KM: In what manner do you incorporate “Africa” in your brand presentation
Shaka: When we first started there was a conscious decision on our part to not follow the traditional mainstream method of using African fabric and kente in our designs. We wanted to tell people that there is a certain richness to African fashion that goes beyond the fabric print. You can have the silhouette, the texture, the detail and the finesse that is definitively African. Our first collection was inspired by traditional Malian and Senegalese fashion and we actually did spend some time in Senegal to experience it firsthand.
Growing up in Africa I used to see how school uniforms were tailored, how people will dress to go to church, how our military and police would dress up. There was always a utilitarian approach to design. There was a purpose for the elements sewn into the attire. The pocket was there for a reason, to house your pen, your diary or your bible, so the position and placement had to be exact.
There was a method of dyeing that was used for African fabric, there was a certain type of texture that was peculiar to African design as well as the method of weaving our textiles. You can particularly observe that characteristic black and the grayscale colour scheme in our work.
KM: Whats the reason for your emphasis on the high level of “Tailor-Ship” in your craft
Shaka: We are self taught, none of us went to fashion school. In Ghana when anyone wanted a suit, the person would go to the tailor. Tailoring was common place, customised and made to fit. Tailoring was not for the elite per se. My business partner Sam was taught by his father, who was a tailor, and Sam in turn taught me to stitch and sew so that we could refine our silhouettes the way we wanted it to be, thereby creating our “Punk Tailoring” kind of style. Further down the line with Ozwald Boateng for 5 years, we learnt the Savile Row tradition. We indeed were able to blend a fusion of both traditions of expression.
KM: Is there a future for Ghana in Tailoring Craftsmanship
Shaka: Whilst we were up and coming, everyone around wanted to be a designer or model in the fashion industry. We knew however that the tailor behind the scenes, the weavers and the stitchers were also an important piece of the picture that no one gets to see. They do not have time to come out and shake hands with the audience because they are always busy. It’s a dying profession and it is not valued. In Ghana we really want to help resuscitate this craft of fabric weaving and manufacturing as well as tailoring.
KM: Apparently you DJ sometimes. How does your fashion sense affect your choice of music?
Shaka: Music is the soundtrack to your life. It is said that the designer is always a “Frustrated Rockstar”. There can be no clothing without music.
For us, growing up in London and Ghana, music has always influenced and inspired our style. Our approach to design has not only been from the stylistic point of view, music draws everyone together, different sub-cultures and flavours. Our first love was music, we had producers we toured Europe and other places. Many of my friends have been in music for years and have been very successful.
KM: You must then know the famed British/Ghanaian Music Producer/Dj Peter Adarkwah
Shaka: Oh you mean Pete!!! When we were students, Pete had this club in London called Barumber. We used to dress-up and go there religiously every Sunday, but they wouldn’t let us in most of the time, but if Pete was around , we were in. So forward 20 years later, Pete sees what we are doing and he expressed interest in working with us. We were like “Nah mate” you have been a big inspiration to everything we have done. His massive influence and and entrepreneurship is astounding and off course, being a Ghanaian, he was also quite very humble. Pete a few years ago actually motivated me to explore more of Ghana, and i’m glad.
KM: Any ideas to Collaborate with local Ghanaian brands in your endeavours?
Shaka: There has already been in existence some synergies between players based in Ghana and the Diaspora. Before I arrived though, I was already in touch with “Afro-District” based here in Ghana. In South Africa I was exposed to “I see a different You”, in Kenya it was “Too Many Siblings”.
Coming here has exposed me to so much talent and vision of certain local brands. There is no nomenclature to capture how Africa has inspired many things around the world overtime. But I believe we have to build and enhance our capacity to style, produce and make Africa have better access to markets around the world, and also make Africa itself be a consume for her own work.
KM: In a world that can pose challenges to some Creatives that are of ethnic minority backgrounds, what have been some of your challenges in your work, so far.
Shaka: When we first started there was a certain biased expectation of our work. People were expecting us to use and apply the usual Kente and Ankara on all of our works. We had to inform, repeatedly, that we are not just designers but we are also cultural creatives. That’s why we design for the aviation industry, we design bicycles etc.
It is common for some people to try and define for themselves an interpretation of you, without taking the time to fully understand the depth of your cultural and creative involvement. Sometimes you can be deemed as being “not British enough” or “African enough”, however right there is also a certain kind of motivation. This motivates you to tell your story of Africa and build your narrative. Africa is diverse in its fashion orientation, the body tatoos we wear can also be found in Ghana, Ethiopia etc. So we are glad to also help change the common perception of Africa in some minds.
KM: How has coming back to Ghana been like after 16 years in Europe?
Shaka: Obviously the western media stereotypes of hunger and famine have been proven wrong. I fortunately had a very strong father that provided me a strong Ghanaian foundation, but I must say it was however impressive to see the extent of this Neo-African explosion. Africa is bubbling now. I was in Sweden the other day, and I was shocked to see Swedish blonde girls singing our Afro-Beat in our language at the same time.
How beautiful is that!!! They were singing in Yoruba and Twi and they were dancing. We had this, all this while. Our Art is only now coming to the forefront and we are now beginning to realise our value. That’s why our Art Comes First.
KM: What personal plans do you have yourself in this NewYear 2019 Ghana Trip
Shaka: I do want to perfect my native language, indulge and explore better some vegetarian food options.
I also want to spend more time with my Family. My little cousins and brothers are really showing me around Ghana. Ghana is definitely not what you see on foreign TV.
KM: Any words to the audience out there?
Shaka: If you are from Ghana and you are out there, come back home and reconnect. If you are not from Ghana, come and checkout Ghana.