Francesca Rosset, Caterina Bortolussi: They dared to dream
Caterina Bortolussi and Francesca Rosset are the brains behind Kinabuti, a leading afropolitian fashion brand established in Nigeria in 2010. The duo take pride in designing wearable yet effortlessly chic clothing with creative & wide-ranging designs for women and men. Their fashion label set up a non-profit social enterprise called Kinabuti Fashion Initiative (KFI), which primarily aims at developing the fashion sector in Nigeria by giving the youth the opportunity to learn skills and get professional experience. For KFI, fashion is used as a platform to inspire and promote the creative spirit that resides in the most vibrant of communities around Nigeria.They also run Dare2Dream, a fashion reality show aimed at empowering young Nigerian women. In this interview with Guardian Woman, Caterina and Francesca discusses their business inspiration, love for Nigeria and the challenges they face as fashion entrepreneurs.
How and when did you decide to move to Nigeria, considering that news about Nigeria in Western media are unflattering?
We actually never decided to move to Nigeria, it just happened. God has His ways.
Caterina: I was in London working in a shipping company and looking for a job that would give me the opportunity to use more my creative skills and boom, I got offered a job that would have taken me around the world and Nigeria was the first destination. When I arrived in Nigeria in 2006, I realised that this was the place where I would have loved to realise my dreams.
Francesca: Caterina and I have been friends since our teenager times and we grew up together, motivating and supporting each other. Since she moved to Nigeria, she has been saying I should move here. I was at a crossroad, worked for 4 years in a communication agency and just came back from my leap year in Latin America. It was 2008, I needed a new challenge and I got offered a job that took me to Nigeria. I did not shake, my best friend was already there and I felt I was meant to come.
What were the initial challenges you faced coming to a new country with different culture and mentality?
There is a saying, “Nigeria is the Italy of Africa and Italy is the Nigeria of Europe.”
Caterina: My challenge, in the beginning, was the lack of friends, but God is always faithful and in Nigeria I found friends that became family.
Francesca: The biggest challenge for me was to be inside compounds, but as soon as I discovered Okadas I felt free and ready to discover.
When did the idea of Kinabuti start and how has the fashion label been able to find its feet in Nigeria?
Kinabuti started in 2010, when we had the courage to bring a dream to life. What made us different was the idea of using fashion as a vehicle for empowerment and development. This has been our strength and motivation in keeping the dream alive and not giving up.
What are the day-to-day challenges you face as fashion entrepreneurs?
Distribution, lack of a real supply chain, production, lack of power and high costs of productions
You have stopped producing in Nigeria. What’s the reason for this?
The reasons behind our decision are these: In 6 years of producing Kinabuti clothes in Nigeria we did not manage to be profitable, because our costs of production were very high. The tough economic situation in the country did not help too. Then, we shifted vision from owning and running a production outfit by hiring people to outsourcing: giving contracts to produce. We are currently working with ladies who attended our empowerment projects and worked subsequently with us. This allows us to reduce dramatically our fixed costs, increase productivity while developing our contractees into SME, who now enjoy better economic conditions than before. We like to call it the UBER model (from hired driver to self-employed driver) and in this lays the real economic empowerment.
Kinabuti is described as ‘ethical fashion label’. What does this mean?
We believe that whatever we do can have an impact in the world we are in. We do what we love, we are an ethically driven fashion label that believes in the power of creativity and using fashion and art as a platform to launch different social projects that inspire, empower and contribute to improving living conditions amongst underprivileged communities.
The finale of the season three of D2D, one of your projects, was held recently. Looking at what you have done with the project so far, do you think it is worth the investment put into it?
Dare2Dream is a platform to inspire the youths not just to dream big but to work hard to achieve their dream, to be professional and disciplined, to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone, to become a better version of themselves, no matter where one is coming from. Being a reality show showcased online (pulse Nigeria, Bella Naija, Ono Bello, Glamsquad) and on TV (Africa Magic showcase, Africa Magic Urban, Wazobia TV and Wazobia Max) is able to reach the millions of youths. The Feedback we have received from the audience is very positive – from the younger generation to the more mature. They all are fond of the project and what it stands for. So yes, it is worth it all the energy we put in. We love what we do.
What are the most important gains for participants in D2D reality show?
It is always useful to give platforms like Dare2Dream, not just to win but to be developed. Through the process of Dare2Dream and in particularly the bootcamp, the participants have learnt a lot of skills from creative directing by Canoe, online media by The Guardian, radio presentation (Cool FM), mock casting (Wazobia TV), writing a CV (Pulse Nigeria), talent management (Temple management company) to conceptualizing, producing, managing, executing and presenting an online marketing campaign for
The participants also went through a mentorship program by FCMB Flexx with the most amazing mentors such as Kelechi Amadi Obi (photographer and mania publisher), Stephanie Busari (Head of CNN Nigeria), Adesuwa Oyenokwe (TW publisher), Stephanie Okereke Linus (Nollywood actress), Zainab Ashadu (bag designer), Ejiro Amos Tafiri (designer), Azuka Ogujiuba (fashion writer), Felicia Obozuwa (FCMB), sharing their personal stories and words of wisdom. This training and exposure are very essential whether the participants win or not, they have the foundations for making great things happen in their lives.
Apart from D2D, your label has a not-for-profit arm, KFI. What are its main responsibilities?
KFI focuses on vocational education and training programmes involving fashion and fashion related professions that can promote specialisation in the field and the achievement of international standards.
How do these responsibilities fit into the vision you have for the label?
for the benefit of Nigeria ‘s fashion industry, we are stimulating growth both at a local and international level while creating sustainable development. our vision is to become a global design label associated with the creation of high fashion garments, with the aim to use fashion as a vehicle for empowerment and development.
How has working together been for both of you? What are the drawbacks and the gains of the partnership?
Our Partnership is our greater gift, we have complementary talents and we trust and support each other blindly. We are united in our vision and we face together challenges with a genuine passion for what we do together.
What growth potentials do you see in the Nigerian fashion industry?
To be honest, we have always believed in the potential of Nigerian Fashion Industry despite the challenges and the difficulties and we pray to see Nigerian designers growing in the national, regional and international market.
You debuted your Cosa Nostra and Rome collections at Sundance earlier this year. How has the experience helped in projecting Kinabuti to fashion world outside Nigeria?
The experience was very positive, the audience received the brand very well, loving the story and concept behind kinabuti and our funky clothes. We were the best sellers in the popup shop. However, this is just a first step towards the international market, and more needs to be done.
What are the inspirations behind your new Spilimbergo line?
The inspirations are the love for the place where we grew up and the values and simplicity of our motherland
Any regrets coming to Nigeria?
Absolutely no regrets, although it has been a challenging ride.
What are the future plans for Kinabuti?
We are looking at development based on the common good that generates profit and wealth for all people involved. We also hope to put in place a flexible, structured, just, light system based on a mini enterprise that collaborates with other entities with similar values maximizing productivity and scope.
We want to take the brand on the national, regional, international distribution channel remaining faithful to the principles of fairness, common good and love We look forward to an easy and simple life, being able to have a balance between professional and personal life (healthy and light cooking, reading, riding bycicle, spend time with family, friends and loved ones, travelling). We want to be able to influence the movements in ours and others people lives and have fun while we do what we love.
Favourite Nigerian fashion label: Both -Kinabuti
Best Nigerian food: Both: Moi moi that we make in the house with fava beans and coconut oil
Favourite Nigerian television series/movie: Both: Fifty
Can you marry a Nigerian? Both: Possibly
Colour to die for? Caterina: Green; Francesca: Pink
Must have fashion items: Both – boots and hats
Favourite Nigerian destination: Both – CALABAR