Quite a lot has changed since African Trendsetters Sydney and Zedekiah met at St. Paul’s Lubinu Boys High School in Mumias, Kenya. For one, the 24-year-olds are no longer classmates but rather best friends who traded in their uniforms and textbooks for slim-fit trousers and sewing machines.
When the duo—nicknamed “Syd” and “Zeddie”—launched Blackbird Jeans in 2008, they shared a desire to change the way the world looked at African fashion and the way Kenyans viewed their own style. Known for mixing bold prints and patterns, Syd and Zeddie create aesthetically challenging collections that pair earth tones and vertical stripes, with ankara and plaid fabrics similar to those traditionally worn by East Africa’s Maasai tribe. In 2011, they took their signature style to the U.S. for their debut at Africa Fashion Week New York, a move that has been well received.
Two years later, the design duo are still representing Africa. Syd and Zeddie may be men of little words, relying heavily on their design talent to communicate, but their vibrant personal style speaks volumes. They are currently in the process of fully rebranding their company as Blackbird Designs, and with their recently released Spring/Summer ’13 look book they have found a new direction with a collection of tailored suits in vibrant colors like red and yellow. The suits symbolize a renewed vision for the childhood friends, who are still working to achieve their goal of taking African fashion to world.
AFRICA.COM: What does Africa mean to you?
BLACKBIRD: We are proud Africans. That’s where we were born and raised. Being African totally influences the core of our roots, and we thank Africa for raising us, nurturing our gift and talent. It’s a beautiful place filled with many talents. As designers, it’s our first market.
“Africa is our mentor, inspiration and our greatness. It’s our mother and father at the same time.”
AFRICA.COM: How did you become a leader within the space you operate in?
BLACKBIRD: We started as our own employees and grew with the business through hard work and dedication and following our passion. It’s also been a lot teamwork. We’ve changed the way Kenyan guys look at fashion. When people saw that we as these young designers could move to New York, people in Nairobi started taking [fashion] more seriously. Now, we set trends back home with how we dress. Recently, we had [U.S. artist] Chris Brown try on our suits, and we’re beginning to capture more customers in New York, Kenya and L.A.
AFRICA.COM: There are two common narratives: “Africa is Rising” and “Africa Needs Aid”. Which is it, or could it be both?
BLACKBIRD: Both are true. It used to be Africa Needs Aid, but now, Africa is rising.
AFRICA.COM: What do you see being the role of the African diaspora living abroad?
BLACKBIRD: Since you can’t forget your roots, the role of the African diaspora is to invest their resources and to help grow the economy of their mother land. A lot of people think Africa is a place where there is poverty, but the continent is beautiful.
“The diaspora is the engine. They will bring enlightenment.”
AFRICA.COM: You’re part of what is being called a “new generation of leaders” – what does that mean to you?
BLACKBIRD: First, we are humbled to be part of the new generation of young leaders and that means that we have a major role in the current society to play. [We should] be inspiring people by setting a good example, educating and opening doors for others through the work that we do. It’s also a challenge to put that on ourselves as future leaders. Young people are the new generation and we have a great vibe to inject into everything. We have new ways of creating for high fashion. We think deeply.
AFRICA.COM: What is your message to young Africans wanting to make a difference, but are not sure where to start?
SYDNEY: There’s never anything like the right time to do something. You just have to start doing it.
ZEDEKIAH: You have to research, ask questions and do some more research.
“Learn about the history and what Africa stands for, and you need to be courageous. You have to be sure of who you are and that your not backing down.”