Kente Gentlemen tells a compelling story of romance and elegance through fashion, photography, creative writing and art direction while presenting a dobale (gesture of respect) to the socio-cultural heritage of continental and diasporan Africans. Once again, Gifted54, in its quest to promote and encourage initiatives aiming at empowering our continent is proud to introduce a multifaceted brand whose striking visuals and concept illustrate and celebrate the beauty, complexity and meanings of West African fabric. Aristide Loua Jr., Founder and Art Director of Kente Gentlemen, a young Ivorian with a cultural background worthy of a diasporan African, gives us an insight into the vision and ethic of ‘KG’. In addition, he tells us about his passions, what inspired him to create this sartorial brand and how he as a maths geek became obsessed with culture.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Aristide Loua, I am the Founder, Creative Director and Brand manager of Kente Gentlemen. I was born in Gadouan, a city located in the Western region of Côte d’Ivoire and I am currently living in Abidjan. When I was a teenager, my whole family moved to India where I lived for about 5 years, studying and travelling around major cities such as Delhi, Goa, Bangalore and so on. It was a life-changing move but I had the chance to discover a new culture, meet different people, and experience the world outside of my comfort zone. It was also very fascinating to be in such a very ‘colourful’ and spiritual environment. I then moved to the United States where I studied science and mathematics in college and worked for an auto care company for a few years. In terms of my passions, I am mostly interested in fashion, African / African American history, photography, politics, and music such as the 90s hip-hop, jazz and neo soul.
What is Kente Gentlemen?
First of all, the brand name is inspired from the well-known Kente cloth which is part of the Ashanti kingdom heritage. When you say ‘Kente’, people think about West Africa, Ghana especially and it is also an element of pride among the African Americans. Then, we have ‘Gentlemen’: they are dandy, fashion-oriented; they dress well and have good manners. But in essence, Kente Gentlemen is a bespoke and ethical tailoring brand which celebrates cultural heritage and local craftsmanship. It is also a creative agency which provides an array of services to different clients. With that said, KG wants to make sure that everyone visiting our online page have a unique experience through visual arts, creative writing, cultural documentation as well as travel since, one can for example read the poem of a particular garment or virtually travel and learn about African cities and culture.
What are the inspirations behind ‘KG’?
When I was in college, the side of my brain concerned with mathematics, physics and science was on, whereas the other one interested in liberal arts was kind of ‘off’. However, when I moved to New York in the early 2012, I started being exposed with current passions, fashion especially. Soon after attending the New York Fashion Week, during fall of 2013, a huge window of interest into my own background opened up. Plus, the fact that I had not returned to my country for more than 10 years pushed me to deeply explore my cultural heritage through different means and art forms. The idea of Kente Gentlemen moved beyond brainstorming when my mother sent me wax print shirts made in India. Those shirts were of good quality. However, I noticed that in the US, the wax print market was abundant in women fashion and less so in men fashion. Even when it was available, the quality was not up to par. This was a decisive thought in developing KG.
What sort of clothing Kente Gentlemen offers? And what is the theme behind the Première Collection?
We offer ready-to-wear, but more so bespoke tailoring shirts, shorts and suits, which in practice conforms to how locals dress here. Men and women often go to the tailor to have their clothes made ‘sur mesure’. They are involved in the production process, as they choose the fabric and provide their own unique measurements.
For the Première Collection, as well as the others, we are very interested in three things: Poetry, Colour and Culture. Poetry in the sense of how someone feels when wearing the fabric – does it align with their personality, their state of mind, their moods and aspirations? Because I believe that there is an intricate relationship between the self and our own style. Then we have Colour, which is very present in Africa. When I came back to Côte d’Ivoire, I saw colours everywhere, in markets, in the streets, on people and it is also very present in fashion here as well. Finally, Culture is the backbone of Kente Gentlemen and deserves the respect and praise. It is who we are. Some pieces have origins deep within the fabric culture of our local regions. The pieces remain at the crossroads, between traditionally handmade fabrics and modern designs. It is a translation of our heritage into modernity. We want to make sure that we represent our local regions and respect the work that they do, making and tailoring these fabrics. They have a lot of importance here in our community, they tell a story through complex designs and concealed moral codes.
Who is Kente Gentlemen for?
At KG, we want to create something outside of the norm – something that speaks to us, but to you as well. So on one hand, Kente Gentlemen is for everyone regardless of sex, gender, status and cultural background; and on the other hand, it speaks louder to the Afropolitan, he or she who is part of the diaspora to some extent, has travelled to different places, and became immersed in various societies. As we sincerely all belong to this small village of people, bonded by the exchange of ideas, culture, and values.
Where did you shoot the photographs for KG lookbook and why?
For our catalogue, we wanted to be pragmatic and actually show how the clothes we offer fit multiple settings. We wanted the result to be aesthetically vibrant and speak to the brand identity. We also wanted to shy away from the usual shopping experience whereby the model stands in front of a white background. So the shoot for our Première Collection mainly took place in different neighbourhoods of Abidjan such as Marcory, Plateau. We also went to Assinie-Mafia, and Dakar Senegal, where we shot around the city, and especially at the African Renaissance Monument and the Lake Retba for the second chapter of our Visual Poetry section.
Can you tell us a bit more about KG photographers? They have done an incredible work.
We have a couple of photographers who worked on the lookbook, with one who wants to remain anonymous at this stage. I also contributed to some of the photographs. As you can see, I am the main model for the collection because I did not want to go through the process of finding a model and struggle to communicate the vision that I had for each photo shoot. I wanted everything to be right; I wanted to set the tone right. Dadi, a good friend of mine whom I met when I moved back to Abidjan spoke the same language as me. I admired his work, and he understood the idea that I had. So he came on board for the project and contributed to most of the photographs of the collection.
Le Jardin – Visual Poem.
By definition, Visual poetry is poetry or art in which the visual arrangement of text, images, and symbols is important in conveying the intended effect of the work. Our passions for writing and visual arts will also be conveyed on this section. There must be beauty, charm, grace, poetry, and color being manifested through this work. We must show the talent of many creative individuals, and, at times, the great of work of literary geniuses who came before us.
What are the future ambitions for KG?
In the future, we want to explore different things associated with style such as accessories, different types of clothing for men and even develop into women fashion. But most importantly, we want to remain ourselves and stay true to Kente Gentlemen vision and identity.
Any words of advice for upcoming entrepreneurs?
Be yourself, be passionate, and work hard. Keep pushing and believing, even in times of mental and physical exhaustion. Respect your work, and that of others, and the customers. Bring in quality, and please give us the story.
Find Kente Gentlemen on:
Online Store: www.kentegentlemen.com