I recently interviewed Shingai Shinowa for the launch issue of KISUA STORIES. See more images from the shoot and read my other KISUA features here.

The Noisette’s Frontwoman on the Rhythm of African Fashion

Vocalist, bassist and fearless fashion iconoclast, the Noisette's Shingai Shoniwa is the ideal model and muse for KISUA’s launch collection. Photographed by Lena Emery at London’s Barbican performing arts centre, Shoniwa wears pieces that are the result of collaborations with designers from Kenya and Nigeria. With her signature sculptural up-do and high cheekbones, Shoniwa looks suitably iconic against the famed 1970s Brutalist architecture of the Barbican. Below the London-based performer tells KISUA about how her African heritage influences her every move.

Your mother is Zimbabwean, but you were born in London. How did you maintain your African roots growing up? 
I come from a massive African family full of laughter. My roots, my African-ness, is not something separate to me. It is part of both my physical and spiritual make-up. All the stories my aunties and uncles told me as a child, the music, the food…I grew up surrounded by Africa.

You create hyper-realities through your music. Does your love of fashion play into this?
As a child my mother dressed us in extravagant outfits for family functions and I would customize further by wearing two different color socks. I have a profound creative thirst and my eye is always roving to shapes in nature. I am inquisitive about people and the world, and of course, fashion. I love to leave the house in a striking outfit and give the occasional person a smile and a wink if they look grumpy. Fashion is such a joy to share.

What is the place of African fashion on a global stage?
If Italian fashion is the guitar, and French fashion is the string quartet, then African fashion is the rhythm. It is the bass and the drums, setting the beat. African fashion is in a really great place right now. The tempo is picking up. It has the possibility to become commercial whilst still retaining the incredible heritage that all Africans share.

Do you have an African style icon? 
My original fashion hero is my Malawian Grandmother, Gogo, who was the village dressmaker. She could stitch up a marriage and mend a broken heart with a sowing machine. With this foundation I am constantly on a journey to explore African fashion further.

How do your African roots inspire your sound with the Noisettes? 
I use my voice as an instrument to tell stories, that’s how my heritage comes through. I absolutely love African rhythm. Sometimes on stage I feel like I am a vessel to sing and represent something that is ancient—even if I don’t totally understand it at the time.

Who are your ultimate African music heroes?                             Miriam Makeba, Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and Fela Kuti.


Aldene Johnson for KISUA

I interviewed Florence Welch’s personal stylist and Durban girl Aldene Johnson for KISUA recently (you can read my other KISUA features here).

The Fashion Editor and Stylist to Florence Welch On Her African Influences

Aldene Johnson was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in Durban, South Africa, before moving to London in her early twenties. Beginning her career as the fashion editor of youth culture bible VICE magazine, Johnson first worked with Florence Welch on the now-iconic album cover for Lungs, Florence and the Machine’s debut release. Four years later, Johnson is still side by side with the high priestess of pop, dressing Welch in her now-trademark dramatic and textured silhouettes for stage, red carpet and camera. Between styling ‘Flo’ and other acts including AlunaGeorge, editorial and commercial work, and consulting for London fashion designer Georgia Harding, Johnson still finds time to regularly travel back to South Africa for downtime with family. Below she talks about the power of creative collaboration and all things (African) fashion with KISUA.

Your signature look is romantic, even mystic. How has your African heritage influenced your style? 
My style is the result of a combination of influences: my formative years spent in South Africa, my creative grandmothers and these last 10 years in the UK. Ultimately it’s about expressing myself. Florence is my muse. Our aesthetic goes hand in hand.

How would you incorporate the bold prints of KISUA into a modern look? 
It’s all about the right combinations and contrasts. Depending on the pieces, I would style the KISUA prints with clean block colours or clashing prints. And—of course—great accessories.

You often work with the same female photographers and creative talents. What is the power of collaboration between women? 
I do find strong connections with other female creatives. For me collaboration is such an exhilarating process, a coming together, to create something bigger than our individual selves.

What advice would you give young African designers hoping for recognition on a global stage? 
As with any creative endeavour, you have to stick with it. Complete dedication, hard work and belief in your work are essential. A project like KISUA lies close to my heart. I think the talent in Africa is relatively untapped and KISUA is an amazing platform for African designers.

Images: Lena Emery


KISUA PRESS LAUNCH - NEW YORK - 4th September 2013

KISUA is a novel African e-commerce platform and design incubator, launching to the US and European markets. KISUA collaborates with designers from around the continent on capsule collections, which are developed and produced by KISUA. The designers themselves take no financial risks and are paid a royalty for every garment sold. The idea behind this concept is to produce standardised, high-quality garments that adhere to international fashion trends whilst maintaining competitive middle market price points, thus presenting African fashion for the first time as a staple rather than a seasonal trend or novelty. KISUA’s vision is to contribute towards building the African fashion industry by supporting and nurturing new and established talent, suppling the access to production processes and, finally, marketing to a global audience the immense amount of talent raised in Africa.    

KISUA has a content platform which focuses on showcasing the most exciting artists, musicians, creatives and photographers from Africa and beyond. I wrote all content for the launch issue, and manage KISUA's tumblr and social media accounts. Read my stories here.