In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest town, two Italian women, Caterina and Francesca, are using fashion to inspire and educate the youth. Here’s their story.
It was 2007 when Caterina Bortolussi arrived in the west-african country for a three months stay as the employee of a British investment bank.
During her trip she travelled accross Nigeria, visiting a large number of companies and got a good insight on the country’s economy.
“The moment I arrived in Nigeria I felt its energy” says Bortolussi. “It’s a troubled country, but it is also a place where many people have talent and women are strong. I loved them. Loved their colorful clothes, loved their determination. They inspired me.”
Fashion was a childhood dream for Caterina but it was Nigeria that pushed her to pursue it.
Once back in London she quit her job and went to fashion school with one idea in her mind: to produce glamorous clothes with african fabrics, and to help nigerian women improve their skills and start small businesses.
Francesca Rosset, Caterina’s lifelong friend, at the time was working in an advertising agency. When she heard about her plan she was easily convinced to jump on board. She too was looking for something more in life. In the past she had worked for NGOs in South America.
The humanitarian expeirence stayed in her heart and she wanted to get back to it.
Nine years and many adventures after, their brand, Kinabuti is a reality in the vibrant fashion world of Nigeria.
Their Philosophy is to use fashion to propagate change by giving the youth from underdeveloped communities the opportunity to learn skills through vocational trainings.
In five years of activity Kinabuti started several social projects. Pitching big corporations they rised money to train models, tailors, photographers and filmmakers form the poor areas of the cities of Port Hartcourt, Uyo and Lagos.
“We do fashion” says Francesca “and that’s where we start from when conceive our social projects.
As fashion designers we hire tailors, models and photographers. We found that the offer of people with professional skills in Nigeria was limited so we thought we could train them ourselves.
We focus mainly on tailoring. First of all because it is a way for us to form our staff. Secondarily you must consider that tailoring here is very common job. Many people wear traditional hand made clothes and every neighborhood has many tailors. Giving them professional skills, teaching them how to produce in series, we give them a very tangible way to grow their business and earn more money. This way the whole community they live in will be affected. At least a little bit”
Currently former Prada designer Floriana Betti, from Parson’s Design School in NY is running an eight week intensive course. Free tuiton, by a world class teacher. A great opportunity for the women who partecipate to the course.
Other classes include the traditional crafts of Nigeria, Batik and Tie Diying.
Alumns all come from Lagos most unprivileged communities.
“Recently we have been working in Makoko, and Orile” Says Francesca.
“Makoko is an incredible place, a community on the water, made of stilt houses. It is visually impressive, you could say beautiful, but it’s health conditions and child mortality rates do not allow us to use this word.”
Their newest and biggest project is a model scouting through Nigerian universities called Dare2Dream.
Selected models are taken to Lagos where they go through a “Boot camp”, two weeks of training with activities from early in the morning ‘till ten at night, classes in modeling, fitness, dancing, presenting, and masterclasse held by successful nigerian women.
“To make this more fun and more interesting for our sponsors and for the media there’s a competition going on.” continues Francesca “we have selections, a final event and a winner. The whole thing is filmed and becomes a tv reality show, aired by Africa Magic Network and published on the web by the Pulse/Ringier group. The Winner becomes the face of our main sponsor and gets a contract with Few Models Agency. But the point is not about winning. It’s all about opening their eyes, to rise awareness of who they are and what they can do.”