Bold colors, mesmerizing, artisanal prints; both signatures of traditional style on the African continent. For many designers of the African Diaspora, these staples are the building blocks of many collections. One of the newest up-and-coming designers to take up the mantle of African style is Kahindo Mateene and her Modahnik brand.
“Part of the mission of my line is to be ethical and use fair trade practices. As it’s hard for me to do the fabrication [for the line] and custom work at the same time, I have a production facility that I will be working with in Kenya [SOKO Kenya] & they will be producing my line with fair, living wages, good working conditions, employing underprivileged people,” explained the designer to Ladybrille Magazine.
Modahnik provides a fresh take on the traditional view of African style and through the use of Mateene’s fair trade business practices, equal parts polish and precise tailoring, the line is surely going to be one to watch in the coming seasons.
The Fabric of Life
The daughter of a Congolese diplomat, Mateene spent her childhood traveling throughout Africa, including countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger and Nigeria. Mateene had the privilege of seeing elements of style across the African continent first hand at a very early age.
“A lot of people think of Africa as one country; but it’s so many countries and so many different cultures from East to Central, from East to West, the clothing is different. The style of clothing is different but one thing is common – the love of color and prints. I really wanted to incorporate that in my line that’s why I use print. It’s an African cultural identity. Our mothers, our aunts, women in the marketplace [all wore it], it’s just beautiful. My mom passed at young age; I always saw pictures of her wearing the style of that era my mom was a fashionista in that era, so that influenced me a lot,” explained Mateene.
“I take inspiration from a lot of different things. I love culture. The silhouette I use is classic but I make it my own by the cuts, prints, and color choices. I travel a lot so I take a lot from that. . . I just gather all of the different inspiration on a mood board,” continued Mateene. “I start streamlining it, sketching, thinking about which prints and color; do the pattern work, and get the collection together. I always design 15 pieces I want to make it cohesive so I whittle it down to my strongest pieces.”
After attending primary and secondary school in Kenya, Mateene traveled to the United States to enroll at Blackburn College in Illinois, where she studied International Business.
Sewing a Pattern
At that time Mateene herself says she had no higher-level interest in fashion, but she would dress to the nines for class and people took notice.
“I was not involved in anything fashion related. Most of the clothing I had was made using African print I got a lot of attention from people who saw me going to class head to toe in bright prints. I guess it was a shock to people. I would dress up every day people would look at me and say ‘Where are you going?’,” she said.
Upon graduating with her Bachelor’s degree, Mateene worked in corporate America for a number of years before deciding that her true passion lay in fashion and entrepreneurship. In 2004 Mateene enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Art to formally begin her study of fashion design. She eschewed her job and immersed herself in all things fashion.
“I didn’t know that I wanted to be a fashion designer until after working in corporate America and seeing that I had that entrepreneurial spirit. I figured that if I could work for myself, I could really make a difference. I wanted to learn about the industry & all aspects of the industry. I worked for a local Chicago designer (Bess Lambert of Scarlet Designs) who made dresses out of upholstery fabric. I worked on the wholesale side of the business. I had a lot of internships. I worked at H&M because I’d never worked in retail setting before. I helped out at different fashion shows to get to know that side of fashion production,” she said.
A Stitch in Time
After graduating from the Illinois Institute of Art, Mateene focused on custom designs for friends and family members.
“I’d always get different material and print I‘d have my sketches and people would chose the design they liked. They weren’t formatted into a collection per say, they were just different kinds of print. I was encouraged to start a clothing line by friends – that’s when the ball started rolling and I started doing the research,” Mateene said.
Thus Modahnik, a cipher created from her last name and first initial, was born.
In 2009, Mateene was invited to debut her first collection – Spring/Summer 2010 – at Chicago’s Fashion Focus.
“I just wanted to create cute dresses that women could wear out & about, to dinner parties – that would accentuate a woman’s body with a little sexiness. I showcased it at the Fashion Focus Chicago. I got feedback, and streamlined [the pieces accordingly],” she explained.
Currently, the focus is on pushing the Spring/Summer 2011 collection.
“It’s hard as a new designer to get into boutiques and stores for so many reasons. People don’t like taking the chance on new designers, they want to see you more established. This is only my second season but I really decided I wanted to push this season. I think I’ve grown so much from my first collection I thought even if I don’t get into the stores I want to get into, I will sell this online in the summer my pieces will be ready,” the Modahnik designer said.
Selling pieces has proven to be something of a daunting task.
“I love my stuff so I thought I’d get a lot of stores to carry my line, but they’re all bought out for spring & summer already. Hearing “no” so many times I was scared to continue to approach stores but [then I thought] how else am I going to get my stuff in stores? When you love something so much you just keep going hopefully all this hard work will pay off!,“ she mused.
Kahindo Mateene is deeply rooted in entrepreneurship and committed to creativity and growing her company.
“As a young business you have to start out doing everything by yourself and you learn from that. [I’ve learned to] get things done by being creative – because funds are limited. I make sure that I’m making the right choices for my business. It’s tough I’ve made mistakes but I learn from them & I move forward,” Mateene said.
And forward Mateene will go. Among her 5-year targets are an established presence in Africa, being carried in boutiques like Barney’s, Opening Ceremony, fashion meccas like New York, Paris, Milan and Miami, and her own stores carrying her Modahnik line, as well as other designers’ work .
“It’d be amazing to see women on the street wearing my designs.“
From your lips to the universe’s ears Kahindo Mateene. Something tells us you won’t have to wait very long until that happens.
Kahindo Mateene, Ladybrille African Designer to Watch in 2011!
~by Niama Sandy