In January 2014 we brought you the debut collection for Sierra Leonean label Kenema, an emerging label birthed from the cultures, landscapes and sounds of the third largest city in Sierra Leone eponymous with the brand, transmitting a contemporary narrative of a versatile continent on the rise.
Launched in 2010 by Tamu Thomas, the label mixes the designer’s cultural influences and traditional West African fabrics impeccably with contemporary streetwear aesthetics creating unqiue, wearable collections for those who like dressing casual but also repping their African influences.
Today we find out more about Kenema and the designer Tamu Thomas with an exclusive interview.
Tell us a little about you, your brand and its history?
My aunt bought me a beautiful tie-dye dress from Sierra Leone. A friend suggested importing them and selling them as I got lots of positive comments about the dress. I’ve always wanted my own creative business and love street wear style. I thought that this was an opportunity to combine wax cotton, Batik, tie-dye and woven cloth from West Africa to create easy to wear clothing that can fit in with your existing wardrobe.
I am very passionate about doing something to empower Sierra Leonean women to be self-sufficient so I decided that I would trade with female businesswomen and artisans in Sierra Leone. I firmly believe that trade is the only way the African continent will rise, it is abundantly clear that charity does not work.
The brand began in April 2010 but then had a hiatus from 2012 – 2013 as producing in Sierra Leone was too challenging.
I am a first generation Londoner of Sierra Leonean parents. I have always been creative from playing around with fashion designs as a small child to writing poetry as a teenager however I never thought that I would start a fashion brand. My professional background is social work. I will always do some level of social work it is something that I am very passionate about, however Kenema has totally taken over.
Tell us about your inspirations behind your label in general and the Spring/Summer 2014 collection?
Kenema is generally inspired by my life; it’s a real blend of cultural influences with West African roots. I think that many first generation Londoner’s can relate to the blend and at times clash of the culture and tradition of your heritage and where you are from. I think that this cultural blend and at times clash is apparent in the brand. Music is another big influence; I could not imagine a day without music, from Hi-Life to House. The idea for a collection could stem from the sound of an instrument, an Interlude, a line from a song.
I am also inspired by challenging the perception of what it is to be ‘African’ I mean there are something like 55 countries, hundreds of tribes and languages yet the whole continent is casually ‘African’?
I am not doing a spring summer collection as such this but will have a collection that will be available at the beginning of June 2014. It’s called #AOL (Africa Online) and it is my interpretation of the impact of the internet and information technology on the world’s perception of the African continent.
Describe the Kenema woman and man?
A Kenema woman or man knows their own unique style, likes bold print and isn’t a slave to trends. They are not scared to experiment and shop for clothes rather than labels. Kenema is aimed at people that purchase quality over quantity.
Any celeb clients to date we should know of?
Watch this space.
Who would you like to see wearing your label?
A random person in one of those street style columns in a glossy magazine; that would be major. In terms of famous people there are a few but if I had to name names Solange Knowles is always on the list and like the whole world I am lusting over Lupita Nyong’o. Rihanna and M.I.A would be dope too, I think they are beautiful and love their style. For the fellas Pharell Williams and Mikill Pane will always be in the top 3!
Where can fans of the brand buy your creations?
What’s next in 2014 and beyond for Kenema?
I have just got back from taking part in a fashion show for the Africa Matters exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. It was absolutely incredible.
I will be having and event and pop up shop in May to launch my #AOL collection.
September will see the preview of SS15 and another Interlude unisex collection. I am looking forward to bringing my plans for Kenema to life, I am extremely excited and grateful, but you will have to wait and see.
And our classic question: What makes the Kenema label FAB?
The Kenema label is FAB as it makes fashion in African textiles every day garments whilst trading with Sierra Leonean women.