modern philanthropy.

A model at the Ebony Fashion Fair, Denver, Colorado, 1979
DENVER POSTGETTY IMAGES

Reflecting in 1982 on her career as a philanthropist and lifelong civic leader, Moon wrote, “Neither I nor my family had sufficient income to make significant financial contributions to this cause [Black Freedom]. We did, however, have commitment, energy and time to contribute.” Bake sales, chicken dinners, galas, card parties, dance-a-thons: All those fundraising events helmed by Black women who were not generationally wealthywere their chance at Black world making.

A model at the Ebony Fashion Fair, Denver, Colorado, 1979
KENN BISIOGETTY IMAGES

Black women were giving and raising money to create the world they wanted to live in. Ebony Fashion Fair was a vehicle through which they could perform this women-centered freedom dreaming. The Fashion Fair ran annually through 2009, raising nearly $60 million in its 51-year run. Moon and countless others whose names have been lost to history were the visionaries who kept the touring show in circulation.

At the time of her death in 1990, Jet reported that Moon had raised more than $3 million through the National Urban League Guild, which, under her leadership since 1942, had grown to nearly 30,000 volunteers in 80 guilds nationwide.

Content courtesy of Harpers Bazaar & Nairobi fashion hub

5 Africa Fashion Designers open Digital Milan Fashion Week

MILAN – Five designers of African origin making their runway debuts opened Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday under the banner “We are Made in Italy,” having nurtured dreams deemed fanciful in their native countries and which faced considerable obstacles coming to fruition in their adopted Italy.

Joy Meribe, who is originally from Nigeria, started out working in Italy as a cultural mediator. Fabiola Manirakiza came to Italy as a child from Burundi and first trained as a doctor.

Morocco-born Karim Daoudi grew up in a shoe-making town in northern Italy and eventually took up the local craft. Pape Macodou Fall arrived from Senegal at age 22, applying his creative streak as an actor, film producer, figurative painter and now, as a designer of up-cycled garments.

Just one of the five, Cameroonian Gisele Claudia Ntsama, set her sights on Italy with the singular, already mature goal of a fashion career.

“When I told friends in Cameroon that I wanted to travel to Italy to become a fashion designer, they said, ‘Why are you going to study fashion. You know you are Black? What Italian fashion house is going to hire you?’” Ntsama said in a video chat with The Associated Press. “It is always in people’s minds that fashion is for white people. No and no and no!”

The designers, dubbed “the Fab Five,” are the first crop of creators nurtured through a collaboration between the National Chamber of Italian Fashion and the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion movement. Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean, Milan-based African American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo launched the movement last summer..

The collaboration has expanded from September, when the Fab Five’s collections hung in a showroom, to a bona fide runway show of five looks each for Milan Fashion Week, which is taking place 99% online.

For their fall-winter 2020-21 collections, the designers worked alongside suppliers and received mentoring from experts, all organized by the Italian fashion council, in an enhanced partnership that allowed them to take their creations to the next level.

A multi-ethnic team of stylists, hairdressers and makeup artists were on hand to prep for the runway show, and buyers can visit the collection on the National Chamber of Italian Fashion website.

Meribe worked with silk from the Como-based textile company Taroni, revisiting some of her earlier designs for her Modaf Designs brand that she has traditionally made from cotton renderings of traditional African wax textiles. Buchanan helped with fitting and encouraged Meribe to change ideas at the last minute without being too rigid,’ she said.’

“This collection is the most luxurious I have ever created. For this capsule collection, I went beyond every possibility,’’ Meribe said.

Daoudi worked with Veneto shoemaker Ballin, which produces footwear for Bottega Veneta, Chanel and Hermes, to create his collection of high heel sandals and boots. He said the association helped him produce more challenging designs.

“I hope that there are buyers,’’ he said, adding that the producer plans to help him fill any orders he receives.

Ntsama added knitwear to her distinctive swirling creations from hemp textiles. The artisanal looks are one-of-a-kind pieces fit for the celebrity red carpet and require hours of handcraftsmanship: She shapes the hemp with a kitchen utensil she prefers not to identify and irons it into place.

Fall, whose nom de artiste is Mokodu, took existing garments and upcycled them with hand-painted African-inspired images.

Manirakiza, whose Frida Kiza brand already has a following in the Marche region of Italy where she lives and in Rome, needed no outside financing for her collection inspired by Botticelli’s “Primavera,” which she intended as a sign of hope after the pandemic.

A babydoll dress with a gathered neckline and cape details is crafted from a black and white print of “Primavera” that emphasized the masterpiece’s floral elements. Manirakiza said staging a runway show was “a wonderful experience” that she hopes will help expand her brand.

Ngonmo established Afro Fashion Week Milano on her own after failing to get the attention of the industry before the Black Lives Matter movement inspired Black Italian creatives to draw attention to the limits they face. She said it was particularly important that the fashion world didn’t just stop with slotting the names of African-born designers into the fashion calendar, but gave them material support to grow.

“This has to have deeper roots. If we want to have true change, we need to offer the same opportunities that their colleagues have had, give them the same instruments and experiences,’’ Ngonmo said. “Let’s say this is a good first step.”

Content courtesy KSAT & Nairobi fashion hub

Labrum London Autumn/Winter 2021 at London Fashion Week

Not long ago, Menswear brand Labrum London launched their 2021 autumn-winter collection named St. Giles Blackbirds. The collection pays tribute to the black community that settled in London’s St. Giles area, which was full of soldiers, sailors, and former slaves.

The inspiration for the collection is Olaudah Equiano, a man who fought to abolish slavery. The collection itself utilised traditional West African fashion. For instance, the trench coat was a tribute to Equiano’s style. Moreover, the collection displayed loose-fitting tailored garments with voluminous statement ruffles with blue, beige and a pop of bright yellows.

Labrum London continued to be aware of the production wastage by having 70% of their collection made up of deadstock fabric and factory surplus from the previous seasons. They used durable materials to expand the longevity of their garments.

The accessories were made up of 80% upcycled materials.

Labrum dedicates this season to the heroes of ‘St Giles Blackbirds’. Celebrating a section of the black community comprising of; sailors, soldiers and former slaves that settled in England in the late 1700’s and soon found themselves poor, dispossessed and living within the St Giles in the Fields area of London.

Dubbed the ‘black poor’ they were dispassionately transported Sierra Leone following difficulty finding the solace that London once promised.

The group are symbolic of a familiar history and repeated tale: black people who are discarded as soon as they no longer prove useful. Today, the St Giles Blackbirds, defying the attempts of silence and being cast away, are highlighted by Labrum. Their story depicted as one of migration and great resilience.

Special thanks to; The blackbirds of St Giles Lesley Goddard at St Giles in the Fields Converse Creative Direction: Foday Dumbuya JulianKnxx
Art Direction & Styling: Ib Kamara Musicians: Anaiis Kwaye Sheila Maurice-Grey Ayo Salawu Jonathan Moko Godwin Sonzi Renato Paris
MUA: Riona O’Sullivan
MUA Assistants: Hiromi Iizuka Chiharu Wakabayashi
Hair Stylist: Shanice Noel
Hair Assistant s: Franklyn Nnamdi-Okwedy Nat Bury Muriel Cole Carl Murray Danielle Igor

Content courtesy of Our Culture & Nairobi fashion hub 

 

Black Lives Matters ( BLM ) in Italian Fashion campaign shows early tangible results

MILAN – A digital runway show by five Italian fashion designers of African origin opens Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, one tangible result of a campaign launched last summer by the only Black Italian designer belonging to the Milan fashion chamber.

After some initial resistance and a slow start, designer Stella Jean credits the Italian National Fashion Chamber with “a lot of goodwill” in pushing through an enhanced collaboration with five young designers, including financing and partnerships with Italian suppliers.

“When you want to do something, you can do them immediately,’’ said Jean, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matters in Italian Fashion campaign. “I have been working hard to overcome this gradualism that is part of the mentality of a certain part of the Italian fashion world.”

She launched the campaign with designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngomo after fashion houses expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matters Movement on Instagram, demanding that they put action behind their social media pledges. Jean, who got her break when Giorgio Armani invited her to show in his theater in 2014, said putting the spotlight on Italians of African origin is important to combat one of the first obstacles the campaign ran up against: claims that there were no Black designers in Italy.

The collaboration with the Italian fashion council will continue in September, when five new designers from Italy’s minority communities will be featured during fashion week. And Jean also is creating an event featuring designers and artisans from Africa, with the goal of creating partnerships between Italian fashion houses that can learn sustainable production methods in exchange for training in the global fashion system.

“You speak about sustainability ad nauseam here, and what I see is anything but sustainable, believe me. In the countries where I work, people are working 99% sustainably, as a result of necessity, of restriction or desire,’’ Jean said.

Jean is also working on a database of African artisanal techniques, fabrics, motifs and other cultural references. The Italian-Haitian designer sees the move as a bulwark against cultural appropriation that does not economically benefit Africans and a way to prevent racist gaffes.

Valerie Steele, director of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum, said many of Jean’s ideas could be replicated in the United States and elsewhere.

Steele, who has some of Jean’s creations in the collection, recorded a conversation with the Italian designer for Black History Month, which will be released on FIT’s YouTube channel on Thursday to highlight Jean’s role in shaking up Italian fashion.

Steele said Black designers are also under-represented in the United States, despite the role Black culture has had on inspiring fashion there.

“When a few years ago we did an exhibition on Black fashion designers, which was an international show Stella was in, we were very shocked to realize that on the Vogue.com, something ridiculous, like 1% of the designers who were featured were Black,” Steele said.

Content courtesy of ABC News & Nairobi fashion hub 

Something for the forever: Lukhanyo Mdingi on weaving friendship into his latest collection, Coutts

When his friend and fellow designer Nicholas Coutts passed away, South African fashion designer Lukhanyo Mdingi decided to commemorate Coutts in the most meaningful way he knew how through their shared language of fashion design.

“We’ve found that the spirit of time has yielded us to create collections that have a certain steadiness to [them]; a pitch of some sort that mirrors values that are rooted by consideration and sincerity, swaying ourselves away from anything that is fleeting, the resistance of some sort that’s against the aesthetics of trends.

“Our intention is to simply create a body of work that has a sense of soulfulness to it; work that is of substance, that is strong and that is solid something for the forever.” So reads the “intention” statement on the Lukhanyo Mdingi fashion label’s

If one thinks of the idea of steadiness in the way the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as direct sure movement, being firm in position, showing little variation or fluctuation, and not easily disturbed or upset then the “steadiness” the 27-year-old eponymous designer behind the label speaks of, does indeed inform much of what he does, both personally and in his creative output.

From his 2015 Macrame menswear collection, a series of monochromatic looks presented in whites and shades of grey without so much as a suggestion of any other colors, to spring summer 2016’s genderless Taintless collection, a strictly navy blue affair of sheer fabrics and billowing silhouettes through to his more recent Perennial collection which debuted at New York Fashion Week in February 2019, made of oatmeal shades and copper hues, spread across mohair textures and metallic fabrics.

It is also that steadiness of mind that led him to choose a fashion collection as the appropriate tribute to his dear friend and fellow young designer, Nicholas Coutts, who passed away in May 2019.

“All of us who were really close to him were deeply affected by his passing, and we had our own ways of dealing with his death. A lot of people commemorated him through social media, posting things about him and posting their memories, and hanging out. But I knew that I wanted to do it in the language of what he and I shared: fashion design.

“Having had the opportunity to collaborate with him and really get the essence of Nicholas Coutts, I felt confident enough to approach his parents and his family and ask them if the LM label could commemorate his legacy through a body of work that represents the spirit of Nicholas Coutts,” says Mdingi.

On 9 February 2021, the Coutts collection by Lukhanyo Mdingi debuted at Pitti Uomo, the highly influential menswear trade show that has been held annually in Florence, Italy, for almost four decades.

This year, however, much of it has moved online due to the pandemic.

Unlike Mdingi’s usual monochromatic looks and neutral tones, here we see reds, greens, burnt oranges, and blues living side by side. At times, Mdingi’s typically loose silhouettes give way to Coutts’ more fitted sexy looks. At its most uncannily Coutts, the collection features the late designer’s signature handwoven scarves.

Alongside his fitted silhouettes and an eye for textural combinations, it was the scarves that first caught the attention of the judging panel at the 2013 ELLE Rising Star design competition, which Coutts would go on to win, launching him into the spotlight. Full disclosure: this writer was part of the judging panel that year.

Both Mdingi and Coutts were finalists. Having met a couple of years earlier in 2011 and hung out socially, Mdingi notes the competition as a significant moment in their friendship.

“The friendship really got solidified that year. Both he and I were now in the same boat, not just in terms of being fashion students, but we were also finalists in this national prestigious competition that had been happening since 2000.

Debuting the Coutts collection at Pitti Uomo this year is particularly significant for another reason for Mdingi. In 2016, the pair debuted their collaborative collection at Pitti Uomo, the first time both designers had collaborated, and the first time they’d shown at Pitti Uomo.

Says Mdingi: “It didn’t feel transactional. We were just two friends trying to put a body of work together. And it was like… business aside, let’s just collaborate and work with one another. We were 22 or 23 at the time. We hadn’t even made the marriage of business and design work; we were just designing and thinking about the shows and the craftsmanship and the direction of where we wanted it to go.

“We weren’t thinking about the business of fashion at all. We didn’t know any better. All we said was that we’ll just split everything in half in terms of costs, and that’s what we did. We weren’t even thinking of selling the collection… we were just making clothes.

“I think it was only later in our careers, as we got older, that we realized that we both have so much potential and so much to offer; that people want to feel part of the story. And the only way we can make this work is if we also bring in the business side of things, and make that marriage of business and design work.”

As with the ELLE Rising Star competition nearly three years earlier, which brought both designers into the public eye and led to a strengthening of their bond, the Pitti Uomo show would push them further into the spotlight.

This slowly led to divergent ideas between the pair, and the years that followed brought about tension and competition.

“We became more competitive with one another.

There were certain times when it was difficult to put that aside and just be friends, knowing that every single time we would have a hangout at my place or his place we would always be like… so what work are you doing? What competitions are you in?

“I don’t quite know why we became like that, instead of being the same peers that we were when we were both 22, 23 years old,” says Mdingi.

At the end of 2018, just a few months before Coutts’ passing, an opportunity came up to be part of a trade show in Paris, France.

“I was like, hey man, are you keen on doing this? And that’s when things started to get better between him and me and it felt really good. After the trade show, we decided to extend our stay in Paris and have a little bit of a holiday and just hang out.

“Sometimes there was tension, sometimes there was just a lot of love. It was an interesting dynamic because I knew I loved and respected this guy so much, and I knew that he loved me too,” Mdingi recalls.

“He was my friend, but he was also was my peer… and just having another individual that was exactly in the same boat as you, and going through the same industry struggles as a young designer, was really nice… to have someone to talk to and confide in and lean on and share what you’re feeling.

“I felt like he was my only peer that was also my friend; there was that level of trust and respect.”

Coutts’ passion for craftsmanship and the role he believed it could play in society had also led him to work with Philani, a multi-faceted organization based in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, that works to empower women and children.

Says Mdingi: “I looked at him with so much respect… there was so much potential to be reached. Nicholas was making his own textiles by his own hands, and no other designer was doing that, to be frank. And then it reached a point where he was able to pass that spirit, using his time and talent through working with the women at Philani, teaching his technique, and collaborating with them.

“He used talent as a means of service. A lot of people don’t know the intentions that he had, the visions that he had, you know, and I feel honored to have had a little bit of a taste of that.

“His passing made me realize there is an impermanence to everything. And it really made me reflect on my friendship and work relationship with Nick, and the importance of actually being friends, having your peers’ back, supporting them, and understanding that one is on their own trajectory, their own journey, and respecting that person’s journey instead of looking at them as competition.”

As Mdingi prepared for their second collaborative showcase at Pitti Uomo, this time without Coutts’s hands and his craftsmanship to get on the loom and weave his signature scarves, Mdingi would have to go to the source – the very same person who taught Coutts.

“It was in January last year 2020 … maybe February… when I visited his mom Lindsay again and she was, like, ‘Okay, well, when you visit again, I have to teach you how to set up a loom and how to weave, because if you’re going to be doing this yourself, you need to do it properly. I need to teach you the same way I taught my son’. And so she taught me,” says Mdingi, recounting an afternoon spent with Nicholas’ mother, Lindsay Coutts.

He would visit the family several times, showing them the progress of the collection.

“It was a constant and steady in and out because I knew each moment that I would text or call or even enter their home, one way or another, it was a reminder of their son, of course among other things that were in the home.

“Besides coming in based on the premise that Nicholas and I were friends, I’d also be coming to discuss the body of work and showing them progress and getting permission to go into his studio. So I had to be steady, and do this sporadically overtime to make sure I didn’t bombard them.

“Because as much as the spirit of this is to celebrate Nicholas, it would still bring up a longing and missing, and it could be triggering; it would be a reminder that the physical being of Nick is no longer with us, even though his spirit is still here.”

While putting together the collection, in particular, while weaving the scarves in the style Nick would weave them, and now as they had both been taught the technique by Coutts’ mother, Mdingi would momentarily be faced with moments of doubt about his decision to embark on this commemorative collection.

“There was this imposter syndrome when I’d ask myself, ‘What are you doing? Who do you think you are?’ I would literally have conversations with myself like, ‘Why are you doing this? Nobody asked you. You’re just taking over somebody else’s like signature’.

“But there were also moments when I felt his presence. And I felt him saying, ‘Go for it.’ Without sounding weird and spiritual… but I felt his presence. I remember moments while weaving and thinking to myself, ‘Lukhanyo would never put these colors together, but it wasn’t about me, it was Nick saying, ‘Go for it, put together that green with the purple, bring in the gold, bring in the yellow’.

“Even in those moments of doubt, I just had to remember the intention… the root of what I was doing love. I just had to remind myself that you’re doing this because you love Nick’.

“My friendship with him was too strong to just say ‘goodbye, my friend, I love you, I miss you. No way. I had to use the language of design to honor him and his legacy; through what he did, in the most honorable way.” DM/ML

Content courtesy of Daily Maverick & Nairobi fashion hub 

Hamaji Studio

Hamaji, meaning “nomad” in coastal Swahili is an African designer collection created around preserving ancient textile traditions and nomadic craftsmanship whilst empowering local small-scale artisans in Africa.

Reigning from the East coast of Africa, Hamaji was born in Kenya in 2017 by designer Louise Sommerlatte.

Creating a narrative of sustainability and conscious consumerism their collections are made up of natural fibres, botanical dyes, hand craft, embroidery and up-cycled collected vintage textiles. Hamaji is inspired by East African charm and embodies a spirit of nomadic femininity in pastel hues, free flowing silhouettes and a delightful sense of elegance.

 

This collection was simply inspired by Hamaji journey between Kenya and India and her quest to source sustainable fabrics. The artisanal souls met along the way, the freedom in nature, wild vast landscapes, dusty roads and rickety trains.

But most importantly the feeling of travelling, the romance, nostalgia and inner peace retrieved from being alone and connected to your surroundings. It is to capture this honest feeling and portray its outstanding beauty.

The collection uses a variety of unbleached organic cotton, 100% linen, up-cycled vintage saris and what is currently known to be one of the most sustainable textiles available, 100% natural and biodegradable TencelT” By Lenzinr which is made using very minimal water and no chemicals, from tree bark.

This lucious fibre claims the breathability of linen, the wearability of cotton and the luxurious feel of silk. Garments are adorned with hand beaded collected cowry shells and various beaded embellishments. Our in house hornbill block print is made with harm free dyes and are certified Oeko-Tex’s Standard 100.

Made in rural Kenya by local artisans at the Mitumba Arts workshop in Nanyuki. The workshop consists of 20 artisans working together mostly in creating items made from second hand clothes. All the profits are collectively shared between the artists consisting of tailors, upholsters, hand headers and painters.

We are committed to equality and fairness in the workplace, pay not just living wages but decent wages, have interest in the livelihoods of our employees and to create a comfortable and kind working environment.

Content courtesy of Hamaji Studio & Nairobi fashion hub

 

Jiamini Kenya Fashion Accessories Brand

Jiamini is a family run, Kenyan based Fashion Accessories Brand meaning believe in yourself in ‘Swahili, founded in 2016, on the belief of preserving its Traditional African Heritage.

Jiamini’s vision, through its innovative designs and use of renewable resources, seeks to combine timeless traditional technique, craftsmanship and heritage with a touch of modernity, manipulated in the construction of its delicate beaded embroidery and weave. Each piece is developed around the idea of comfort, complementing the body’s feminine form and grace.

The Brands one of a kind pieces are a reminder and encouragement to women of who they are: Bold, Brilliant, Confident, Courageous, Strong, Sensual, Liberated and more. She’s an enigma to most and a balance of delicacy and strength to those who come across her path. It’s the pep in her step, the subtle elegance she carries herself with and the silent confidence that fascinates a crowd.

Her precious Armour, ‘JIAMINI’, around her body, that only she knows the true significance of. She never forgets her roots, the broth that runs through her veins and that just like tradition, she is and always will be timeless. All that’s left to do is believe in herself.

Jiamini Kenya designs, while respecting the old – age traditions passed down from generation to generation are brought to life by skilled female artisans, Creating timeless staple pieces.

Their mission is to design an international wardrobe for today’s global woman while at the same time helping women rise above poverty through economic empowerment and employment, one stitch at a time through fashion.

Content courtesy of Jiamini Kenya & Nairobi fashion hub  

Nike Kondakiss Upcycled Parachute Fashions Help Educate Maasai Girls

The Greek/Danish designer and entrepreneur Nike Kondakis seeks to provide an alternative to the polluting fashion industry and is one of the talented designers featured in the soon to be released book Fashion Africa by AFG’s founder Jacqueline Shaw.

KONDAKIS is a responsible fashion company both socially and environmentally. Based in Kenya, KONDAKIS concept-collections are made from several unique materials such as Parachutes, Dead Wood and Peace Silk. Nike Kondakis creates stunning to-die-for garments fit for any Red Carpet event from these original recycled parachutes in Kenya. Her voluminous, goddess-like dresses are manufactured by local artisans and can be ordered on-line and shipped worldwide within 3-5 weeks.

The parachute line (she also designs accessories and knitwear) is available in an unexpected and wide range of colours such as snow white, lava orange, bush green, sea blue, pitch black and Barbie purple to name a few which are all the original colours, minimizing the energy used in an additional dyeing process and adding to the novelty of each piece. Stamps revealing when and who the parachute was made for and original parachute stitching are subtle details that make each piece unique.

Kondakis’ style is avant-garde and extravagant yet breathes Scandinavian minimalism , making her creations very wearable, modern and pure.

This is definitely visible in her knitwear line named the Natural Collection, which is made from un-dyed wool from Kenya and is spun and knitted by hand. Oversized sweaters and ponchos with a raw, natural look are made in unbleached white and black tones and are complemented by the accessories made from African “dead wood”.

Her accessories line consists of bangles, earrings and necklaces carved from wood which has died naturally or been broken off by wild game in the Kenyan bush. Her graphic pieces have a rustic touch, some surfaces still covered in bark and others polished and stamped with the Kondakis logo.

In 2002 Nike Kondakis started a three year program in responsible entrepreneurship at the Kaos piloterna in Copenhagen. After completing her education, she traveled to Kenya to set up a development project for 30,000 Maasai’s at the Lorika Foundation.

The project is now currently being run by local managers, but Nike still contributes to the education of Maasai girls who she says are often under prioritized when it comes to schooling. Her ambition is to create many more collections from different recycled materials, to sell more internationally and to employ 100 people in the coming 5 years.

Overall through their growing sales they want to take many more girls to school.

Kondakis has received a large amount of attention by international and local press for her design and work with the Maasai community, and has shown her collections on the catwalk in NYC, Nairobi and Sun City. If you happen to be in NYC, San Francisco or LA in September, you can book an appointment to meet Nike and view her collection.

Content courtesy of Africa Fashion Guide & Nairobi fashion hub