Thursday, October 31, 2013

LIFESTYLE OF THE URBAN INDIGENOUS



Orignally published at Merita International  
LifeSTYLE of the Urban Indigenous

Bright ethnic prints of tangerine, fuchsia, aqua and gold contrasted against neutral tweeds, burlap hemp and bark cloth graced the runway as Ugandan fashion designer Ras Kasozi’s collection ‘Urban Indigenous’ struck Vancouver Fashion Week. This would be the first international exposition of his line Kas Wear outside of Kampala, Uganda; and in fact, the very first time he had an opportunity to leave his country at all.

I have had the pleasure to help host his artistic genius since he touched down in Vancouver. As I have spent much time behind sewing machines in east Africa myself, I understand the extreme challenges one faces in countries where power is unreliable, equipment is old and any type of design or fashion related training is absent. Knowing very well that African sewing and tailoring scarcely involves the use of an actual pattern, any form of technical training or the tools necessary for advanced design, I found myself astounded as the collection started to come out of Kasozi’s luggage. Eyes fixed on each detail, I was blown away by the quality, ingenuity and heart that had undeniably gone into every piece.

One of the first things he told me while explaining his process was “I would very much like to find a mannequin while I’m here.” When I asked him how he fit his pieces back home without patterns or mannequin, Kasozi smiled at me and said, “I call friends who are the right measurements and wait until they are available to come for a fitting.” With that I began to comprehend the type of dedication that this young man puts into his work and how, at 25 years old, Ras Kasozi made history as the first Ugandan to have his unique collection recognized and celebrated internationally.

Four years ago Kasozi identified a need in himself to become part of a community in which he could be surrounded by other young people and support his artistic capability. It was at that time he heard about Bavubuka Foundation – a foundation in Kampala, Uganda committed to empowering youth to create positive change in their communities and the world; connecting youth with music and the arts to transform lives and unify diverse communities.  It was there, under the guidance of founder Silas Balabyekkubo that Kasozi says his talent really improved, claiming “it is a community with youth of different talents so you can help each other and learn from each other.”

After many years of working along side other creative entrepreneurs in the Bavubuka House, his designs became refined and Ras Kasozi became fully devoted to his art. Kas’ dedication to developing his line Kas Wear manifested opportunities to work with professional models and photographers who are supporters of the Bavubuka community. It was with those photographs of his earlier collection that Silas Balabyekkubo and collaborateur Patti Desante connected with Vancouver’s founder and CEO of the Five Agency, Justin Voitic and as they say, the rest is history!

When Kasozi got word that there were people at Vancouver Fashion Week interested in his work, he couldn’t believe it. “I didn’t know anything about processing a visa and I had to get it from Kenya. I had almost 2 weeks there but I couldn’t even prepare anything like sketching because I wanted to first get the visa to prove that I’m really going to Canada!” After enduring a seven day wait at the Canadian embassy and then a quick stock up of materials in Kenya, his drawing paper then occupied a 15 hour bus ride home. Ras Kasozi was enroute to strike Vancouver Fashion Week’s S/S 2013 runway with his absolutely stunning 24 look collection; sketched, cut, created on two continents and put together in less than 3 weeks.

When asked to speak to the character and essence of Kas’ recent accomplishment, Silas adds, “Kas Wear was born and manifested through the spirit shared with Bavubuka which is a community spirit for young people supporting each others ideas and visions to grow their creativity. In that context, being with Kas and spending a lot of time with him I’ve got to understand his passion of creative art, fashion and his desire to develop not only in the context of a fashion designer but to really leave a legacy within the fashion industry of Uganda itself. As a community inspired, community driven, and as a community supportive fashion designer who wants to establish not just an academy but a creative space for other young fashion communities to find the same story he’s able to tell today, which is a story of his dream coming true.”

Jamal Abdourahman, Producer of Vancouver Fashion Week (10 years running) adds “We are very fortunate to work with amazing people and projects where we are able to put others in the spot light.” I have to agree. Having the opportunity to highlight such amazing individuals is really a dream and as we’ve just witnessed by Ras Kasozi s/s collection titled Urban Indigenous, dreams do indeed come true.

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