Taking the brave stance of wandering into Prufrockwith the notion of a just adopting the pen and paper approach. Refusing to be accompanied by iPad or Mac book or any form of electronic communication other than the iPhone in an attempt to see how far this interview with Swedish born designer Michelle Kasujjawould go with only these tools. Admittedly it was no mean feat, particularly when to the left and the right and pretty much everywhere you turned, technology galore saturated the atmosphere. Only to later establish that the pen that was part of this experiment had been forgotten, Michelle kindly having to supply her own as we sat awaiting our Lattés and begun the interview.
[All Images Provided By Michelle Kasujja]
How important is technology to you and just how much does technology affect your design process?
MK: My goodness A lot! It is very important to me. I always need my laptop especially for research and to look for inspiration. And my phone, I can’t live without. It’s just so useful for me. I personally don’t know how people ever lived without technology. It just makes life easier.
The task for today was to be able to conduct the interview with just pen and paper and established that all writing ability due to typing, is now out of the window. Is this the same for you?
MK: I do a lot of flat sketches by hand and then recreate them on illustrator. I also use photoshop to create mood boards as well but occasionally yes I do draw and write by hand but my laptop is just easier.
How do your Ugandan origins influence your designs?
MK: I was born in Sweden and that’s where I grew up but my parents are from Uganda. Growing up in Sweden I had two different cultures. My first collection was called ‘Roots Routes.’ The concept being where I am from and my journey and the direction. I wanted a collection that would combine the two different cultures in one single look. I feel that my African heritage inspired me a lot as well as growing up in Sweden.
Were you ever able to spend time in Uganda?
MK: Yes a long time ago. I do understand the language but I don’t speak it but I do speak Swedish.
Sweden has a huge fashion following due to likes of Swedish brands H&M and Acne Jeans to name a few, but yet you still decided to move to England to follow your passions so what prompted this decision?
MK: The reason for moving to London was really British Fashion and British heritage, but the main reason for moving to London was to experience a multicultural city. You meet so many different people from all cultures and all walks of life in one city and that is what attracted me to London. All these experiences have affected my designing and enabled me to grow as a designer.
Talk us through your latest collection?
MK: The second collection focuses more on my heritage and my Africa Roots, playing around with geometric shapes and youth culture with British influences.
From having viewed your site and the invisibility instalment, your design process seems somewhat technical and structuralized, is that the same for the finished product as well? Do you specifically think of structuralized garments when designing your collections?
MK: The technical part is very important though it doesn’t always have to be technical. I usually play around with shapes first and then I try to see how I will make it wearable and this is how I design first. Sometimes I will start with a drawing and make collages or sometimes I will work on the mannequin recreating shapes and silhouettes. But though it is important it does not always have to start off as technical.
Stereotypically you always imagine that once you think of African designers, you think textiles, prints and accessories etc., but what made you choose womenswear instead of say textiles?
MK: Africa is so big and people forget that. You can draw many inspirations from African design not just in print or textiles, with many different cultures and aspects to draw ideas from. That is why in my first collection I did not use African print. You don’t always want to be too obvious.
MK: I think it depends but yes fashion should be conscious.
I am sure you are aware of the events that took place in Paris and for such an iconic fashion city do you think this will herald a new way of expression? We have seen it many a time throughout history where with a significant event or revolution comes a sort of awakening in creativity.
MK: I believe designers will respond to this and creativity will come out. As designers we try to communicate a certain message and ideas of our thoughts that we want to convey in our collections and this could also be a social issue. My collection was about combining cultures together to embrace diversity and to show an expression of individuality as a statement in fashion. But my focus is always on bringing cultures together with the vision of unity within cultural differences.
As emerging designers, do you believe that in order for you to be current and for the future of fashion, that there is a responsibility to be socially and environmentally aware and incorporate this in your production?
MK: I believe designers are socially and environmentally aware, and more designers incorporate this in their productions. Sustainability is about taking responsibility for your own actions. We have seen more designers making a fashion statement in their designs by designing clothes that are still current and trendy, by using materials that are made from organic fibres or that have less environmental impact. I have come across brands that have misused the trust of authenticity, which has been misled by using the word eco-friendly when it’s actually not, just to make a profit. I think there should be a thing like fair-trade, like a mark in clothing, which represents products that are produced in a sustainable way.
There are ways of being environmental, for example I have before recycled or deconstructed materials that have already been there and I created something new out of it. As emerging designers we are heading in the right direction and fashion is changing.
Along this journey has there even been a point when you have thought maybe this is not for me? If so what has brought you back to fashion in the end?
MK: It is a very competitive industry but ultimately you can never give up. I have worked hard and studied for this as well as interning, so you can never give up you have to have the right attitude and a positive mind. In the end it is my passion so you have to keep going until you make it. People will have their views and opinions and maybe tell you it’s not worth it, but if it is something that you want to do you have to be sure about yourself and your ability. I do read a lot, which helps and inspires me a lot to keep on with what I am doing.
You do seem like a very headstrong person, have there been any women through history that have inspired you throughout your journey?
MK: Angela Davis, Grace Jones, Toni Morrison the author. All these women inspire me also I loved the women in the 50’s and in 80’s like Grace Jones was just such a powerful woman in fashion and in the 80’s. Toni Morrison grew up in the 20’s and spoke about life in the 50’s. The main thing is that I love these women’s struggles and successes so they are some of the great woman I look to for motivation.
What are the things you miss the most about Sweden?
MK: I think I begun to appreciate Sweden more since I moved to London. Sweden is just a beautiful city and I try to incorporate the things I have learnt and the things that I miss in my designs.
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Edit & Words By: Florence Bailey