Kirrette Couture’s rave as the new ‘it’ fashion house is unquestionably one of the most successful any African design houses has had. The women behind this growing fashion giant chatted with ANJ’s Ndze Ntuv Evaristus Tunka about their designs, inspiration and fast rise to the helm as one of Africa most revelled design house. KC’s ineffaceable glow not only turns eyes, but makes the mind journey in amazement at the knack of its creations.
African News Journal: Thanks for chatting with us today. It’s good to finally talk to the ladies behind what has undoubtedly become the most grooved on interpretations of African fashion. So What made you decide that you wanted to become fashion designers?
Kibonen Nfi: My decision to pursue a career in designing revolves around my passion for fashion and my profound love for my tradition and culture. I have always wanted to play an active role on the global style scene. We live in a world where there is an increasing confluence of cultures, so the idea of blending traditional (Cameroonian) and Western chic, came naturally to my partner, Anrette Ngafor and I. We believe in creating exquisite and culturally significant pieces without diluting either influence.
Anrette Ngafor: Fashion is instinctive to me. I always knew that I wanted to be in this industry and was lucky enough to have parents who believed in me and gave me their support and encouragement. Moving to England, from my native Cameroon, was also a defining point. I stumbled upon Vivienne Westwood, while at college, and the rest is history.
ANJ: What has it been like to have debuted your designs on the “I Wear African” (IWA) fashion show recently?
KN: It was a once in a life time experience! That was the first time KiRette Couture (KC) was unveiled to the public. It was very emotional for us. Like KC, IWA is about making Africans proud of their style and propelling our couture to its well deserved place in the global scene.
AN: It was amazing! Our debut catwalk outing went stunningly well. Kibonen and I were keen to be part of the show because it represented our core values of pride in being African and giving back to our community*. It was also great to meet other talented designers.
ANJ: Being that you have a unique taste and style, what influences your designs and where do you get your inspiration from?
KN: Our inspiration lies in so many sources – from everyday life to our personal tastes, seasonal trends and of course, our traditional toghu embroidery. Intangible but very meaningful things like passion and warmth inspire our designs. We want to celebrate every woman’s beauty through our styles. KC is more than a fashion house; it is a way of life. We pass messages of positivity and pride through our clothes.
AN: Our (debut) Zinzi collection was influenced by the Angolan Queen, Nzingha Mbandi. She was a very smart and sexy woman who stopped at nothing to do what was right by her people. That, to me, typifies a role model. With Afrik Lux, we wanted to represent African luxury with a global appeal. And judging by the media interest and demand for our clothes, we succeeded.
ANJ: How long have both of you been working together as partners?
KN: Since November 2008. Shortly after we met on face book, Anrette hopped on the plane (form Manchester, UK) to New York. It was a little overwhelming when we just started but things just keep progressing. I could not have asked for a better partner. Working with Anrette is fantastic! I completely believe she can run KC just the way I would do. It is not every day that one comes across such likeminded people.
AN: When Kibonen contacted me, after stumbling upon my work on face book, we clicked immediately! It felt really great to be in contact with a creative kindred. Meeting with her in person was even better; her positivity and vision totally mirrored mine. It was only natural that we would form KC. The best thing about working with Kibonen is the fact that she is more than a business partner. She is simply a blessing!
ANJ: What goes through your mind as you create your designs?
KN: The individuality of beauty, the wonders of diversity and our desire to share our culture with the world. We want the story of KC designs to touch our clients. The deep sense of splendor and confidence which people feel when wearing our designs motivate us to do what we do.
AN: We love to show off the beauty of the superb craftsmanship behind our traditional embroidery. Creating fusion pieces, which speak to anyone from anywhere, while staying true to our heritage, is important to us.
ANJ: You use a lot of flamboyant colors and ornamentation. How should people choose the outfit that best suits them?
KN: The variety of our signature Toghu inspired designs enables customers to select an outfit that truly represents them. We also use a universal size guide and offer a service for custom made clothes. Also, clients will be able to provide details of their measurements on our upcoming website.
AN: Bright colors not only represent Africa but they cheer people up. KC wants its customers to always feel happy when they come into contact with our pieces. The different styles, we create, give our clients great options. In addition, Kibonen’s image consulting background and my styling experience enable us to advise clients on the best outfits and how to make the most of them.
ANJ: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your work?
KN: Picking the ideal fabrics is definitely tough because the result of the design totally depends on getting that right. In these hard times, financing is hardly easy. That said, we thrive on challenge and are confident about surmounting any stumbling blocks.
AN: Coming up with designs can be hard work. The logistics of moving our products from the production stage to the market can be testing too. But the love that people have shown KC gives us strength. When we think of the places we can go, it is a lot easier keep our eyes on the prize.
ANJ: In your designs, you capture African fashion from a modern angle while preserving its authenticity and traditional value. How do you manage this?
KN: I believe the answer lies in our nature. We are bold, embrace diversity and change but also hold our roots in high esteem. Culture and tradition run through our veins. So when we express our love for traditional chic and high fashion, we do so authentically.
AN: We constantly seek to harmonize our African and Western inspiration. As such our Western-influenced cuts are bright and can be flamboyant; these are typical aspects of traditional African chic.
ANJ: What advice would you give to budding African designers?
KN: This is an exciting career to work in. It pays to be creative. But you have to bring something original to the table and be tenacious. As challenging as this industry is, dreams do come true.
AN: Passion for what you do and faith in yourself will get you a long way. It is also important to network with the right people. Be humble, open-minded and willing to learn. Every day is a school day in this business.
* Profits from the “I Wear African” show benefited African Vibes magazine’s “Village Effort -” a scheme aimed at advancing sustainable, African-led development in the continent.
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