We are thrilled to be working with Joanne Kalute on new textile designs for our 100% Made in Kenya collection. She's the creative force behind our Brock On print which we're obsessed with (see: napkins, table runners AND aprons!) and now our newest design, one that we know many of you have been lusting over, it's red, it's got cheetahs all over and it's truly the Cat's Meow! We're so pleased to introduce Joanne Kalute in her own words...
When did you know you wanted to be a textile designer, and how did you get started?
I started my textile design journey in 2012 - I was part of a creative mothers group in Melbourne and one of the ladies casually mentioned the Spoonflower website where one could custom design and print their own fabrics inexpensively.
My curiosity peaked so I checked it out. My mind was blown! I already had a healthy stash of fabrics from my sewing hobby but looking at the Spoonflower website was the incentive I needed to start designing my own. They offered design resources on their blog and a handbook/ guide to fabric design. Within a short time I was designing prints for my own home decor and fashion projects.
In 2018, after moving to Sydney for a sea change, I felt I had some solid prints in my portfolio so I decided to start my own Swimwear business as a means to showcase my prints. In 2020, I pivoted my business into art licensing my patterns to other businesses for their products.
One thing we especially love about your work is the richness of color. How does this boldness reflect your personality?
I love bold colours as they make for a memorable design. Funny thing is, growing up in Nairobi, I remember being teased for my colour-clashing outfits. I come from the Kamba people who are known for their flamboyant use of colour in their dress code. What can I say? It’s in the DNA!
Tell us about the cheetahs and the eyes! Where did these ideas come from and what is the significance behind them?
My designs often have a message or meaning behind them. My Eye print was inspired by the Swahili saying- ‘Macho hayana pazia’ which translates to the ‘ Eyes have no veil.’ I designed this pattern in 2018 when the term “Stay Woke” was a popular catch-phrase. As for my Cheetah print, I designed it during the pandemic out of a nostalgia for my birth country when my plans of visiting Kenya were thwarted.
What are your primary inspirations when you create a design?
I am inspired by my Kenyan heritage and upbringing, the beauty and diversity of the African diaspora and its people and everyday living in the East Coast of Sydney. I am planning a solo exhibition in July 2021 that will be largely inspired by Swahili culture so I’m doing a lot of research on that at the moment.
How do you feel about ladies all over the world wearing your work?
I feel accomplished and fulfilled when I see my designs come to life in such beautiful ways as the Zuri dress. I love the sense of connection and community that it brings - which makes my work meaningful.
WHAT WE'RE READING // The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Maaza Mengiste's masterpiece about the Ethiopian fight against the Italians in the lead-up to WWII unveils itself slowly through the women warriors who stopped at nothing to protect their country. In turns heartbreaking, agonizing and gripping, this novel is an education in the extraordinary contribution of women in the fight for Ethiopia and an infuriating remind of the monstrosity of war.
WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // Nour by Malouma
Born in Mauritania, Malouma began singing at age 12 but had to stop when she was forced into marriage as a teenager. Her music addresses the unequal treatment of women and was banned in Mauritania in the early 90's. She has since become a world-renowned musician and politician, and I think you'll love her take on this desert blues style.
WHAT WE'RE LISTENING TO // "We Already Belong": A Conversation With R.O. Kwon on Rough Translation
In the last couple of weeks, amid all the news stories, social media declarations and magazine think pieces on anti-Asian racism and violence, I've struggled to find work that I felt spoke directly to my own experience as an Asian American woman making sense of this moment, communicating with my family and relating to the world around me. Listening to this conversation with author R.O. Kwon felt like a salve - the way she talks about when she finally worked up the courage to warn her Korean immigrant mother about going grocery shopping, to her mother's response, a list of reasons why it's okay, and instead turning the worry back onto her - it's a heartbreaking listen, but also, deeply, frustratingly real.