As more designers look inwards for inspiration for their collections, exploring the hidden and oft misunderstood cultures and indigenous peoples of Africa, the question of internalized exploitation and appropriation comes up. At what point does ‘drawing inspiration’ change to ‘shameless appropriation?’
Kenyan design label Katungulu, run by Katangulu Mwendwa researched West African alternative cultures, especially the Woodabe tribes of Nigeria, Chad and Niger for inspiration. (Nigerian designer IAMISIGO, has also put out a collection inspired by the Woodabe), their new collection is inspired by the people of the Taboo.
The collection is particularly inspired by the Woodabe people’s daily life, instead of the far more glamorous Gerewol festival for which they have found international acclaim and some notoriety. As a nomad people, their wardrobe is populated mostly by functional layered pieces and Katungulu reflects this in its choice of cowl blouses, drip dyed blouses and indigo loose jumpsuits. It also reflects the need for comfort in a climate that hot with the volume and ease of wearability for most of its pieces. But even when the pieces are dressed up, they dont stray away from the functional aesthetic that defines the collection.
The collection gives high after high after high; Mwendwa flexes her design muscles in the array of tailored and deconstructed jackets she offers this season, giving variations of cropped, oversized and blouson jackets in satin, cotton and taffeta, draping the jackets in such a way that they become a statement all on their own. The dresses are also a delight, zippered shift dress, half deconstructed, wrap dresses in cotton with a textural calico finish and flashy A-line midi-dress done in chiffon digitally printed with an eclectic drip dyed motif. Even Mwendwa’s trouser pieces are one of a kind.
This is how to pay homage to a culture, drawing elements from it’s strongest aesthetic and warping those elements into something mildly similar to the source of inspiration but wholly original.
Photography: Shifteye Photography