Monday, October 25, 2010

FAFA Workshops: Building the Kenyan fashion industry from within. By Musimbi King

As international designers and buyers look for the next big thing in the ever-revolving door of trends that is the fashion industry, they increasingly turn to Africa and its cultures for inspiration. Africa, quite simply, is in vogue. Max&Co recently renewed its commitment to responsible sourcing in Kenya following the success of two previous lines in its Max&Co&Africa&You project, while earlier this month Louis Vuitton announced a collaboration with ethical line Edun to produce certain components for their bags, again in Kenya, at the Africa Rising Art Exhibition in Paris.

On the catwalk, particularly strong references were seen in Japan’s Junya Watanabe’s SS09 collection, with further influences in SS10 and AW10 designs by Diane von Furstenberg, Marca de la Renta and Dries van Noten to name but a few. Indeed British designer Paul Smith was so taken by the distinctive looks of a group of a fashion-obsessed men in Congo, that he based several outfits in his SS10 collection on these self-professed gentlemen of style.

Of course this is not the first time that designers have looked to Africa for ideas. Ever since Picasso’s cubist reworking of Dogon ceremonial masks, Africa has provided a source of inspiration for creative circles in the West. However despite playing a significant role in the development of modern art, and references on the catwalk dating back to Yves Saint Laurent’s 1967 ‘African’ dresses collection, designers from the continent itself rarely seem to break into international markets. There can be no doubt over the global interest in the African aesthetic, but the dialogue so far has been largely eurocentric.
When it comes to taking African fashion to the world however, the onus cannot rest entirely on the shoulders of its designers. We live in an age of increasing interconnectivity, and for them to establish a hold in the international arena it is vital they are supported by a strong local industry. A key component to building this base lies in the ability to access up to date market intelligence. Without an in-depth understanding of the ever-changing dynamic of fashion, in particular what the market needs and demands, our fledgling industries will not be able to keep abreast of current trends, let alone predict them.
This year FAFA seeks to address the area of knowledge acquisition through a series of hands-on workshops delivered by top industry specialists from around the world. Intended for highly experienced Kenyans working in fashion, the workshops will lay heavy importance on practical participation, including collaborative work with other seminars running simultaneously.

The concept behind the initiative is to not only to impart crucial knowledge that will see our industry gain the competitive edge necessary to hold its own on the global scene, but also equip participants will the skills to go on to facilitate their own workshops. This will create an ongoing dialogue between industry specialists and those rising through the ranks, feeding creative vision and strengthening the Kenyan industry from within.
Details matter when integrating into global markets, as does the ability to ancipiate where they are going. These workshops will provide insight into a fast moving world, and this will in turn will enable us to understand our place in it. What does Kenya have that is unique, that the market needs and others cannot provide? It is imperative that through current market intelligence we recognise the power of local branding in the context of a global industry.
IPeace patch by KikoRomeo

Fashion should form an integral part of our national identity. Furthermore, it is a dynamic art form that lies at the centre of critical issues relating to trade and socio-economic growth.  We cannot afford to sideline such an important industry, nor relegate it the bottom rung of social and political news.  
Peace patch by KikoRomeo


KikoRomeo peace patches with jewelry by Le Collane di Betta

KikoRomeo mens by Joseph Hunwick

*Can you tell us a little about your work , the idea and the philosophy behind it.

I came to Kenya for 3 months out from the fashion scene in Barcelona. I found I liked it & so stayed 3 years as head of Mission for MSF. At the end of that time I was frustrated by emergency aid and thought I could use my fashion skills to do trade instead of aid . I aimed to produce through community groups in rural Kenya, generating employment. The concept for a contemporary African clothing brand came from the lack of availability of Kenyan ready-made designer products and the lack of pride I saw in the local culture and anything African. So KikoRomeo, meaning Adam's Apple in swahili, was born to fill these gaps.

Kooroo cloak from recycled silk sari, photo by Joseph Hunwick for FAFA
Outfit by Kofi Ansah in traditional handwoven Kente cloth from Ghana, photo Joseph Hunwick
KikoRomeo Peace Patch dress
KikoRomeo Peace patch dress, photo by Joseph Hunwick for FAFA, jewelry Le Collane di Betta

*Why is there such a need for the fashion industry to think sustainably?

Fashion has an impact on the environment, in our case through the cotton industry which uses a lot of pesticides, and damaging fabric dyeing & treatments. Kenya is badly affected by climate change and so protection of our environment is key. As regards short term fashion trends, people wear & throw within no time, meaning a huge wastage of material & energy inputs. Such consumer habits can also adversely affect communities and businesses, which gear up to meet a demand, only to be dumped the next season. This means they can't plan long term, and are at the mercy of trends in the developed markets.

Outfit by Kofi Ansah - embroidered PVC and mudcloth, photo Joseph Hunwick for FAFA

*What is "now" in terms of materials, colors, techniques?

In East Africa, "now" usually means many different things, as people are not used to following a few trends, have few magazines to persuade them to buy a specific trend, and often go for individual looks. The only recent clear trend has been a big interest in the traditional "khanga" or "lesso". These are cotton fabrics which are printed in with a rectangular framed border, usually with big bright patterns in contrasting colours & with a slogan or proverb in Swahili. They are sold in pairs & traditionally were bought and kept by women to sell when they needed money. Colours are very diverse, but definitely a big interest currently in golden yellow, turquoise, shocking pink and orange.

Jewelry and dress by Patricia Mbela, photo Joseph Hunwick

*Why do you think there such revival for everything ethical now?

I have been working in "ethical" for a long time, because I find humanitarian principles very important, and I hated big fashion's disregard for them. Having said that, I think the global economic crisis has made people re think how things are made, where they come from, and has led to an appreciation of small-scale, handcrafted, tangible, home-made etc.. The human stories behind the products are interesting, the big manufacturing model had become boring, impersonal & mechanical.

Coat by John Kaveke, Jewelry Kazuri Beads, Photo Joseph Hunwick

Imane Ayissi design, photo Joseph Hunwick

*Can you visualize 2010 in a color palette? a texture? a word or several

My year is always about colour - lots of it, in strong, bright contrasts. Having a diverse clientele with different skin colours, I think it's important to offer a wide choice.
My 2010 is a mix of new fabrics with recycled scraps & 2nd hand clothing. Stripes, bold East African prints, mixed with lacy knits crochet and beaded & hand embroidered applique patches. Layers, drapes and textures. Colours are orange, yellow, white, blues with beige & black and many more as the year unfolds. Coconut buttons. Inspired by the Swahili culture of the East African coast & particularly the island of Lamu.

*How has your work impacted the communities you work with?

We create supplementary income for many communities - particularly beaded leather from Namayiana Womens Group (100 Maasai women near Ngong), "Peace Patches" from Kibera A & B ( association of 20 young women living in Kibera slum), decorative metal tubes & buttons from KWOSH (association of women, youth and orphans in Kisumu), coconut buttons from Murage (community business in Mombasa) etc... We also connect them to other networks & businesses. We help them develop new designs, which in turn enables them to better interpret designs of other companies.

*How is your work sustainable?

We work with locally available materials & craft skills. We use our off cuts to make or decorate other products, so nothing gets wasted. We train staff both in house and in groups to make our designs.

Acknowledging and celebrating the immense creativity and beauty in the arts and in fashion industry in Africa, FAFA (Festival of African Fashion and Arts) will host their 3rd Annual Fashion for Peace gala evening on the 30th Oct 2010.

The high-end fashion show and gala dinner to be held in the Nairobi National Park will bring together the best of Africa’s designers to showcase their designs and enormous talent. The event will also bring to light the creation of a movement within African designers and artists that is led by the fashion industry which embraces and embodies ethical fashion and the values it upholds.

H.E President Mwai Kibaki says of FAFA’s efforts, “I am very pleased that an event of this calibre is taking place in Kenya; it demonstrates that Kenya not only has the talent and resources to hold a world class festival, but also the vision to see that fashion and the creative arts, if developed properly can indeed play an important role in our economic development. I have the confidence that our youthful designers have come of age and are ready to take their rightful place amongst the world’s finest.”