We first heard from Tamu Thomas, creator of fashion label Kenema Co. in 2010 when it first launched and have had the pleasure of being part of a number of events they’ve organised (The First Lady Fayre which took place The Queen of Hoxton, raised funds to send girls in Sierra Leone to school).
Thinking about it, Kenema was probably one of the earlier labels I recall using traditional wax print fabrics to create contemporary pieces. 3 years on and the brand new collection which was recently released encapsulates the vibe of one of my favourite periods in musical history. I caught up with Tamu to find out what inspired her newest creations.
What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
The latest collection is called Interlude. It was inspired by a love of London in the 1990’s. For me London in the 90’s was all about music it was consistently hip hop and RnB with a heavy dose of Ragga, Jungle, House n Garage, Acid House and some random indie sounds, for me this is when music was really innovative and your sounds were an extension of your identity. Interlude’s were on every self respecting 90’s hip hop or RnB album. Interlude literally means in between and I think it’s fitting as this is a collection that is in between masculine and feminine, its a (very small) capsule collection of easy to wear pieces for men and women, this is my interlude.
You’ve chosen to stick to unisex pieces for the latest collection, can you speak some more about the decision behind this?
I love the androgynous aesthetic, I could easily be described as a ‘tom boy’ and often buy mens clothes. I think a lot of women can relate to that. I have also had enough interest from men to make a range that includes men worthwhile exploring. I would love to develop a menswear line but at the moment I don’t have the time it deserves. This wasn’t a compromise though, it’s something I am working on with a keen interest, I haven’t seen anything like it in terms of cut and sew garments *cue the key board warriors and google researchers*. Within the realm of ‘African inspired’ fashion unisex feels subversive; my observation is that fashion in African textiles is usually very feminine or Masculine. Mens fashion is changing rapidly, men are becoming huge consumers of fashion and are becoming more and more adventurous with shapes and prints.
Where do you see the popularity in African inspired fashion going to in the future?
I am not sure as I’m not sure that merely using or replicating African print is African inspired. I would hope that people that use African fabric pay some respect to its heritage, whether is is wax cotton and batik that we have claimed as our own or traditional woven cloths and textiles featuring intricate bead work. In terms of designers from Africa or of an African background I can see design being more about the design and well thought use of fabric, more directional, easy to stand alongside your existing wardrobe and looking less like a costume.
If you had the opportunity to create a collection that had to mix traditional fabrics/dress from other cultures, which would you choose?
I would love to work with the traditional fabrics of the Inuit people. Animal skins, densely woven fabric, heavy quilting and intricate artistic fabric design. I think it could work well with the more traditional African fabrics like, Country Cloth, Kente, Mud cloth and the hundreds of African woven cloth variants. I like the idea of the juxtaposition of fabrics that are associated with the coldest and hottest continents on earth. These fabrics have helped to protect people from some of the most extreme climates known to man. I would also like to showcase African fabrics in as winter wear.