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Global Designer Spotlight: 54 Kingdoms — From Ghana To The Globe


 

54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

54 Kingdoms

 

 

Kingdom Come: Fashion Storytelling

 

By: Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

Ottawa, Canada

 

In 1948, over 500 Jamaican and Barbadian men boarded the Empire Windrush, leaving the sunny shores of their Caribbean islands for an uncertain future in Britain.

 

They landed at Tilbury docks in London, and would be part of a first wave of Caribbean migration to the United Kingdom ending in 1955.

 

But decades later, the Tilbury docks migration inspired a collection of lemon yellow, grasshopper green, raspberry and tangerine pants, the warm hues a nod to a distant, dreamy memory of the Caribbean, by American based, Ghana-born designers Nana Poku and Kwaku Awuah, the brain-trust behind design house 54 Kingdoms.

 

“Fashion,” says 54 Kingdoms, “shouldn’t be just about aesthetics; it should be the thread that interweaves our culture and identity, into the fabric of life that displays the pattern of our pride and self-expression.”

 

54 Kingdoms puts history and story-telling at the centre of its design.  Every thread, every stitch tethers the fashionista to the shores of Africa and beyond.

 

The Tilbury pant, for example, is threaded with a different colour stitch representing the different journeys and paths embarked on in life.  And at the foot of the pant, the 54 Kingdoms logo – an anchor signifying that “although traveled, your Kingdom awaits your return.”

 

The Tilbury pant by 54 Kingdoms

The Tilbury pant by 54 Kingdoms

 

54 Kingdoms has explored the Maasai shield, reimagining the warrior’s defense as a strong, simple, and streamlined pencil skirt and sleek dress.  And with its Bonoman belt, designers give a nod to Ghana’s sacred Kente Cloth, weaving blue, green, black, white and other hues to create a story.

 

In an interview with Ramp1885, 54 Kingdoms explains why and how they design and storytell through fashion to ‘Educate, Empower and Motivate.’

 


Where does the name 54 Kingdoms come from?

 

What if there was a clothing line that integrated historical and culturally tailored designs and concepts from the African Diaspora? This was the question raised by our CEO & Founder, Nana Poku, during his senior of college to spark the idea of 54 Kingdoms.

 

The thought of designing using the Diaspora as a source of inspiration helped in developing the company name, 54 Kingdoms. The number ‘54’ symbolized the total number of countries in Africa at time of the company’s establishment and the word ‘Kingdoms,’ signifies that each and every African country is a part of a larger kingdom spanning overseas to form the African Diaspora.

 

54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

Gorgeous pencil skirts by 54 Kingdoms

 

54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

The Tilbury Pant by 54 Kingdoms

 

 

Where do you find your inspiration?

 

We are inspired by a lot of things: Pan-African history and stories, the natural and environmental beauty of the African Diaspora along with its different culture. Most importantly, learning inspires us! They say, knowledge is power, and they never lied. The more we learn, the more we discover. Every design at 54 Kingdoms has a significant connection to the overall product and the consumer wearing it. Some call it “knowledgeable fashion.”

 

 

How do you decide what aspect of cultural design you will highlight?

 

Storytellers In FashionTM – Every article of clothing or accessory designed at 54 Kingdoms is driven by the collection name. The collection name dictates which elements and stories to incorporate in each design. Concept creation at 54 Kingdoms is a very long and exhaustive process, but one that we are very proud of. Since we don’t design just to design, instead to educate, empower and motivate, all collections need to be researched and made relevant. Meaning, we ask ourselves the question, “How can we produce a single design that allows our consumers to be educated, empowered about what they have learned, and motivated to pursue knowledge, all at the same time?” Overtime, we have become history enthusiasts; because of the research and stories we have to discover in order to produce concepts.

 

Realistically, we convert historical and factual text into fashion – a very unique model. As we sometimes say, ‘let us show you, what we are about to tell you’.

 

 

Brilliant bags by 54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

Brilliant "Sankofa" travel bags by 54 Kingdoms

 

 

What do you mean by “It’s a Kulture, not a Brand!” ?

 

Brands come and go, but our cultures remain and adapt with changing times. At 54 Kingdoms we say, “When dressing, put on your pride first”, All that we are and do; we owe it to the Diaspora, which is our source for inspiration. The Diaspora is made up of different cultures, and 54 Kingdoms’ mission is to unite the Diaspora by telling our own stories through fashion. Hence, we are sharing our ‘kulture’ with the rest of the world.

 

 

How do you educate through fashion with “Educate, Empower and Motivate!

 

Through conception, creation and sale of product, we keep the art of storytelling as our principal product differentiator. Due to the extensive, historical and cultural content behind every crafted piece, each purchased collection item is accompanied with a descriptor, detailing the design inspiration for that particular product.

 

 

University of Afrika shirts by 54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

University of Afrika (UoA) shirts by 54 Kingdoms

 

 

Among the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, only men can be warriors.  What should we interpret from your reimagining of the Maasai shield as a woman’s pencil skirt and dress?

 

In the Maasai culture, women do more than they are credited for. The strength of a Maasai warrior (man) is reflected in the image of the woman who stands beside him. It takes a warrior to understand and appreciate another. The 54 Kingdoms’ Maasai pieces reveal the hidden reality that women are not only beautiful, but also extraordinary and powerful beyond measure.

 

 

What story do you want us to remember from your Bonoman belts?

 

People know kente to come from Ghana, but little has been said about Bonoman, where it originated. The Bonoman belt pays homage to the the origin of kente, which is Bonoman in the Akan empire, Ghana.  One of the many ways of sharing  Pan-African stories through our products.

 

Massai inspired dresses by 54 Kingdoms

Maasai inspired dresses by 54 Kingdoms

 

Beautiful belts from 54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

Beautiful belts from 54 Kingdoms

 

 

Tell us more about your involvement with the Ghana Youth Forum and the Edeyo Foundation?

 

54 Kingdoms places a premium on being a good corporate citizen and since entering the fashion industry in 2009, we incorporated a Community Outreach Initiative (C.O.I.) policy. Through donations and/or collaborations, we work with existing non-profit organizations serving people and communities within the Pan-African Community. The primary focus of our C.O.I. includes: Education, Positive Youth Development, Human Rights, Agriculture, Sustainable Energy and HIV/AIDS.

 

In partnership with Africa Youth Network (AYONET) in Ghana, we co-sponsor the Ghana Youth Forum; a nationwide youth forum in Ghana that engages the youth in national issues, governance and contribute to the decision making process of the nation. Nana and Kwaku are among the dedicated officials (Board of Advisors) driving this effort to help young people in Ghana acquire the skills, self-confidence, and opportunity to participate fully, freely, and responsibly in their communities.

 

In Haiti, our collaboration with Edeyo Foundation, a Haitian non-profit organization based in New York City is to help raise funds to support the effort of providing free education for the children of Bel-Air, Port-Au Prince.

 

Our previous visit in 2011 to Haiti allowed us to make a company donation to help with reconstruction of the school, which was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake; review the school curriculum and provide insights in ways to improve the institution. In 2012, 54 Kingdoms donated a tee-shirt design to the students of Joyous Heart School. Edeyo Foundation decided to make it the official after school tee shirt for all students.

 

 

Can you tell us about the inspiration for the Edeyo t-shirt design?

 

Education is the Answer – with education being the focus of Edeyo’s philanthropic work in Haiti through the establishment of Joyous Heart School, the design illustrates students raising their hands in the classroom to answer the call for education.  Hope through Edeyo – the second interpretation of the design, depicts the action of the children reaching out to Edeyo as a sign of hope.

 

 

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation of traditional elements of African fashion and style?

 

It is important for designers tell and/or share stories behind the use of certain traditional elements in their styles (e.g. their use of prints, symbols and icons).

 

 

How can fashionistas make sure they’re buying culturally respectful clothing?

 

Research designers who are sharing and giving credit to the source of inspiration behind their designs. This may not matter to most fashionistas during the point of purchase, but you are either part of the problem or the solution.

 

"Maasai Classique" 54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

"Maasai Classique" 54 Kingdoms an online fashion destination celebrating the African style sensibility.

 

 

 

What’s next in your storytelling/fashion quest? We are planning our first international Storytellers in Fashion event. We can’t reveal details until its confirmed. In addition, we will launch our Hybrid collection II for the 2014 FIFA World Cup by March of next year.

 

 

Keep up with 54 Kingdoms Twitter: @54kingdoms, or on Facebook.com/54kingdoms & Instagram.com/54kingdoms. 

Shop at 54Kingdoms.com

 

Photography courtesy of 54Kingdoms.com

 

Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé is a writer, budding world traveler, and explorer of the ateliers of fashion artisans around the world. She tweets @Isabelle_BT and blogs at isabellebourgeault-tasse.tumblr.com. ­­­­­­­

 

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