After careful consideration, six exceptionally talented West African creatives have been chosen to participate in the new Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) Designer Accelerator. Highlighting the programme’s commitment to African youth, sustainability and diversity, participants selected to enter the two-year programme which will begin in July 2021 are Atelier V.O, Kente Gentlemen, Laurenceairline, Maöta Studio, Ohiri and Oudy K.
The new call to join the EFI Designer Accelerator – supported by the European Union – after two successful seasons of the programme, was directed to talent operating in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Kenya, Mali, and Uganda and for the first time includes both fashion designers as well as entrepreneurs making their mark on the continent in varied creative mediums. The selected brands this season include 3 ready-to-wear brands, a jewellery brand, a concept store and a textile designer.
The creatives will receive mentorship from a team of experts with extensive experience working in Africa, fashion and business development including EFI head & founder, Simone Cipriani, co-founder of United Arrows, Hirofumi Kurino and actress and humanitarian Dakore Egbuson-Akande. Topics covered through a series of masterclasses include Compliance, SDGs, Labour Rights & Supply Chain, Collection Plan Development, Market Positioning, Digital Marketing & Sales and Legal Frameworks.
The selected finalists were placed into two groups depending on their specific needs and the operating time of their businesses. Group one consisting of Kente Gentlemen, Laurenceairline and Ohiri will receive targeted support, whilst the second group, made up of Atelier VO, Maöta Studio, and Oudy K, will receive business development guidance and increased mentorship to guide the creatives in establishing their businesses and solidifying their unique vision through the creative medium of their choice.
Meet the selected designers:
Founder/Designer: Morayo OSSE
Atelier V.O is a brand created by VESTIAIRE ORIGINAL, both a concept store located in Cotonou, Benin, dedicated to lifestyle brands made in Africa, as well as an RTW designer label. The store selects independent African brands, favouring those that enhance knowledge and local
raw materials in order to impact their region. Morayo wishes to develop a conscious brand according to a circular model by sourcing textiles exclusively made in Africa, and by working with local artisans while ensuring their well-being.
I feel happy, eager to start the EFI Designer Accelerator and grateful to the jury who understood the history of ATELIER V.O. and its potential. The programme will allow me to develop my brand with solid foundations.
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Founder/Designer: Aristide LOUA
Established in 2017, Kente Gentlemen is first and foremost a clothing brand, with each piece tailored in unique style and contemporary design. The first word in Kente Gentlemen praises the Kente cloth, a landmark textile and cultural icon of Africa, originating from the Ashanti kingdom. Every finished, tailored piece is fitted, cut, and sewn from fabrics made in Africa, with high respect paid to the rich textile heritage and local craftsmanship that has been cultivated on the continent since the 16th century. With a focus on upcycling, recycling and respecting the engagements made within their local cooperatives, the brand prides itself on sustainability and community engagement in its town of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
My introduction to fashion was quite intimate, personal, and rather intuitive. I started the adventure without any formal training, mentorship, or experience working in the industry. But the passion was there, and it’s now time to take it to a greater height. For this reason, I look forward to the EFI Designer Accelerator. It will be an opportunity to learn from and collaborate with experts and a wider network of local artisans who share in my brand’s dedication to beauty, community, and heritage.
Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire
Founder/Designer: Laurence CHAUVIN-BUTHAUD
Laurenceairline, of Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, brings together a path between cultures, drawing contemporary and timeless silhouettes with deep African roots by highlighting both the designer’s care for the people and the environment. Realising the necessity to reverse current consumption trends and the negative impact of improper management of the fashion industry, in 2019, the brand decided to make a turning point. Laurenceairline managed to bring all production in-house, producing sustainable collections with their team of in-house tailors from Bassam whilst sourcing most of their fabrics from local markets from within the African continent, contributing to the local community and creating relationships of trust.
I feel really excited to be part of this great new adventure with EFI !
Founder/Designer: Maité OUCENI
Based in Bamako, Mali, Maöta Studio is a community of artisans developing natural dyes and sustainable textile designs using traditional Malian methods with modern approaches that have a positive impact on people and the planet. The brand is a social enterprise with sustainability at its core, specialising in sustainable textile designs working towards natural matters and using artisanal techniques. The studio has a vision is to democratise and preserve different forms of traditional know-hows threatened in West Africa and accelerate the transition to positive fashion industry in harmony with people and the planet. Through the accelerator programme she will be developing a homeware collection using her textile designs made with natural dyes.
I feel honoured and excited to be part of the EFI Designer Accelerator. I know that the mentorship will be intense, of incredibly high standards to serve my vision. Maöta Studio is an ethical and sustainable brand that fights against the conventional textile industry, and also aims to become a virtuous business model and to develop the green economy. We produce now, we will transmit our methods tomorrow across the continents for a fair and sustainable future in harmony with people and the planet.
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Founder/Designer: Akébéhi KPOLO
OHIRI is a creative studio that engages ancient arts and know-how in a contemporary universe. Their approach is to understand the symbolism of the jewel in certain ancient cultures and to reinterpret it through different mediums, making free and abstract interpretations. Sensitive to the issue of the environment, and with a degree in sustainable development economics, Akébéhi strives to do everything in her power to ensure that their project is sustainable and respectful of the environment and people.
I am delighted to be part of the EFI Designer Accelerator. This is a real opportunity for OHIRI. I will have the support and tools I need to develop my brand more serenely.
Founder: Oudy KEÏTA
Oudy Keita is a successful Mali-based entrepreneur having both founded a concept store featuring garments, salon, restaurant, pool and co-working space in Bamako, whilst also launching an Afropolitan designer brand for men and women produced in the city. The founder offers minimalist and sophisticated clothing that will highlight the wearer and serve as an extension of their personality. Raw materials and the decision to produce locally (made in Mali) set the brand apart and reflect the integration of the UN’s SDGs into their production and ethos.
I feel grateful and lucky to be able to join this programme. It will provide me with the keys to give my best and to represent the cultural richness of Mali. I will finally be able to honour the brand Oudy K.
About the EFI Designer Accelerator
Ethical Fashion Initiative – a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization – has been helping to bring African Fashion Design to the world stage since 2013, having previously mentored a number of African fashion brands and brought designers to events such as Vogue’s Fashion Night Out, Pitti Uomo and Altaroma. Launched in November 2019, the programme was first created as a unique pioneering project unlike any other operating in the international fashion arena today. The programme focuses on the specific needs of African fashion brands, with a business development approach that prepares its beneficiaries to become investment-ready.
The selected designers will enter the rigorous curriculum of a two-year programme by working with EFI within the production capacity frame already established by each brand to begin developing one collection per year. The programme follows the international calendar of planning, prototyping, producing and marketing as they prepare to enter the sales and media market. At the end of the programme, the designers will have an opportunity to pitch to investors. The programme includes support, workshops and 1-1 mentoring sessions delivered by the Accelerator dedicated team and industry experts. It covers the following subjects:
The programme will help the selected brands expand their supply chain and scale up their production, establish communication with suppliers, source new materials and develop their production team. Brands will be assigned a production mentor, with the offer of one-to-one support meetings.
Acceleration of the Business Process
The Designer Accelerator will fast track emerging African designer labels, identifying and strategizing areas for growth and development. The programme will support business planning, brand promotion and marketing, as well as collection planning and design. Designers will also be guided in the subject of social and environmental sustainability.
Building Brand Value
The programme will help the designers to understand the investment, develop strategies for maximising brand equity, build a funding proposition and develop their skills in preparing pitches.
The Programme aims to provide the selected designers with the tools to excel within the fiercely competitive fashion industry, allowing them to navigate the complex landscape. The programme connects to the wider mission of EFI; creating and securing a virtuous, circular ecosystem of Made in Africa goods and services.
About the Ethical Fashion Initiative
EFI is a flagship program of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. For the Ethical Fashion Initiative, lifestyle choices impact livelihoods. EFI creates and strengthens social enterprises in emerging economies to connect discerning international brands in fashion, interiors and fine foods with talented local designers, artisans and micro-producers. Savvy investors, pro-poor champions and mindful consumers find value in a virtuous circle that creates not just premium products, but also stable, dignified work, and creative and resilient women, men and communities.
The EFI’s Identity Building and Business Sharing Initiative showcases creativity and talent in fashion and beyond, in an effort to strengthen the cultural sectors including art, photography, cinema and music. Operational in eight dynamic countries — Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Kenya, Mali, Uganda, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan — this chapter of EFI works hand in hand with leaders from the private sector to generate trade and more importantly, social capital. Find out more at www.ethicalfashioninitiative.org or on Instagram @ethicalfashion. This EFI Identity Building and Business Sharing Initiative are funded by the EU.