Sustainability has become a buzz word in fashion. From efforts to clean out the unethical practices of how fabric is produced to the artisans companies are employing, sustainability has become overtly pushed into marketing campaigns and seemingly become a monetization prize. While there are clear advancements within eco-friendly fashion practices, emerging brands are being credited for leading that forefront, while labels like Kahindo are moving into its 10th year of philanthropic and sustainable practices.
Kahindo launched in 2009 by Kahindo Mateene has continued to remain embedded in its cultural roots. Mateene who was born in Uganda, educated in Kenya and has lived in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Niger, has used her well-versed traveling experiences as cultural references to her brand. “I take a lot of inspiration from my Congolese heritage, which is very full of colored prints and very loud,” Mateene tells ESSENCE. Within the last 10 years, the designer is continuing to reach success. Now residing in New York City, Mateene has found a steady community of supporters and buyers.
Mateene was selected to take part in Macy’s fashion incubator program, and was a beloved contestant on Season 12 of Lifetime’s Project Runway. Currently she is in partnership with ReFushe – a community for refugee girls, to produce a collection in her hometown of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo which will be sold online and at Rent The Runway this summer. “We realized there was an opportunity to provide a stable income and create a workforce for women. It turns out this also allows us to be sustainable in our design and production process and give back to my community in Africa,” Mateene exclaimed.
ESSENCE got a chance to chat with Kahindo Mateene about her journey through the fashion industry, her sustainable mission, and newest collection.
“Sustainability these days is like a buzzword.” – Kahindo Mateene
ESSENCE: How has the journey been reaching year 10?
Kahindo Mateene: I think it’s been really good. When I started my brand, it was under a different name. I initially used a lot of African prints, but it’s very stiff and limiting in terms of what you can do creatively. So in the past couple of years I started designing and developing my own print. I collaborated with a Nigerian artist and took one of his art pieces and made it into a print. That kind of gives me more flexibility in terms of the types of fabric I can even print on. Developing my own prints and making it even more special and customizing that. The response has been great.
Why is ethical fashion so important to you?
Sustainability these days is like a buzzword. I really wanted to include the ethical part to it because I think it makes me stand apart from the rest of the sustainable fashion brands out there. I developed the print in Kenya. It was made by refugee women from the organization called RefuSHE. They provide everything from lodging and helping them get back to their feet. And a lot of those refugees are from Congo where I’m from. So we’re giving them a job and paying them a fair living wage so they can be able to support their children and be able to feel independent and empowered. That’s the two fold part of the ethical fashion that the handle falls under.
There was only 2 Black women who showcased at NYFW, can you speak to the hardships of being a designer who wants to step into this industry?
It’s been a struggle for me as a black female designer. There’s not only, not a lot of female designers, but a lot of black designers in the industry. It’s such a shame because having diversity in the industry brings more to it. There are not a lot of platforms that can nourish and support black fashion designers. Which has been a struggle for me to get in front of the right people who will then write about your brand and pick up your brand for the stores.
What does your newest Spring collection entail?
It’s like a breath of fresh air. I’ve been doing this for a while so there are those staples, like the boxy jumpsuits and the duster that I do them every season. More fluid pieces like the maxi shirt dress, as well as a pleaded ombre jumpsuit. I would say especially in the spring collection, there is something for everyone and its made to go from day to night. And then, this is like a little secret, but when the women wear my pieces they realize they’re always a pocket hidden.