Collective Closets is a freshly launched fashion label built on the African-Australian identities of designers Fatuma and Laurinda Ndenzako. Their debut Kabila collection is a range of clean-cut separates in busy prints bought from markets in Nairobi, Kenya and baby pink and blue linens sourced in Melbourne.
“Most of the time you see African fabrics done very loudly, with lots of layers, but we live in Fitzroy and you don’t see as much colour running around,” Fatuma says. “We thought it’d be great to do it in a way that lots of people can wear, and we wanted to share the trades we found in Nairobi because they don’t get the space or platform to do that.”
The clothing – cropped tops, tailored pants, playsuits and bomber jackets – is manufactured in Melbourne. The cushions and woven bags are made by a handful of craftspeople in Nairobi.
Among Collective Closets’ links to Nairobi is Mama Baby, the woman behind the label’s woven bags. “We just fell in love with her,” says Laurinda. “She runs her business from the shanty town in Nairobi, but when you speak to her, you’d think she was running Gucci. She’s passionate about her craft and we wanted to celebrate that.”
Neither Fatuma or Laurinda trained in fashion, but their familiarity with the design process comes from having parents handy with a sewing machine. “My dad started his own business in the Congo, doing clothing and denim,” Fatuma says. “And mum used to modify our school uniforms. We got into so much trouble for that.”