“Consumers are still shopping... but they are looking for something that is emotional and intellectual. Incorporating kangas into a modern collection is something new, and what you get are bright, beautiful pieces that have a history behind them.”
-Carol Lim, Co-Founder, Opening Ceremony
Fashion critics and retail observers sometimes refer to a fashion cycle as “a lost season” – an aesthetic and financial deluge likely to snuff out much of the industry’s promising new work. As always, however, an original idea can cut straight through the gloom – especially when it is clad in bright Kenyan plumage.
Suno New York takes vibrantly patterned East African kangas (like sarongs) and fashions them into beautiful clothing designed for venturesome fashionistas – who are drawn like magpies to the splendor of it all. Sub-Saharan ebullience must be part of fashion’s antidote for what ails us, as Suno joins the renowned Junya Watanabe and a handful of other designers in an examination of African prints. And Suno reports brisk sales of its first collection.
Suno, however, is not merely an eye-catching clothing collection. The line’s purpose is certainly to excite whichever organ governs shopping, but also to provide economic opportunities for the Kenyan fabric makers and tailors who bring their considerable skills to the company. Founder Max Osterweis is the brains behind the brand, and he answered a few questions for HAND/EYE.
H/E: Can you summarize the vision behind Suno for us?
MO: I’d like to create a visible and sustainable brand that produces high quality clothing out of Kenya while using and developing local talent. I was motivated to do something in Kenya after last year’s post-election violence, something that would help Kenya psychologically, economically, and cosmetically - in the sense that people from the outside would be able to appreciate and be introduced to a different side of Kenya. I wanted to do something that I would be proud of, that Kenyans would be proud of, while creating products that customers would be proud to own.
H/E: Your first collection has been covered in the New York Times and Time Magazine. Why has the press beaten a path to your door?
MO: I don’t really know why the press has been so wonderfully generous. It could just be the right thing at the right time. It could also be that what we’re doing is special and different, and luckily other people recognize it.
H/E: What does the stylish young woman who buys your clothes think about: looking good or doing good?
MO: She had better think about looking good! I would love it if she thought about doing good as well, but that’s not what I want Suno’s message to be. I want women to seriously covet the clothes for purely aesthetic reasons and if they feel good about their purchase because they know the story behind the brand, then more power to them!
H/E: Fashion is notorious for its demand for rapid evolution. How will you evolve over the next few seasons to stay hot?
MO: Well, fashion can also be notorious for its ‘borrowers’, so if I were to tell you now, it won’t be hot when it hits! Just keep an eye out and hopefully we’ll continue to surprise you.
H/E: Any messages from your artisan-collaborators in Kenya you would like to pass on to us?
MO: No one’s given me any notes in a bottle, but just yesterday one of the tailors I work with came up to me and said ‘I hope you are successful, because if you are, I am, too’.