Kente Gentlemen: a sophisticated look at sustainable fashion - Bubblegum Club

Kente Gentlemen: a sophisticated look at sustainable fashion

Receiving a package is usually a pleasant thing to experience but in the case of Aristide Loua, a gift can be life-changing. While working in South Carolina as a bookkeeper, Loua got two wax shirts that re-invigorated a sense of pride and longing for Côte d’Ivoire; a country he had not stepped foot in for a decade. More importantly, it would set the stage for his next move and ignite a fiery passion that was “inside of me that eventually burst out of the seams.”

Kente Gentlemen was formed in 2017 in the city of Abidjan. It is characterised by a contemporary, sleek and sophisticated aesthetic with sustainability at the heart of the business. The brand prides itself in working with local craftsmen and women and in-house ateliers to achieve high-quality garments.

Bubblegum Club sits down with Aristide Loua to talk about his journey into becoming a designer.

Kente Gentlemen

Photograph by Marc Posso

Lee Nxumalo: When did you discover you had a love for fashion?

Aristide Loua: Basically, it was a combination of three things. First, we used to play a game called ‘tout-complet’. Essentially, it was a game between us kids where we would watch people walking by and look at their outfits and whoever was wearing an all-matching outfit because ‘complet’ means that. We’d see who was the best dressed or who was the best matched. The other reasons [involve] my parents. My dad worked for the city as a public accountant and I remember watching him dress and put together a suit. He was elegantly dressed and that had an effect on me, especially growing up. My mother had an eye for fabrics, textiles, colour and design. She would collect fabrics and joke that she was collecting them for future-in-laws or daughter-in-law [laughs].

Lee Nxumalo: You’ve had a long journey that involves moving to multiple cities and a change in careers in order to get here. How come your journey into fashion wasn’t linear?

Aristide Loua: In my early teens, I fell in love with mathematics. In the beginning, it was very fascinating. I was amazed by how simple maths was. At first, I invested time into studying mathematics up until college. I was basically a nerd and at that point, my interest in fashion wasn’t really there. It was only when I was in New York that I discovered arts and music. I immersed myself in American culture and the [Harlem] Renaissance with music, literature, arts, photography, and fashion.

Once I graduated, I started working as a bookkeeper so that my degree would be worth something. Then eventually, I moved from New York to South Carolina and received [the] two wax shirts from my mother. I was just like, ‘wow’, this is something I remember seeing in the streets back in the day. And I thought, ‘this is me, this is my culture’. And as someone like me who had not been back at home for ten years, fashion became that vehicle to communicate my background and also represent where I’m from and what I am about.

Kente Gentlemen

Photograph by Alexandre Tako

Kente Gentlemen

Photograph by Marc Posso

Lee Nxumalo: New York made a major impression on you. Have any other places you have lived in (New Delhi, Utah, South Carolina, and Ivory Coast) influenced the way you think about fashion?

Aristide Loua: I will say, not necessarily. I was quite young in India; about 15 or 16 years old. I think I reference their culture and how they appreciate the simplicity of life – it reminds me of back home. I love their colours and the vibrancy.

Utah is great for the outdoors but it is not inspiring creatively.

As for my own country, I remember when I came back, I discovered what fashion is here. The element of ‘made-to-order’ and the uniqueness of having a piece made just for you. I liked discovering that fashion in Africa is not limited to wax print. There was the baoule and senoufo fabric and the ability to design my own textile which was very influential to my brand.

Lee Nxumalo: Your mother is a big reason why you got into fashion. Has she had any influence on the design process or how you manage the business?

Aristide Loua: I remember when I first started the brand, I would go looking for fabric and she would compliment me and say that I had good taste. Her opinion was very important in terms of the selection of fabrics and the designing process as well because she has a good eye and taste. In the beginning, she connected me to the tailors that I am working with. She has always been supportive and she always brings good energy and good critique.

Lee Nxumalo: Why is the use of local craftsmen and women so important to you?

Aristide Loua: I think what is important for me in our processes is that we involve as much local talent as possible. For instance, if I were to work with fabric coming from the outside, I get a cut but the artisans don’t. Our business model allows the artisans and tailors we work with to get a cut.

Kente Gentlemen

Photograph by Keren Lasme

Photograph by Akoh

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