Something magical was a-brewing On September 8th, 2017. Heineken®’s first design initiative in East Africa announced the winners of the “Africa Inspired Fashion Challenge”. Out of 100 portfolios from Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian designers, Lulu Mutuli and Azra Walji came out on top. The two will first head to Amsterdam to work on their designs under the guidance of Amsterdam-based design house LEW. This is all in preparation for a chance to showcase their collection at the end of October at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week.
“As a designer, I’m optimistic that blending different creative disciplines and people from different backgrounds, gives amazing inspiration; opening up to fresh ideas, opens up endless new opportunities” Mark van Iterson
Mutuli and Walji, along with eight other shortlisted finalists, first went through a three-day textile and design workshop in Nairobi. Led by the Global Heineken® design director Mark van Iterson, in close collaboration with LEW, the project sought to generate a rich textile print and fashion forward range for the Heineken® Collection. In addition, the Dutch brand helped the participants polish their design and business skills. From afar, it may simply appear to be a well-crafted marketing campaign. But there are layers to this initiative:
No designer is an island. Design and innovation to create better solutions can be achieved by working with other creatives. “As a designer, I’m optimistic that blending different creative disciplines and people from different backgrounds, gives amazing inspiration; opening up to fresh ideas, opens up endless new opportunities” said Mark. For example, Walji has an interest in hand painting on textiles and manipulating fabrics to create new textiles in a market that has limited options. While Mutuli takes her fascination with technology, coupled with fashion, and uses it to narrate the current perspective of what it means to be an African woman today.
“African fashion can’t grow if we don’t understand that the entire fashion industry needs to operate and function effectively as a value chain.” Omoyemi Akerele
Working together to create opportunities across the design chain, plays an important role in helping Africa realise what power it has in shaping fashion. “For us to have two young talents coming from East Africa to Lagos Nigeria is mind-blowing,” said Omoyemi Akerele. “Sometimes designers get carried away that they are the most important. [Yet], African fashion can’t grow if we don’t understand that the entire fashion industry needs to operate and function effectively as a value chain.” By working with the photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and textile designers, to mention a few, it opens each designer up to a different perspective.
Mentoring the next generation
The finalists, which included Anthony Muli and Muqaddam Latin (who we’ve featured previously on the blog), are all designers in their prime. Aged between 22 and 33 years old, they are part of the new generation that will shape the fashion industry. So it’s a prodigious opportunity to work with Kim Leemans and Merel Wicker of LEW, which is a multidisciplinary studio specializes in designing and creating concepts for corporate fashion. ‘The way LEW balances branding and fashion creates a new approach to corporate clothing: not stiff and predictable, but lively, progressive and open minded.’ With a shifting market, the ability to market oneself in a captivating manner is a crucial skill to have.
Nevertheless, being a project for young African designers, it was necessary to also have fellow Africans mentor these finalists and validate the process. Diana Opoti, key fashion influencer who was instrumental in gathering the fashion community around this challenge, explained that, “We looked to industry leaders in different east African countries to identify and empower talent. We then created a linked to Lagos because that’s where the winning designers would showcase their work. And I’m happy that these fashion industry leaders could come and spend the entire week with us.” The judging and organizing panel was made up of Omoyemi Akerele, founder of Lagos Fashion and Design Week (Nigeria), International model Ajuma Nasenyana (Kenya), Stylist and key fashion player Rio Paul (Tanzania), Award winning designer and founder of Kampala Fashion Week, Gloria Wavamunno (Uganda), International model Tarmar Wobotu (Nigeria) and Model and stylist Ochechi Adah (Nigeria).
Real life experience
The finalists only had two days to design and pitch their concepts for the challenge. These ideas had to adhere to a set guideline and time constrictions, for a good reason. As Opoti expresses, “This project is especially important in the way it’s been designed; for connecting designers to real work experience with the link to the Heineken® design team as well opening them up to the opportunity to showcase in the career defining, Lagos Fashion and Design Week in Nigeria.’’ This project was also trying to decipher whether these designers were prepared for the real demands of the fashion world. “In the real world, your client gives you a guideline but at the same time you need to be creative and bring an element of yourselves into the design. So for them to handle the challenge and execute it with detail and quality, shows that they understand the level required to get to the product to the client,” elaborated Wavamunno.
“In the real world, your client gives you a guideline but at the same time you need to be creative and bring an element of yourselves into the design.” Gloria Wavamunno
In this case, Heineken is the client and an African capsule collection, to be incorporated into the global Heineken® apparel line, is the design order. Doing so will require creativity, innovation and progressiveness. According to the Heineken East Africa General Manager, Uche Unigwe, these are the same pillars that Heineken uses to interact with fashion and weave into the culture of the people who enjoy it.
Don’t get us wrong. There was a heavy Heineken branding presence, right down to the fact that the finalists’ designs had to incorporate Heineken elements. Caroline Van Hoff, the Heineken Global Design Manager, explained that design and innovation are so crucial to the brand because they want to create the right ambience around their product. “What we’ve done over the last eight years is work with young designers from all over the world and from multiple disciplines to envision what the future will look like.”
But it’s not only about the brand, they’ve also made it a point to use their big-brand status to give designers the spotlight, provide business-savvy dives, as well as, the network connections to further grow their careers. All the while celebrating the richness of the East African design culture. Will East Africa be looking at having a Heineken sponsored fashion week on the scale that is Lagos Fashion and Design Week? Time will tell. But for now, we look forward to seeing what the winning designers from Nairobi will present on the runway come October.