Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Ubuntu Project

As all eyes divert to South Africa for the World Cup, The Inoue Brothers celebrate the craftsmanship of the country. The township of Khayelitsha by Troels Jepsen.

As the attention of the globe diverts to South Africa for the beginning of the World Cup, The Inoue Brothers celebrate the craftsmanship of the rainbow nation. Known as a quality knitwear brand The Inoue Brothers have been searching to further their endeavors by creating relations in communities where craftsmanship and cultural heritages are rich. Progressing from their collaboration with the indigenous Andean knitters of Bolivia, the brothers and have ventured to the continent of the century - Africa. Their passion and heritage towards the African continent took them the township of Khayelisha, South Africa. Here the Brothers have formed a relationship with a community and a co-operative of beading ladies who use their unique skills to create beautiful beaded pieces original to South Africa. Using eco friendly organic hemp material as canvases for these beading pieces, the final garments are produced through an uncompromising process commissioning local artisans and seamstresses around Capetown. Collaborating with Gazelle and Créol Brothers, the spirit of “Ubuntu” is the message for their collection. To mark the imminent release of the collection, we caught up with one half of The Inoue Brothers, Satoru, to learn as much as we could about the project, the people of Khayelisha and who the brothers will be supporting in the World Cup...

Image of Khayelitsha by Troels Jepsen

SS: What was the driving catalyst behind the Ubuntu Project?
Satoru Inoue: At first, our main objective was to source a local cotton production as to expand our product line. Naturally it was important to us to work in the same ethical manner as our established alpaca production in Bolivia. But as we explored our possibilities in South Africa, we learned more about cotton production. Not only are the scars of slavery still apparent in the production of cotton yarn – cotton picking is still considered one of the most labor-intense processes, but also growing and harvesting cotton takes immense amounts of chemicals to ensure harvest. As such, when it comes to sustainable productions and environmental accountability cotton has significant negative impact. Therefore we changed our focus to hemp fabric. Hemp fabric is not only more durable while offering the same qualities as cotton – it is also close to 100% naturally grown. With hemp we found a fabric that could progress and expand our product line and at the same time act in accordance with our values and beliefs.

Image of Khayelitsha by Troels Jepsen

SS: What does the Ubuntu Project mean to you?
Satoru Inoue: “Ubuntu” originates from the Bantu languages of Southern Africa and has many meanings, one of which translates to “I am because we are”. Although it has different meanings all the various expressions resonate from the same philosophy of being one because of a community. In the same sense, the Ubuntu Project was a way for us to pay homage to the skilled craftsmen and women of South Africa by expressing their heritage, and incorporating the spirit of these people in the project. On a more general level, The Ubuntu Project encapsulates the way we wish to keep designing collections; only by the skills and craftsmanships of cultures – of our extended community – are we able to produce what we do. This is something we are very aware of and deeply grateful for.

Image of Khayelitsha by Troels Jepsen

SS: The project sees you progress from your collaboration with the indigenous Andean knitters of Bolivia and venture to the continent of Africa. What was it that attracted you to the township of Khayelitsha in particular?
Satoru Inoue: When we went to South Africa we didn't know what to expect in emotional and creative terms. We hadn't established a contingency plan or a specific influential style we were searching for in regards to production. All we had with us was our A/W '10 collection we were going to shoot for our own press purposes... Whenever we venture out into the unknown we prepare ourselves as much as we can to develop a spirit to absorb and interpret the energy we encounter without any preconceived ideas and endeavor to uphold an open mind regardless. It is no secret that to start a new production in an unfamiliar environment can be close to impossible. In our case we are fortunate to have a close friendship with the music and arts duo “Gazelle” who live in Cape Town. They share our values and mindset, and when the opportunity came along for us to make a move, we seized the moment and went to South Africa to explore our opportunities. Our connection with them has been priceless for the Ubuntu Project. We knew South Africa had hidden treasures and we wanted to explore and experience this first hand, they had inside knowledge and goodwill in the community of Khayelitsha. As we visited this township with Gazelle, we found many amazing craftsmanships – many that we hope to be able to present to you in seasons to come. For now, we have focused primarily on the ancient art of beading – which is very visible in The Ubuntu collection.

Ladies of Khayelitsha by Xander Ferreira

SS: The people of Khayelitsha are integral to the project. What can you tell us?
Saturo Inoue: This is very true! What we hoped for when we started our venture to South Africa was to discover indigenous crafts, which we found in Khayelitsha and we based the main part of the collection on this craft. The community of beading women is the Ubuntu collection – without them the project would never have been.

Ladies of Khayelitsha by Xander Ferreira

A family of Khayelitsha and their produce by Xander Ferreira

SS: How did the collaborations with Gazelle and Creol Brothers arise and how did they evolve throughout the project?
Satoru Inoue: Both Gazelle and the Créol Brothers are good personal friends to my brother and I, and we have long talked about collaborating on a collection together. So when the opportunity came along to start a new venture, we thought it only natural to team up and actually do it. As the process evolved and the end result began to take shape we wanted to present a collection where the overall theme was the same, but also allowed each of us to express ourselves creatively. The hemp canvas served this purpose with Gazelle boasting pictures from Khayelitsha and Creol Brothers going back to their roots and manifesting an African vibe in the collection.

Graphic T shirts designed in collaboration with Gazelle (top) and Creol Brothers (below)

SS: How was Scandinasian design aesthetic enhanced by the collaborations?
Satoru Inoue: Scandinasian design is a concept originating from aspects in our cultural roots of Japan and Denmark. The elements mutual and very apparent in those are; reasoning, rationality and discipline. Past projects we have been engaged in with graphics in particular has esthetic manifestations of this concept, however this collection is 100% Ubuntu! Our endeavor is always to learn and share, we have tried our utmost to learn from our collaborations and aim for uncompromised originality in both design and production processes.

Eco-friendly organic hemp Beaded T-shirts. Each garment is customized with handmade beading by the women of Khayelitsha

SS: Sustainability, craftsmanship and local manufacture are key to everything you do. What can you tell us about some of the features and processes involved in the creation of these garments?
Saturo Inoue: The beading used for a great part of the collection has great profound heritage with colour combinations, patterns and shapes. This heritage is much greater than our comprehension, however, we are determined to learn more about the culture of this magnificent continent and share it to our best capabilities.

Gazelle and The Inoue Brothers Photo shoot. Photography by Xander Ferreira

SS: Looking back over the project now, what did you learn?
Satoru Inoue: As said the starting point for exploring South Africa was cotton. And ending up with a beaded hemp collection is far from what we initially imagined. Every new start takes its tolls and in the process of this project we have had many ups and downs. Our overall approach to whatever we do is trust. Despite all the stereotyping we were challenged with - when we said we would take on this venture - the end product speaks for itself and is all due to personal relationships we have grown with the local people of Khayelitsha and the great effort of everyone involved. We feel extremely privileged and have also reinforced our belief that nothing is impossible as long as you set your heart and intention to it and work hard!

Gazelle and The Inoue Brothers Photo shoot. Photography by Xander Ferreira

SS: The SS10 release date coincides with the World Cup. What are your thoughts on this years tournament? I'm intrigued at to who you'll be supporting more in Group E, Japan or Denmark?
Satoru Inoue: Both my brother and I have always loved football and the world cup is the biggest ongoing event; biggest in the sense of amount of people worldwide who watch the tournament. To us the tournament is a celebration of the global community. It is a fiesta on a global scale that has the power to make people forget their differences and focus on one thing and one thing only – football. Also we are stoked that the tournament for the first time is being hosted by an African nation. It is hard to say which team we support most. Our love for both nations is great but for this tournament our heart is with the people of Africa!

Gazelle and The Inoue Brothers Photo shoot. Photography by Xander Ferreira

SS: Finally, what's next for the Inoue Brothers?
Satoru Inoue: Well, as things look now we have taken the first small steps to ensure seasonal collections with these wonderful people of Khayelitsha. But we have only just scratched the surface of what crafts and skills lie beneath. We will continue to work hard to ensure the dignity and empowerment of all people that sincerely need it. And as such we plan to continue to work with this community and at the same time keep expanding our reach as far as we can – all in the true spirit of Ubuntu.

Gazelle and The Inoue Brothers Photo shoot. Photography by Xander Ferreira


The collection is set to launch for the beginning of the world cup and will be available at Dover Street Market in London, Corso Como/Comme des Garcons Tokyo, Beams International Gallery Tokyo and at Storm in Copenhagen.


Joe said...

These beaded shirts are awesome, very Japanese-style. I always find Japanese designers very interesting in their choice of fabric and design. Clothing from UNIQLO never ceases to impress with their weird and wonderful ideas and developments in material.

Anonymous said...

A great idea and well timed with the world cup. Gotta love those beaded ts.

ikewater said...

These shirts are nice how can I get one today.


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