Couture and accessories created in bold colors and vibrant patterns characterize Africa’s fashion industry on an unrivaled scale. In the last decade, fashion from the continent has graced international headlines with labels such as “coming of age”, “thriving”, and “up-and-coming”. It is true that Sub-Saharan Africa contributes a tiny fraction of 2% to the $1.5 trillion global fashion industry. Still, the success stories from small and medium scale fashion houses is inspiring.
Michelle Obama rocking Duro Oluwo Wear,
Designers such as Duro Olowu have captured the attention of the world by contributing pieces to Michelle Obama’s wardrobe. Other celebrities from Beyonce to Rihanna have showcased apparel from Nigerian designer, Maki Oh. Then there is the exceptional work of Alla Rehmtullah of Tanzania and Bethlehem Alemu, owner of Ethiopian footwear brand, Sole Rebels.
Sure, there are problems such as erratic infrastructure, weak supply chains, and a dearth of international partnerships. Still, the accomplishments from the stables of some of the biggest names in African fashion are worthy of celebration and promotion. One of the industry’s greatest struggles remains assembling in a tight circle, governmental industries, small and medium scale fashion houses, creatives, chambers of commerce, and parties interested in actively promoting fashion from the continent to the world.
Books such as Fashion Cities Africa have been written to showcase the richness of fashion in Casablanca, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi. Street style and runway shows such as Lagos Fashion Week, Kenya Fashion Week, and African Fashion Week in New York are bringing the presentation of African fashion to par with contemporaries in Milan, London, and Paris
From fashion houses to textile production, there is a lot of potential still untapped in the industry. Investment initiatives from The Bank of Industry and African Development Bank’s Fashionoconomics supports industrialization among small and medium enterprises operating in the African fashion and textile sectors.
Lesotho, Kenya, Mauritius, and Swaziland have long been industry leaders in textile and apparel exports. However, with introductions such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, garment production in other African countries have been given a helping hand. In a McKinsey survey of Chief Procurement Officers, Ethiopia outranked Indonesia and Sri Lanka as a top sourcing destination. And Ghana is up-and-coming as a production hub. The rise of e-commerce websites featuring Made in Africa goods have also played a major role in connecting consumers of African fashion with its producers.Before the entrance of global textile brands such as Vlisco into the fashion scene, woven fabrics sourced from Mali and Ghana were worn by Africans. Mud cloths and Kente are two of the most popular fabrics that have long differentiated textiles and designs sourced from the continent.
The Kente Gentlemen is a brand that is harnessing the beauty and marketability of this fabric. This textile, which is often linked to pride, culture, and heritage kindled a longing for wax-print textiles in the heart of founder, Aristide Loua in faraway Salt Lake City, Utah. “I hadn’t been home for over 8 years, and I felt the urge to represent where I am from. I remember my mother sending us a few shirts tailored from wax-print textiles. It was really heartwarming to feel something from the homeland. Till this day, I have those shirts. They are durable and of good quality. The detailing is perfect. The cut is well done and respects the design printed on the fabric”.
In no time, the idea to replicate this wearable experience suited to the taste of an African diaspora male birthed the brand. This combined with an interest in starting up a creative agency exploring photography, art direction, and creative writing solidified the future of the Kente Gentlemen.
The brand name and signature logo finds inspiration from the Kente cloth, originating from the Ashanti Kingdom. And when someone hears “gentleman”, one is quick to think about a man who is morally sound, respectful, and dandy. Drawing inspiration from all creative things African, Aristide cues in lyrics from Fela Kuti’s song. “I no be gentleman” and it all rhymes well.
Kente Gentlemen is now registered in both Cote d’Ivoire and in the United States, a fact that still amazes its founder.
“I never really thought of myself being an entrepreneur one day. But I always had a sense of self-reliance and ingenuity. Founding Kente Gentlemen was a way to reach back to my background, to revive a passion, embrace a story, and recall a song long forgotten.”
Using the perspective of a discerning customer has influenced this brand from the start. “I was a customer looking for quality clothing items to wear. However, I didn’t really find that in the market, not even online, so I sought out the opportunity to create a brand and serve people like me, particularly the African diaspora.” Innovation has its place too as the Kente Gentlemen team aims to create something outside of the norm. Aristide describes this concept as “something that speaks to us, but to you as well; something that touches everybody, regardless of one’s background, race, status, religion, and any other social attribute or identity.”
Attending the New York Fashion Week for the first time in September of 2013 was a formative experience for the brand’s early founders. Things accelerated when Aristide moved back to Abidjan in December, 2015 to research fabrics, study the market and meet up with the tailors and weavers. In an effort to strengthen the brand, The Kente Gentlemen have visited the cities of Assinie, Cote d’Ivoire and Dakar in Senegal.
In an ever connected world thanks to refinements in technology, this brand is poised as a means to discover, value, celebrate, and foster diverse socio-cultural heritage and identities through fashion, aesthetics, travel, photography, and other visual arts. Its team of four employees situated in different world cities pool their wealth of experience and expertise to promote the brand.
Sydney Bagrou is the CFO and COO, while Tshimuanga Mvuanda is the CTO and Web Designer. Kunal Premnath is the Director of Development and Aristide Loua oversees the brand, doubling as the company’s Art Director. Operating from the cities of Abidjan, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, and Dubai, The Kentle Gentlemen are focused on disrupting the global fashion industry.
Empowering communities is what this brand works towards. By supporting all the parties involved in a production chain that links local weavers, tailors, manufacturers, vendors, and collaborators, each fashion item is a collaborative effort. For a shirt, or a pair of shorts, the average processing time is a week; for a suit, it could be two weeks. Depending on the final destination, time for shipping is factored in to attend to customized orders. Providing a detailed and durable quality is the goal as items are tailored from the scratch.
The Kente Gentlemen hold dearly to the words of world-acclaimed Senegalese film director, producer, and writer, Ousmane Sembène. “If Africans do not tell their own stories, Africa will soon disappear”. Some unique features have been incorporated into the brand’s platform. Aristide explains, “We have a “Journal” section open for all, that’s reserved for writing, journalism, storytelling, and cultural documentations. There isn’t much being said about the success stories of the youth, the unique beauties of our lands and waters, the enormous diversity of cultures, traditions, and heritage, and so forth.
We also have a “Visual Poetry” section for art direction, poetry, art photography and a “Travelogue” segment to serve travel enthusiasts and writers.”
Drawing inspiration from proclaimed competitors Ikire Jones and Henry Dankwa of Dankwa Fabric, Kentle Gentlemen is set to officially launch this spring. In the meantime, the brand encourages other entrepreneurs to join in on the mission of respecting cultures and representing them well in business. “Always follow your heart. Keep pushing, keep believing, even when you are exhausted” is the strategy that keeps this African fashion brand pulsating each day amidst the struggles of clothing gentlemen around the globe.
Brand Name: Kente Gentlemen
Phone Number: +225 78 36 37 99
Biz address: www.kentegentlemen.com