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Getting to know Lulu Kitololo!

We are so excited to be working with Lulu Kitololo on new textile designs for our 100% Made in Kenya collection, and she's also the creative force behind our fabulous greeting cards, which we'll be including in every Mother's Day shirt or dress order! *(Details below!)* Now, without further ado, we're so pleased to introduce you to Lulu Kitololo in her own words...

Your work has such an organic focus--where does your inspiration come from?

Nature is a huge inspiration for my work and, in particular, flora from my home continent, Africa. There’s so much diversity, intricacy and intrigue – I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be inspired by it.

In a lot of your designs you reference East African flora and fauna, how does your Kenyan heritage play into your work?

My work has been an opportunity for me to dig deeper into my heritage – as a Kenyan but also, more broadly as an African. My designs are an excuse for me to learn more and then share that knowledge with a wider audience, in an accessible way. My designs are also an opportunity for me to celebrate the richness of my heritage and to hopefully inspire pride and confidence in all who share it.

One thing we especially love about your illustrations is the richness of color. How does this boldness reflect your personality?

I’m an eternal optimist! I’m almost always smiling and trying to spread joy to all who I encounter. I guess that’s why I love vibrant colours. Their use was also therapeutic for me, during the many years I lived in the northern hemisphere, desperately missing the tropical climate of home!

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator, and how did you get started? 

I still have a hard time identifying as an illustrator! I trained as a communications designer, with a focus on advertising art direction. I didn’t enjoy working in advertising and, after almost quitting the creative industry altogether, I started working as a graphic designer.

A few years in, my designs started taking a more hand-drawn approach. I love putting pen to paper – it’s such a satisfying thing! People started responding to this aesthetic in my design work and it naturally led to requests for illustration work.

What was your first big break?

Interesting question – I’ve actually never thought about what my big breaks have been! There’s something about the term “big break” that makes it feel like some external forces are independently at play when, I truly believe we have the agency to make things happen for ourselves – albeit with a lot of support along the way! 

Big breakthrough moments in my career: quitting employment in 2009, to establish my independent practice (there have been challenges but, there’s been no turning back!); appearing on Lion’s Den (Kenya’s version of Shark Tank) in 2018 – an incredibly validating experience; being part of the She Trades Commonwealth programme which was an invaluable experience for learning, capacity building and the opportunity to participate in NY NOW. 

What do you think about seeing your illustrations being worn in such a functional, everyday way?  Did you ever imagine this work in textile form? 

I’m incredibly thrilled to see my work on fabric and for it to be such an intimate part of the lives of those who wear it. I’ve always wanted to explore my work on textiles and I’m excited to be doing this with a brand whose ethos and spirit is so aligned with mine.

WHAT WE'RE READING // The Year of Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

This novel is a masterwork of storytelling, weaving together the stories of young migrants from India who find themselves colliding against each other, against their dreams and against reality in cold, grey, unyielding Britain. Wrenching, urgent and unflinching, Sunjeev Sahota plunges deep into the thoughts and daily struggles of these young people whose dreams drive them as they do all they can to survive.

 

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // BLINKY BILL

Everyone's Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales

Kenya's very own Blinky Bill is one of our favorite artists. We hope you'll love this album, particularly the linked song, Atenshan, which will have you instantly dancing (consciously or otherwise!)

 

 

Fun fact: we were lucky enough to have Blinky Bill swing by our NY Shop a couple of years ago while he was on tour in the US.  Here he is on the right, rocking our men's shirt like nobody's business!

 

 

 

 

INSTA CORNER // WHO WE'RE FOLLOWING: @a.a.k.s

We've always been huge fans of Akuosa Afriyie-Kumi's bags, all handmade in Ghana, but we FLIPPED OUT when we saw her new woven pendant lighting collection, which is part of the Weaving for Change initiative, created in collaboration with @Made51_unhcr & @refugees to aid work for Malian refugee artisans living in Burkina Faso. Check her out!

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You've got mail! 📬

We first reached out to illustrator Lulu Kitololo last summer to create textile designs together, and we are so excited to be sharing a preview (of sorts) with you through her beautiful greeting cards! Don't fret, we have there textiles in production at this moment, but we thought, what main course isn't made better with an amuse bouche?

Lulu is the founder of Lulu Kitololo Studio in Nairobi, where she creates designs that celebrate diversity – drawing inspiration from nature, as well as cultures and crafts from around the world and in particular, her beloved home continent, Africa. We're thrilled to be able to share her gorgeous cards with you, and hope that they will help to spread joy wherever they go! PS Check in next week for an artist's interview with Lulu!

WHAT WE'RE READING // The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

Once you start reading this novel, I promise you won't be able to put it down. Through the stories of two families who give everything up to come to America, Henriquez shares the stories of an entire community -- individual stories of love, live and American dreams. These are deeply relatable stories, immigrant or not - how we deal with guilt, how we shelter those we love from pain, and how we all suffer from unseen, unspoken and unpredictable consequences - she shares the profound humanity in the inhumane.

 

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // Tell Them, I Am with Misha Euceph

We love listening to these conversations between Misha and her guests about defining experiences in their lives. Each guest and story varies but they are connected by the thread of being Muslim voices in America. From last week's episode with Jewher Ilham about her father, a Uyghur professor and human rights advocate to chef Reem Assil and early her love for filmmaking, these are fun and engaging listens!

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // LADY DONLI

Born in Cleveland and raised in Abuja, Lady Donli brings a cross cultural perspective to her music, which bounces between R & B, alternate jazz, highlife and Afrobeat, all in a desire to provide a sense of escapism.  Let's join her, shall we?

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Getting to know Joanne!

We are thrilled to be working with Joanne Kalute on new textile designs for our 100% Made in Kenya collection. She's the creative force behind our Brock On print which we're obsessed with (see: napkinstable runners AND aprons!) and now our newest design, one that we know many of you have been lusting over, it's red, it's got cheetahs all over and it's truly the Cat's Meow! We're so pleased to introduce Joanne Kalute in her own words...

When did you know you wanted to be a textile designer, and how did you get started?

I started my textile design journey in 2012 - I was part of a creative mothers group in Melbourne and one of the ladies casually mentioned the Spoonflower website where one could custom design and print their own fabrics inexpensively.

My curiosity peaked so I checked it out. My mind was blown! I already had a healthy stash of fabrics from my sewing hobby but looking at the Spoonflower website was the incentive I needed to start designing my own. They offered design resources on their blog and a handbook/ guide to fabric design. Within a short time I was designing prints for my own home decor and fashion projects.

In 2018, after moving to Sydney for a sea change, I felt I had some solid prints in my portfolio so I decided to start my own Swimwear business as a means to showcase my prints. In 2020, I pivoted my business into art licensing my patterns to other businesses for their products.

One thing we especially love about your work is the richness of color. How does this boldness reflect your personality?

I love bold colours as they make for a memorable design. Funny thing is, growing up in Nairobi, I remember being teased for my colour-clashing outfits. I come from the Kamba people who are known for their flamboyant use of colour in their dress code. What can I say? It’s in the DNA!

Tell us about the cheetahs and the eyes! Where did these ideas come from and what is the significance behind them?

My designs often have a message or meaning behind them. My Eye print was inspired by the Swahili saying- ‘Macho hayana pazia’ which translates to the ‘ Eyes have no veil.’ I designed this pattern in 2018 when the term “Stay Woke” was a popular catch-phrase. As for my Cheetah print, I designed it during the pandemic out of a nostalgia for my birth country when my plans of visiting Kenya were thwarted.

What are your primary inspirations when you create a design?

I am inspired by my Kenyan heritage and upbringing, the beauty and diversity of the African diaspora and its people and everyday living in the East Coast of Sydney. I am planning a solo exhibition in July 2021 that will be largely inspired by Swahili culture so I’m doing a lot of research on that at the moment.

How do you feel about ladies all over the world wearing your work?

I feel accomplished and fulfilled when I see my designs come to life in such beautiful ways as the Zuri dress. I love the sense of connection and community that it brings - which makes my work meaningful.

WHAT WE'RE READING // The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Maaza Mengiste's masterpiece about the Ethiopian fight against the Italians in the lead-up to WWII unveils itself slowly through the women warriors who stopped at nothing to protect their country. In turns heartbreaking, agonizing and gripping, this novel is an education in the extraordinary contribution of women in the fight for Ethiopia and an infuriating remind of the monstrosity of war.

 

 

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // Nour by Malouma

Born in Mauritania, Malouma began singing at age 12 but had to stop when she was forced into marriage as a teenager. Her music addresses the unequal treatment of women and was banned in Mauritania in the early 90's. She has since become a world-renowned musician and politician, and I think you'll love her take on this desert blues style.

 

 

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // "We Already Belong": A Conversation With R.O. Kwo‪n‬ on Rough Translation

 

In the last couple of weeks, amid all the news stories, social media declarations and magazine think pieces on anti-Asian racism and violence, I've struggled to find work that I felt spoke directly to my own experience as an Asian American woman making sense of this moment, communicating with my family and relating to the world around me. Listening to this conversation with author R.O. Kwon felt like a salve - the way she talks about when she finally worked up the courage to warn her Korean immigrant mother about going grocery shopping, to her mother's response, a list of reasons why it's okay, and instead turning the worry back onto her - it's a heartbreaking listen, but also, deeply, frustratingly real.

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Gallery Hopping in Nairobi!

Every month in our newsletter, we feature an artist in Kenya whose work we especially love. This past weekend, we dropped in at One Off Gallery to see some of our favorite paintings, and share them with you in context. The gallery itself is nestled on a leafy hill, set up like a treehouse overlooking a bucolic, tropical landscape filled with jasmine, bougainvillea and a fabulous, meandering sculpture garden.  We hope you'll love this virtual walkabout and keep your eyes open for the work of these artists in the future, wherever in the world you may be! 

Fitsum Berhe

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Fitsum is an Eritrean artist living and working in Nairobi. His sizeable, intense portraits are an enquiry into the social, political and geographical influences in the construction of identity and the self. You can see more of his work HERE!

 

 

Allan 'Think' Kioko

Allan Kioko is a 26-year-old self-taught visual artist, illustrator and muralist. His studio is based at the BSQ Crew Train Wagon Studio Nairobi, a creative space that was started by veteran artist Patrick Mukabi to nurture young talent.  He is truly an artist to watch, and more of his work can be found HERE!

 

 

Peter Ngugi

A one-time shoe salesman, Peter is interested in people as they go about their daily business. Here, he depicts a scene at the local kiosk, set off by a poster-style repeat of Golden Fry brand cooking oil, which is the item most frequently bought. Sales are recorded in a small book (held by the owner), thus the work's title "Small Book Clique."

 

INSTA CORNER // WHO WE'RE FOLLOWING: @SHONIBARESTUDIO

We first saw Yinka Shonibare's British Library at the Tate museum in London. The exhibition made a huge impression on us, and we've been following along with his work ever since. Here's a sculpture shown at the Royal Academy of Arts, depicting a young, female figure struggling against an unseen force--an especially meaningful piece right now.

 

 

 

WHAT WE'RE READING // The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

“The only difference between lying and acting was whether your audience was in on it, but it was all a performance just the same.”

The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

 

 

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // Rudaviro by Oliver Mtukudzi

Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi was a legend, considered to have been Zimbabwe's most renowned and internationally recognized cultural icons of all time. He sings in Shona as well as Ndebele and English, and we hope you'll enjoy this Tiny Desk Concert he performed at NPR studios back in 2013! ⬇️

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AHOY! We've Started a Bookclub!

We're FINALLY starting a bookclub! We're thrilled that the wonderful Ubax of Cheche bookshop in Nairobi will be leading it, and we can't wait to get started on our first read: We Do This 'Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba.

We'll be hosting our first get-together via Zoom on Sunday, April 11th at 1PM EST (10AM PST).  The discussion will last about an hour, but feel free to drop in or out! We'll all be on, and we'd love to see you! 

And now, for the details:

BOOKSHOP!

Wondering where to get your copy? We'll have each bookclub book available on our Bookshop, here

For those of you based in Nairobi, Cheche will be offering a 10% discount on all Zuri bookclub selections!

 

 

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING // "We Are American Soldiers" Virtual Screening

As some of you may know, the owners of 363 Bleecker are a wonderful family who took a chance on us and we've never looked back :) The patriarch of the family, Mr. KY Yee passed away last spring, but his legacy lives on. His granddaughter, Katie, made a documentary that is screening TONIGHT about his life and the larger story of Chinese American soldiers during WWII. Mr. Yee immigrated to the US as a child, served during WWII as a member of an all-Chinese American unit, and became a beloved figure in both the West Village and Chinatown in NYC. His story is an American story, and especially in light of the horrifying wave of hate crimes towards Asian Americans spreading across the country, it's an important reminder that the battles that he and his fellow Chinese American soldiers fought on American soil after serving on behalf of this country continue on. We can't recommend this film enough!

INSTA CORNER! WHO WE'RE FOLLOWING: @trevor_stuurman

Ever since we first saw one of Trevor Stuurman's beaded bicycles in the Maboneng neighborhood of Johannesburg, we've been in awe of this 28-year-old dynamo. A photographer and visual artist, Trevor incorporates his heritage into his work with an eye toward travel and fashion. Trust us--you'll love seeing the world through his eyes.  

*Portrait of Trevor Stuurman by Bisa Butler

 

 

WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // Ebo Taylor

This album is a lost treasure of Ghanaian highlife.  According to the music label, "for reasons that no-one (including Ebo) can now fully recall, the master tapes got shelved in a dusty backroom in Tabansi’s Onitsha HQ. Where they remained, undisturbed, unreleased, unplayed, for almost forty years.” 

 

 

WHAT WE'RE READING// We Do This 'Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba

What if social transformation and liberation isn’t about waiting for someone else to come along and save us? What if ordinary people have the power to collectively free ourselves? In this timely collection of essays and interviews, Mariame Kaba reflects on the deep work of abolition and transformative political struggle.

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