Adele Dejak, Kenyan based fashion designer is a force to be reckoned with. From her Kuba cloth or Kitenge clutch bags, cow hide and leather bags with brass fittings to her bag charms and brass /cow horn jewelry, Adele Dejak has flourished to provide luxury accessories that will make any woman want to wear one of them. The brand was started in 2008 and although she had started by creating designs and testing the local market, she finally decided to open up the business as she deemed it a viable option. Her analysis of the market was spot on. She now sells her brand both locally and internationally. With stores in Kenya in Village Market, the Adele Dejak Lamu Gallery, Kiambu Town International showroom or “a roaming market somewhere in Africa” she tells us, Adele Dejak has taken her brand to the world. “I have a team of 25 full time employees besides engaging the services of 17 independent artisans.”
Adele Dejak’s passion for fashion accessories started very young, at age 5, by collecting African beads. “I was infatuated with beads since I can remember and all the pocket money I got from my parents would be saved to buy necklaces, bracelets, amulets and wallets at markets in Kano and Kaduna (Nigeria).” Adele Dejak’s mother, Grace, wore beautiful African was outfits everyday and was the most stylish woman around, she states. Her first collection was in fact named “Grace” after her mother and was, as Adele recalls, a time when “the Adele Dejak brand finally came to life. I felt quite optimistic!”
“Love and passion make great teachers!”
Her formal training was in photography, graphic design and typographic design of which she has continuously been training herself over the years. “Love and passion make great teachers!” she tells us. Adele Dejak had to overcome one of her greatest challenges: confidence in her vision and work. “My experience and my background have been the backbone of my work, they have taught me work ethic and trained my eye.”
The Adele Dejak brand is noteworthy as the passion and design behind every accessory is in its ability to transcend temporary fashion trends by creating pieces that can be passed from generation to generation as they are “unique, beautifully handcrafted pieces made from a blend of both traditional and modern materials.” The Adele Dejak brand is, she notes, an affordable luxury brand. “I cater to women of all walks of life who are bold, self driven and are not afraid to make a statement.” Adele tells us that style and substance for the multidimensional woman and “own your style” are the key values and philosophy behind the brand. “Women should not follow what is dictated by fashion trends which always come and go. There will always be a new trend at any one particular time.”
“I cater to women of all walks of life who are bold, self driven and are not afraid to make a statement.”
With the new wave of growing fashion industries, the Adele Dejak brand demonstrates that African design and African fashion is not one-dimensional and that there is truly a wave of talented creatives redefining it and propelling it forward.
In going about making a collection, Adele Dejak’s creations are in a continuous development; a work in progress that fits together her never-ending quest for the essential artifact that will enhance the personality of the woman who wears it. “My jewelry is meant to be a statement; subtle or bold, but invariably capturing the eye for the originality of their design.” Her inspiration comes from different shapes and textures of traditional African artifacts and fabrics. “They are diverse and can be interpreted into different designs.”
Her new collection, the Swaddy Collection, is about showcasing the African luxury movement as “it draws on rich African heritage to create products, which celebrate beauty and design in Africa, and to welcome the African Renaissance.” When it comes to selecting and sourcing her material, sustainability is the driving force. Using natural materials such as cow horn, cow bone and ebony which are readily available, Adele Dejak has mainatained a consitency in the choice of materials for her accessories which have contributed to making an Adele Dejak design easily recognizable. In addition, Adele tells us that she dinstingushes her brand “by constantly evolving and drawing on the dynamic rich African heritage to create products which celebrate beauty and design on the continent, showcasing the African luxury movement.”
Adele also uses recycled materials such as brass and alluminium in her designs which are sourced from used engine parts to door hinges. Other choices of materials include kitenge (known in other African countries as Ankara or African wax), bakuba fabric from Congo, asoke fabric from Nigeria, glass and brass beads from West Africa and even Europe. See below the Adele Dejak Recyled Collection from 2011 dubbing it “one person’s discarded items are aother’s style arsenal.”
Originally from Nigeria and brought up in England, Adele relocated to Kenya around 2005 and had been making pieces for herself. As people grew to love her pieces, that gave her the courage to finally kick-start the brand. At the time, she recalls, the fashion industry in Kenya was quite small compared to present times. There were quite a few challenges, which are still present today. “It is an emerging industry and with growth many challenges will come.”
With regard to the reception of fashion designers, she notes that that there is a lack of platforms adding therein that designers should create their own platforms. She also discussed the issue of people not wanting to buy local products or support local designers. “It is very crucial to educate people on why buying Kenyan products is important for the progression of the industry.”
“It is very crucial to educate people on why buying Kenyan products is important for the progression of the industry.”
There are challenges that pose a hindrance to growing in the fashion industry in Kenya. Adele Dejak tells us that running any business in Africa is challenging. “Poor infrastructure especially the transport and communication network can cause delays at very crucial moments. Electricity and fuel shortages also affect the normal running of business activities.” In addition, malaria and other illnesses have affected her employees especially when traveling upcountry resulting in absenteeism from work causing further delays.
Adele’s views on the fashion industry in Kenya are quintessentially positive however and optimistic. “Like all African scenes, amazing natural resources from which functional items can be created are readily available. The beauty I find is that everyone has a unique style. People always make an effort to inject their own design concepts even though they may not be designers. Nairobi stands out in that way because people are embracing and appreciating art. Tourists also flock different places to buy the items.”
She further adds, however, that, in light of the growing pains, the local fashion industry is growing in leaps and bounds. Citing the growth in creativity and diversity in culture as remaining elements to be explored fully. She is encouraged in seeing the Kitenge/African wax prints hitting the international runways, being worn on the red carpets and by important fashion figures such as Anna Wintour. “This is just the beginning.”
With fashion events increasing yearly, Adele Dejak states “I think is excellent because it brings the fashion to the people. And yes, it is a wonderful indicator of growth in the industry.” To succeed in your brand and take it across borders, Adele Dejak implores that putting yourself out there and your brand as much as you can is important. “In this day and age, you have endless possibilities. The internet is a good start.”
“Passion is the driving engine for anything you want to achieve in life.”
For those starting out, Adele would advise that you have to do your research and educate yourself. “What most designers don’t understand about fashion is that it is a business and they should treat it as such and still have fun obviously!” Furthermore, “passion is the driving engine for anything you want to achieve in life. Even when things do not always turn out exactly as you had planned, never give up.”
If you haven’t checked out the Adele Dejak store in Village Market, make time for it and see her stunning creations in person. In store, you will also find Katungulu Mwendwa’s collection. Adele says the following about Katungulu Mwendwa “I am a fan of Katungulu’s designs; her clothes are adventurous and experimental. You might say we design for the same woman.” If you however need more convincing before stepping into her store, check out her designs below.
You can find out more about Adele Dejak on her website: http://www.adeledejak.com All images in this article are courtesy of Adele Dejak and are subject to copyright.