M Style - - Interview With - BGyEMA MONROY

Ten years ago, the young de­sign­ers Inés Cu­a­tre­casas and Marc Oliver San­cho trav­elled from Barcelona to Ki­gali, Rwanda to set up the Mille Collines project. It was a great suc­cess, and they have since had the im­mense sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing the peo­ple around them progress and de­velop. ‘But this is not an NGO; Mille Collines is a fash­ion busi­ness’, they clar­ify from the be­gin­ning. ‘Our goal is and has al­ways been to sell clothes and pay our em­ploy­ees with the prof­its from the sales’. That said, ‘every prod­uct of Mille Collines is pro­duced by ar­ti­sans who are em­ployed un­der fair con­di­tions. Our goal is not sim­ply to make money; if that were the case, we’d be man­u­fac­tur­ing in China or Bangladesh. We are a com­pany from Africa, to Africa’. To Africa and beyond. The brand’s clothes have been shown on the con­ti­nent’s most pres­ti­gious cat­walks, from Jo­han­nes­burg to La­gos and Cape Town. For three years they’ve been work­ing with one of the most promis­ing Kenyan fash­ion de­sign­ers, Nan­myak. What’s the great­est thing about work­ing in Africa?

Inés Africa there is still so much room to create and make an im­pact. The diver­sity around you is so rich, and there are con­stant sources of in­spi­ra­tion: the rich­ness of the tribes, lan­guages, ar­chi­tec­tural in­flu­ences, re­li­gions…. It’s the beauty in the chaos, the im­per­fec­tion of things that are not stream­lined or uni­form. That per­fect im­per­fec­tion in­spires every prod­uct we create, and we be­lieve it’s what makes African cre­ations so at­trac­tive to the world.

M: Inar Acfrica they like to say that

‘it takes a vil­lage to raise a child’. No­body who achieved some­thing did it alone. Peo­ple are still more im­por­tant here than busi­ness, and that’s some­thing that’s dis­ap­peared in Europe. In Europe every­thing is so com­pet­i­tive that peo­ple have be­come dis­pens­able, but not in Africa. Hu­man con­nec­tions are still the key here, and your suc­cess de­pends on the way you treat peo­ple.

Speak­ing of not be­ing alone, you work with dif­fer­ent ar­ti­sans and crafts­peo­ple all over the con­ti­nent, right?

M: Oau­rcr prod­ucts are hand­made, so we re­quire lots of man­power.

Wése’ve al­ways looked to Africa to find the in­spi­ra­tion, tools, team mem­bers and re­sources we need for our cre­ative process. Since we founded Mille Collines we’ve worked with so many col­lec­tives, all of them im­mensely tal­ented. It’s such a priv­i­lege to be able to sit down with a brass ar­ti­san and carve a new mount­ing for a disc pen­dant to­gether, or the clasp of a rub­ber bracelet.

There are fewer and fewer places in the world where you can work along­side an ar­ti­san and be a part of the process.

You also col­lab­o­rate with other de­sign­ers and brands.

Wése’ve done three col­lec­tions for An­thro­polo­gie and we're cur­rently work­ing on a col­lec­tion for a South African re­tail chain. Our prod­ucts will be avail­able in ma­jor air­ports and pre­mium malls across South Africa.

From Africa, to the world. MStyle chats with the three de­sign­ers be­hind Mille Collines, one of the coolest and most cre­ative fash­ion la­bels of the African con­ti­nent.The brand’s cre­ations are fea­tured through­out this is­sue.

You started this adventure in Rwanda and then you moved to Nairobi. Why? M: Naar­cirobi is the hub of East Africa; it has the drive and the en­ergy. In the last five or seven years a new cre­ative gen­er­a­tion has sprung up there, in­volved in art, de­sign, cul­ture, mu­sic and vis­ual arts, with a life­style that ex­tends beyond the mall. It’s a very young gen­er­a­tion. They’re hard work­ing and ea­ger to do new things, and they’re cre­at­ing a new cul­ture there. In Nairobi things hap­pen. The salaries are low and things can get re­ally tough, but you see how peo­ple push on. En­trepreneurs ex­ist, the tribe is there, and peo­ple know how to have fun.

But now you’re mov­ing your head­quar­ters to Cape Town…

Aéf­ster es­tab­lish­ing our re­tail base and flag­ship store in Nairobi, we de­cided we needed to ex­pand the brand fur­ther. We re­ally want to fo­cus on grow­ing our whole­sale foot­print as well as giv­ing our on­line chan­nel a real push. Cape Town of­fered great op­por­tu­ni­ties to do this while we keep a branch in Kenya and some of our pro­duc­tion in Rwanda. We don’t see this as a move, but more a part of our ex­pan­sion.

What’s your process like, con­sid­er­ing one of you is here and the other is based over there?

M: Warecdo every­thing to­gether, and we’re al­ways con­nected by email and WHAT­SAPP. The first step is al­ways the con­cept, and then we start work­ing from that idea. I take care of the shapes, and Inés and Nan­myak fo­cus on the fabrics and colours.

Wése be­lieve we’re en­ter­ing a new era. Be­ing con­nected is in­creas­ingly easy, and even though a face-to­face meet­ing is still the best, we’re very lucky to be able to work across coun­tries in Africa and still make things hap­pen. It in­creases our reach and our op­por­tu­ni­ties. We have a feel­ing that this will be­come the norm in just a decade. We’re al­ready see­ing peo­ple in cer­tain teams be­ing given the op­por­tu­nity to work from any lo­ca­tion. You learn how to trust what you can­not con­trol or see.

De­fine Mille Collines’ style.

Céos­ntem­po­rary, wear­able Africa.

In this edi­tion’s fash­ion story, we see clothes and ac­ces­sories from a cou­ple of Mille Collines col­lec­tions. Can you ex­plain the story be­hind the shoot?

N: we se­lected pieces from three dif­fer­ent col­lec­tions, fea­tur­ing: Tuareg-in­spired mo­tifs on airy fabrics, an­cient Swahili-in­spired mo­tifs in bursts of colour against light, flow­ing back­grounds and ac­ces­sories based on shapes mainly drawn from Swahili ar­chi­tec­ture, with pleats on jacket cuffs and dress waist­bands in­spired by Kikuyu bas­ket mo­tifs.

Where can we buy Mille Collines clothes and ac­ces­sories?

M: Warechave three shops in Nairobi and dis­tri­bu­tion in dif­fer­ent stores all over Africa, the US and Europe. There’s also the on­line shop.

Have you achieved your orig­i­nal goal? M: Warec’ll achieve our orig­i­nal goal the day Inés and I step aside and the brand con­tin­ues func­tion­ing, com­pletely in­de­pen­dent of any­one who is not from the African con­ti­nent. I:nTéh­sere is a fa­mous say­ing: ‘suc­cess is not a des­ti­na­tion, it’s a jour­ney’, and this is one hell of an ex­cit­ing one!

Inés Cu­a­tre­casas and Marc Oliver San­cho, de­sign­ers from Barcelona who are based in Rwanda,moved to Ki­gali to found the MilleCollines brand.

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