Once in a while a fashion designer pops up and you know they are one to keep an eye on, and today am featuring one such. It's Kibonen | NY. Here are a few things about here as featured on ELLE SA.
5 MINS WITH KIBONEN NFI
She is the brain behind one of Africa’s most original emerging fashion labels, KibonenǀNY. Taking Inspiration from traditional Cameroonian garments, West African fabric and New York’s vibrant fashion scene, she’s a fashion force to be reckoned with. Here we get to know Cameroonian designer, Kibonen Nfi.
Who is the KibonenǀNY woman?
The Kibonen|NY woman is confident and quirky. She is a woman who loves adventures and thrives on trying out new things. She is a global citizen who is not afraid to embrace other cultural experiences.
Your vision behind the KibonenǀNY brand?
Kibonen|NY is aimed at providing its clients a unique experience from the comfort of their closet through the confluence of cultures.
How did your career in fashion start?
I have always loved the confidence a great outfit gives you and putting clothes in harmony. My career in fashion sparked in 2009 when I came up with a way of modernising the traditional regalia worn by theBamileke and Bamenda Regions of Cameroon. I was very intrigued by the colourful embroidery and symbols which all had different meanings – It’s called The ‘Toghu’.
Initially I made one dress for myself while I was on vacation in Bamenda (the city where I grew up). I wore this dress and it was hugely admired and people were willing to pay me to obtain one of them. That was my “Aha” moment. I also remember that at the time I worked at Saks 5th Avenue in New York City and I had some clients ask me if I bought that dress “upstairs”. That was very flattering to me and soon I realised this could be my bread and butter. When I was made redundant in 2009, I then decided to focus fully on fashion and think through my brand. All this eventually led to me showcasing two times in a row at Mercedes Benz fashion week Africa in Johannesburg SA and being nominated emerging designer of the year 2013 by AFI. I then felt my “self taught” fashion skills would not be enough in a highly competitive world of fashion. I enrolled in a university program and obtained a degree in fashion. I feel this has been hugely rewarding as I have been privileged to showcase at the Arts Institute Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York 2014 and interned at Donna Karan.
What can be done to nurture fashion talent in Africa?
That is a really good question. Talent in Africa does need nurturing – partly in the form of a formal education but also by recognising talent at an early stage. There has to be a conscious effort to develop this industry. I have never understood the laxity from both the people and the governments. Structures need to be put in place, African parents are more likely to encourage such talent if it is provided in the form of a structured program. I worked as a banker for years and only had the freedom and courage of accepting my creative side much later. There is so much Talent on the African continent but there is also a need for aspiring designers to have a vision and confidence to pursue their passion in an organised manner and the organisation will involve all the facets of fashion. Social media is a great way of connecting people but African nations need to invest more in technology and other infrastructure needed to make the industry more sustainable. I am big believer of the fact that creative industries will produce great success stories from Africa. This will prove that becoming a fashion designer should not be just a random occurrence.
What does being an African designer mean to you?
An African designer is a above all a good creator who is inspired by African cultures and traditions and who yearns to translate that into its design and craft. Today the debate is not in being an African designer or not – it’s about being a great designer.
Can you describe the fashion scene in Cameroon?
There is immense potential there but it needs an in-depth structuring. Our Ministry of Culture, small and medium size industries and Tourism should have a huge role to play in doing so. Most leading Cameroonian fashion brands do not support one another and many struggle to understand the industry. A few good initiatives are coming up but more work is necessary in making them really organised and inclusive. We can have the most talented designers but we need structures that help facilitate the global appeal. Many days I ask when Douala will be recognised as a fashion Capital. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had and I do plan to play my part in making it less of an elitist movement.
What fabrics do you use?
My collections are not limited to a particular fabric. I am very interested in discovering and exploring the potential of new fabrics. They are very dependent on innovative options. My last collection I used a lot of neoprene, wool and cashmere. But I also hope to design my own fabric more often.
How does it feel to be selected as one of the 12 designers by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative?
It was a true honour. I was really humbled and thrilled by the vote of confidence. I am really happy when I look at the opportunities it would provide me with. I have wanted to be a part of this for years so when I was selected it reminded me of the power of your thoughts and what you declare. I was very glad. I spoke this into existence. It made me feel that I was certainly on the right path. I am particularly excited by the opportunities it also provides for African designers. I have seen loads of designers emerge as stronger brands through the mentorship they provides. Currently the other designers are in Milan presenting their collections at Vogue Fashion Night out in collaboration with Biffi Boutiques in Milan. Unfortunately I could not make it to that event due to time constraints.
What can we expect from KibonenǀNY next?
I am currently doing a huge amount of work in developing my brand and in providing an active e-commerce section on the website. I am getting quite a few requests from interested stockists so KibonenlNY may soon be coming to a Boutique near you.