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One On One with THE BRAND

His work is something that automatically grabs your attention from a distance. He is accomplished, with a vision of where he seeks to be as an African designer. Their tagline Blood of Kings, Heart of Queens, says it all …

Baniku had a moment with the brilliant mind behind THE BRAND

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?

I have always been artistically inclined, but I wanted to work in comics or animation. My interest in design started after reading an article on Marc Ecko back in 2006, while a student at Peponi. That’s when I started to get into it.

Good job and display at the Nairobi Fashion week. Why did choose to showcase that particular line?

Well that collection is exactly what the brand is about. The focus is on creating signature, timeless pieces that add to the wearers’ wardrobe.

I try to create pieces that can be styled differently depending on the individuals’ personal style.

How long have you been in the business?

The brand is about 3 years old (2014). Before that it operated under a different name and had a completely different style.

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career

Be stubborn in your self-belief.

Any mistakes as you were starting out

Not exactly. I’m the type to do tons of research before I embark anything. A trait I would say, served me well.

 Your experience as a fashion designer at Yaoundé

It is quite a challenge. I’ve thought about moving to another African country multiple times since I moved back to Cameroon.

How accepted is fashion, as a business in your country?

It is beginning to gain traction from the society but not encouraged. Private investors aren’t willing to invest in the industry, and the government does absolutely nothing to encourage or grow the industry.

Do you feel and enjoy the support from the African community as a designer? What would you recommend we do different as a means of supporting?

In all honestly, not exactly.

  • The infrastructure isn’t there to provide continent-wide exposure to African designers, a lot of stores don’t stock African designers either.
  • Buyers still have that complex of “everything else is better” so they are reluctant to buy from African designers.
  • We don’t have an African version of Harrods, or Galeries Lafayette, or Barneys.
  • African fashion right now consists of mainly fashion shows where folks clap and take pictures, but don’t actively support.

To really support African designers, we need:

  • stores to stock their work,
  • stylists that search around continent to feature their work,
  • magazines and media to feature African designers in editorials,
  • “Celebrities” to support as well.

It is sad to see African singers/athletes/personalities flaunt European brands, when designers on the continent are doing great work.

Your Price ranges

We operate on a 2 tier system. Our premium line starts at about $250 and is quite limited/exclusive. Our base line ranges from $20 for a T-shirt, to $150. We limit our designs to specific numbers per color (typically 10 pieces per color). 

The idea is to keep the brand’s pieces affordable but rare.

The most expensive item in your wardrobe right now

 I’m not really one for expensive clothes. But currently, a pair of Armani loafers.

Who do you look up to in the fashion world?

There’s not a lot of people I look up to simply because I try not to follow the goings on in the industry too much. Also I do not want to be overly influenced by what others do. However I am amazed by Ozwald Boateng for what he has managed to achieve as a black man in the industry.

I also finally met one of my biggest inspirations in Angola recently; Adama Ndiaye, founder of Dakar Fashion Week.  I look up to them for all they’ve accomplished on the world stage as African born creatives.

Any other extra talents and special hobbies you have

See Also
Boguk: Kenyan Fashion Label with a Global Twist

I am a freelance photographer/video producer and illustrator. This automatically tells you that everything pretty much happens in-house. As for hobbies, I am either watching documentaries, playing video games or out playing basketball.

The role of social media plays in the fashion industry

Social media has become extremely important in the industry as it really shrinks the world by expanding outreach potential. You can create a piece, post on instagram and have people from as far as South Korea appreciate your work. It lessens the power of the “gatekeepers” of fashion. Before, you’d have to hope for a feature in a major magazine to gain exposure. Now that’s just a great bonus because you can get that exposure yourself if you know how to work your social media platforms.

Biggest fear when going out and starting your own line?

I think fear is a result of a lack of preparation. The unknown is scary. The easiest way to eliminate fear is to eliminate the unknown by gaining knowledge. I did a lot of research for over 5 years before starting the brand. I was very well prepared. I did not have any fears at all. I had concerns regarding production, investment, logistics, but not any real fears.

Your favorite part about being a designer?

Back in Cameroon, I was once stuck in traffic and a guy in the car next to me was wearing one of my pieces.

That is the best part of being a designer; seeing people who have no idea of who you are, wear what you’ve created.

When I wear your clothes, how do you want me to feel?

We go by the tagline Blood of Kings, Heart of Queens .I want people to feel special,… regal.

I want them to walk differently, feel differently. 

At shows I judge my collections not by audience reaction, but by the models’ reactions. The audience reaction is only based on what they see, the models’ react based on how they FEEL wearing the outfit. That’s very important to me.

There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. How do you handle the pressure?

 Pressure as a designer or creative in general only exists when you take other people’s expectations in to consideration. I never design to others’ expectations of me. Not everyone will like each collection and that’s absolutely fine. Once you’re okay with that, then the focus shifts to putting out the best product you can.

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