Style
Photo by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

First Look: Introducing UKOO Studios—the Fashion Brand Making 'Garments for the Daring'

We get to know Will Edem and Mike Wamungu of UKOO Studios and take a look at their stunning inaugural collection.

UKOO Studios is a new fashion brand that's anchored in well-thought out concepts.

Made and based in Los Angeles, its co-founders, Will Edem and Mike Wamungu, have taken their love for research and documentation of their Nigerian and Congolese roots and produced a succinct debut menswear line exploring the meaning of introspection.

Collection 01 digs into the themes of consciousness, exploration, self and community through functional forms and compelling textures. The UKOO Suit is "the amalgamation of ancestral armor, meditative reflection and decadent modernism," the brand says on their website. It's comprised of three pieces—the Migrant Shirt, the Scarification Pant and the UKOO Armband—each making up what Edem and Wamungu consider a bright declaration of masculine vulnerability.

Before UKOO Studios launches the pre-orders of Collection 01, OkayAfrica gets to know the brains behind the brand and take a look at their color-rich lookbook.

Read our conversation with Will and Mike below.


Photo by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Antoinette Isama for OkayAfrica: What inspired the creation of UKOO Studios, as well as the name of the brand?

Will: Mike and I are UCLA classmates, turned friends, turned family. We shared similar cultural backgrounds, thoughts on the creativity economy, and legacy. In fall 2014 we started workings as creative duo. In early 2017, there was a pivotal moment when we both started nearing a quarter century. We asked ourselves, "What's our role as storytellers to those who come after us, those standing with us currently and those whose shoulders we stand on?" In response, we felt an urgent need to put a body of work in the universe. We evolved and UKOO Studios was created.

UKOO is Swahili for "clan," with the synonyms: ancestry, family, lineage, prosperity, descendant. Mike is Congolese-American and I'm Nigerian-American. There's an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 dialects in Africa. Swahili is the most spoken African dialect. There's a unifying spirit in choosing a name from Africa's most spoken language. We always challenged our working relationship and creative output to showcase the balance and dichotomy of life.

You explain the brand is an 'extensive study of culture'—what is the brand exploring with its debut collection?

Mike + Will: Collection 01 explores themes of consciousness, ancestry and lineage, manifested into utilitarian silhouettes and vibrant pops of color that embody the pride and resilience of ancestors past; while communicating the dichotomy (and shared synergy) of the African diaspora—particularly between the years of 1957 and 1969.

The brand itself is an extensive study of culture—and those who shape it—expressed in textile form, hence the tagline "garments for the daring." Our north star is the question, "What stories can we tell through clothes? What can clothes mean to us?" That naturally leads us to ponder, "Whose stories are being told (or not told)? And what impact does that have on the zeitgeist?"

We chose to focus on the years 1957 to 1969 because they are pertinent years in our own histories, but also because they're perhaps the most important years in modern black, transnational history. Our references page explains why in more depth.

Photos by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Photos by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Have you both always aspired to delve into fashion? What professional backgrounds did you have before launching UKOO Studios?

Will: Since I was a youth, fashion was my preferred form of expression. My father was keen on presentation—dark colored suits, tucked in shirts, white shirts, and red ties when you need to communicate power—and I channeled that mandate and used style as an extension of self. I've designed merchandise but a cut and sew collection was always the goal for me.

At UCLA I majored in international development studies with an emphasis and cultural anthropology and political economics. Currently, I work as a strategist in the agency space. Research has always been an interest of mine. Throughout my life, I've found myself interested with the socio-cultural influences of creative works as much as the creative output. UKOO Studios is a summation of my coursework, research background approach to popular culture, design background, and style/wisdom from my parents.

Mike: I've always viewed fashion as an inevitable part of my journey. It was always a matter of when, not if. My mom instilled in me the importance of personal style and proper presentation at a young age. Style to me, is an extension of self. I didn't expect my foray into fashion to be this early, but time isn't a luxury we can afford to waste and there are more tools available to us now than ever so I chose to act now.

I majored in sociology and did extensive research in psychology and education while at UCLA. I'm a marketer in the tech space by day. UKOO, for me, is a natural amalgamation of those two worlds. In effect, we study culture and the human condition, but we operate like a startup. Fast iterations, lean methodologies and design thinking guide everything we do. I get to be an artist, problem solve and contribute to the culture all at once. Blessings.

Photo by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Photos by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Photo by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Can you expand a bit on the concept of Collection 01's lookbook?

Mike: Conceptually, we wanted to anchor the lookbook in two themes: "A return to mecca" and "A dance with time." The lookbook finds us immersed in the lush greenery of a vast jungle. A young pair adorned in striking orange and cherry red stand pensively, their gazes demanding a regal deference, yet revealing an intimate, masculine vulnerability. What's brought them there is unknown. Tribal markings and bare feet hint at a potential pilgrimage. The jungle, all-encompassing and pristine, distorts our perception of time and space. These choices were extremely intentional.

I think so much of the afflictions we find in our world today stems from the disconnect we have with ourselves, our neighbors, our history, and our earth. We're inundated with so much noise and stimuli that we find it difficult to return to center. Yet, that return to center is so critical to healing (active, present acceptance of the past) and progress (active, present cultivation of the future). After asking ourselves how we could best visually communicate this sentiment, a lookbook shot in the jungle felt right, if for nothing else, for its proximity to nature, for its harshness, for it's resilience, for its beauty—a metaphor for the human condition and the spirit of black folk.

This combined with the intimate fashion in which the portraits were shot and how scarification photos were traditionally shot, is an attempt to invite people to look within themselves and across.

Photos by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Photos by Sean Martin, courtesy of UKOO Studios.

Are the garments strictly menswear or are there plans on expand to unisex/womenswear?

Mike: If we had to draw a box around the first collection, then yes it's menswear. The silhouettes and general aesthetic are more tailored for the male body. That said, we view clothes as vessels of expression welcome to all, so we're excited to see how women interpret these silhouettes unto their own bodies. Those interpretations will inform how we design the womenswear iterations of UKOO STUDIOS.

Womenswear is something we hold in very high regard, given that we'd be men designing for the female body. Before delving into that space, we want to better hone our skills and perfect our process. Part of perfecting that process includes deeper research, more listening and more learning from women. The world needs more of that. That'll ensure we do a women's collection the justice it deserves. It's about more than just clothes.

What's next for the brand?

Mike + Will: In the short term, we have a launch event happening in early December, which will coincide with the opening of our pre-order window.

In the long term, a film, a few talks, and museum exhibition. And of course, designing the next collection.

To keep up with UKOO Studios, follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to their newsletter to be notified when pre-orders go live and to be first to get exclusive content and offers.

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Credits

Photography: Sean Martin

Models: Zimuzo Duru + Oseije Imoohi

Creative Direction: Will Edem + Mike Wamungu

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Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio


The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.


Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th

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Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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