The African craftsmanship is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage. The handmade process of making clothes is very luxurious because it is made with the hands of somebody who is very passionate about it and that is what makes the products very valuable.
There are brands like Alledjo Studio whose main goal is to promote the African craftsmanship to the rest of the world with a twist of making it very fluid. Their clothes connects you to different destination through an African perspective. We had the opportunity to speak to the charming Kassim Lassissi, Founder Alledjo Studio who takes us through his journey and how he combined travel and fabric to make a brand.
What is the driving motivation behind your brand?
The motivation behind my brand is my DNA and who I am as a person. By DNA, I mean people’s passions and mine are travel and fabrics. I matched the two passions into one and created Alledjo. Alledjo means traveler and visitor in Yoruba, a West African dialect that comes from Nigeria and Benin. Therefore, the brand promotes a traveling spirit and on a deeper level, means a visitor of this world since we all come and go. These two aspects are the main principles of Alledjo.
What inspired the design of the Onia set and Edun silk set?
The Onia set is part of the latest collection called “We Shine Through Darkness”, which means that we can always rise through the dark times that we live in. The first season was in Marrakesh, the second one was in Dakar and the third one was meant to be last year in another destination; but, COVID happened and we had to choose something more marketable that is not about the destination. Therefore, last year we did part two of the season that came out in November under the Edun set. It was part of the “We Shine Through Darkness” collection.
Eduun means emotion in Yoruba and as you can see this collection looks fluid; hence, it is like having a flow of emotions again and again which people have experienced throughout this year.
Who are some of the celebrities that have rocked your beautiful designs?
Yes, we do have a few. We recently dressed Fally Ipupa while Regé-Jean Page wore our piece for a magazine shoot late last year.
How has the coronavirus impacted your fashion design business?
It is a double sword. The positive impact was the fact that we had a lot of communication. We had a lot of press coming in and the black lives matter movement was happening at the same time. Therefore, it was very heavy in terms of communication and we are grateful for that. However, apart from not being able to produce as many pieces as we normally do, we could also not travel. As a result, the sales reduced since people could not go out or attend parties, yet, our clothes are meant for weekends, outings and travel. Indeed, the clients will not purchase our products with the current restrictions on the freedom of going out.
How was the experience of launching your FREELAST collection virtually?
It was great. It was a time when everybody was online and many countries were on lockdown so everybody was basically at their house and on their phone. I was glad that everything was successful and at the same time, we had a DJ session with music with our friends. It was great and entertaining.
Do you feel like people would be open to moving the runways and most of the things in the industry post COVID?
The digital part is cost-effective and most companies are shifting towards online platforms. However, at the end of the day when you have new clothes, you would rather people see them physically and not on a screen. I think the idea would promote some kind of E-breed shows; having one physically concurrently with another one on the screen. We cannot go digital fully since people may want to touch, fit and feel the clothes before buying them. For example, we are 100% e-commerce and so, when we organize physical pop-ups, people come to see the clothes they buy them right away. However, when you see them digitally you have all these questions since you do not know if it will fit you or the kind of fabric it is. Therefore, I trust that when you see them physically, you able to clarify all these things and close the barrier between the clothes and the person.
Will your brand at some point open physical shops in different locations?
At the moment, that is not a priority; but, we do have a physical presence through pop-ups that take place in different cities. Therefore, we spend a week in a city and sell the clothes just like we did in Paris, Abidjan, Mykonos and Cotonou.
In some of your designs on Instagram, you describe that you are promoting Africa savior-faire, can you please elaborate on that.
In Africa, most of the countries have a lot of tailors and artisans. It is part of the society that whenever there is an event, people buy fabric at the market and take it to the tailor to make for them the clothes and everything else. You can also find this outside Africa but the main difference is that we do not give value to our artisanship and tailors. We do everything made in Africa and what is surprising is that when people see the clothes they ask if it is made in Africa. Therefore, we have to give our artisans and tailors value and the opportunity for the world to see their work and capabilities.
Does everything happen in Africa especially when it comes to sourcing, manufacturing and labor?
As of today, yes, we produce and source everything in Africa. The majority of our digital audience is from the US, UK and France; while our physical audience remain in Africa, we serve via the pop-ups. Paying clothes online, is not so common in the west African region.
The majority of African Designers have their target market in the west and not Africa. What necessary steps do you think we need to take as a continent to change this?
I cannot speak for the rest of Africa but only speak for West Africa. What I have noticed is that people have an issue with ready-to-wear. The main cause behind the issue is they think they can go and buy the fabric and take it to a tailor unlike outside of Africa where if the clients like it they just buy the clothes right away. They do not think about how they can take it to the tailors and get it done because it might even be more expensive. I think if there’s an evolution of the mindset, people might buy sustainable ready-to-wear. Although sustainability is among the least concerns for African people as there are many other issues, I think sustainability is something that Africa should focus on. We do not want to end up like the global North and China. We have to learn from people’s experiences in other countries.
What inspired the artistic colors of the Ibo set?
Ibo means forest in Yoruba. This takes me back to Nigeria and since we had the lockdown, I could see that nature had started growing and flourishing. We sort of reset and gave nature back its power and that was the inspiration for the Ibo set.
How have you incorporated nature into your designs and how do you think your brand is sustainable
I have incorporated nature into many of our designs such as with the Ibo set. It is more natural and the forest set has animals and lakes. We also had the garden set which came out under last season’s FREELAST collection. Moreover, nature is a necessary part of Allëdjo since we select our destination according to the culture, the story of the destination and the architecture of the city.
Sustainability is a tricky question simply because so far, we source and produce in Senegal. We use materials that are available on the soil. Sometimes we usually use noble material such as silk and linen but sometimes, we utilize a mix of polyester and silk. At the end of the day, we want to sell so that we cannot have a tiny quantity of things; hence, we mix it with everything else.
Sustainability to be honest was not something we aimed for from the get-go. However, we always wanted to do things ethically by ensuring that our products are handmade and by using a good labor force. It is complicated to be doing made in Africa because it is an issue to manufacture in Africa while adding sustainability. Therefore, at the moment, it is not possible for us.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face by being made in Africa that you would not encounter if you did all the production in the west
First of all, I think if we had the human capital for manufacturing, it would be better because most of the tailors did not go to school to know how to cut; they have always learned it from the family. The education around it is not something broad.
The second is that tailors are very good at bespoke that are customized, one piece per person. However, when you want to make them bulk, say 100 pieces, it becomes a problem for the tailors since they do not usually work with certain patterns. They normally cut and do it 1 to 1 and thus, are not so good at mass production.
What is your opinion on the impact of the secondhand market in Africa?
It is a tricky question since I do not live in Africa; I just work in Africa. I do not think I have the capacity to answer that question; but, from what I hear from my friends who live in Ghana, the kantamonto market ruins the fashion market. People would rather go to that market to buy something cheaper than purchase from a designer.