Labo Ethnik: An Interview With South African Label Babatunde

The Labo Ethnik, a Parisian event which features fashion & interior design, will host SA label Babatunde, we spoke with the brand's head designer.

Founded in 2007 by Yvette Taï-CoquillayLabo Ethnik was created as a way to promote both emerging and established designers from across the globe on the Parisian scene. This year the 8th edition of Labo Ethnik will also welcome interior designers, adding visual arts to the festival's roster. In the run-up to this year's installment, starting May 22, we'll feature some of the designers that'll be participating in the 2014 edition. Below, we talk with the designer of South African label Babatunde, a brand that perfectly mixes African-inspired prints with contemporary designs in their hats, caps, headbands, bow-ties and umbrellas. 

Poundo for Okayafrica: So who's behind Babatunde?

Gareth Cowden: My name is Gareth Cowden, I am from Johannesburg, SA.

OKA: When did you start considering fashion?

GC: I am a fashion stylist by trade. This is my 10th year in fashion. I was getting sick of freelancing and the instability of freelance work. So I decided to try my own thing. The obvious path was to start creating myself. I started by getting trilbies and caps made with fabric I had bought in Joburg in 2009.

OKA: Did you study fashion?

GC: Nope. Not in an institution. I studied fashion by assisting stylists and immersing myself in magazines and music videos.

OKA: Where do you find your inspiration?

GC: From the ocean, from the streets of Joburg and then from traveling when I have the opportunity. I also find some documentaries very inspiring.

OKA: How would you describe Babatunde's signature in one sentence?

GC: Bold, vibrant and conscious.

OKA: What makes it so special?

GC: Hehehe! Umm.. it’s difficult for me to say as I am a part of it. But I would speculate that most or a lot of people had not seen this interpretation of wax print before. I guess the amazing exposure we have received has also made it a bit special.

OKA: Your brand makes me think of a young hip African who blends his traditional roots with contemporary style. Do you think that you're bringing something new to the scene?

GC: It’s very difficult to say you are bringing something brand new. Most things have been done in the past. As much as I would love to say I am the first, I am sure if I dig deep enough, someone must have tried this in the past.

OKA: What's cool?

GC: African Storm Sound System, the Locrate Market in Soweto, Nana wax, snorkeling.

OKA: What makes a person stylish?

GC: A sense of comfort that is not trying too hard.

OKA: Which African singer or band would you like to see wearing one of your pieces?

GC: Probably Lagbaja. Not sure he wears hats though…

OKA: What do you think of the term 'African fashion'?

GC: It’s a tricky question to answer. Right now is such an important time for the African clothing and textile industries. The world is open to our design/fashion currently. But you don’t hear Chanel or Tom Ford going as 'European or American designers/brands.' In my opinion, African fashion is finding it’s identity at the moment. And world fashion is looking to Africa for inspiration. So I guess for now the term is ok while we hope to be discovered and make connections abroad. But, eventually, we need to move towards being ‘quality fashion’ as opposed to 'African fashion.' And we need to embrace what is African and keep supporting it when the world moves on to it’s next darling. The goal is that when that happens, Africa will be considered a quality clothing and textile industry with good relationships in place with various parts of the world.

OKA: How's it feel to be part of the Labo Ethnik's 8th edition?

GC: It’s a great honour! Unfortunately I can’t be there myself so I am a little sad. But we are excited to be involved as it is our first time and interested to see how our products are received.

OKA: What do you expect to happen from this event?

GC: I don’t have any real expectations from these kind of events. For me it is about engaging with buyers, media and individuals. You want to find out from people what they do and don’t like and see how we can improve our business.

OKA: Describe Babatunde in one word.

GC: Growing

OKA: A word about Okayafrica. Okayafrica is ...

GC: Kwaai!

Labo Ethnik will take place at 'Les Docks, Cité de la Mode et du Design' from May 22nd to May 25th 2014.

News Brief
Podcast cover art.

Bobi Wine's Release Detailed in Latest Episode of 'The Messenger'

Trauma is the topic on the podcast's latest episode: "The Ballot or The Bullet."

The latest episode of The Messenger is something to behold.

Created by Sudanese-American rapper Bas, The Messenger throws the spotlight on the thunderous circumstances many African countries face, with a close focus on Ugandan politician Bobi Wine.

In his most recent traumatic experience, Wine and his wife Barbara Itungo Kyagulanyi were released from a nearly two-week military house arrest following the ruling of a Ugandan court. Keeping up with current events and circumstances that Wine finds himself in, the latest episode of the podcast recounts the traumatic events that led to Wine's very public abuse and eventual house arrest.

Upon his release, Wine spoke with The Messenger and had this to say, "I want to remind the world that we went in this election knowing how corrupt the staff of the electoral commission is. We saw this through the campaign and the world saw how much was oppressed, how biased and one sided the electoral commission was, and how much it was in the full grip of General Museveni. And therefore we are going to test every legal test, we shall take every legal test. We shall take every legal step. And indeed we shall take every moral and morally proactive, nonviolent, but legal and peaceful step to see that we liberate ourselves. The struggle has not ended. It is just beginning."

Listen to Episode 7 of The Messenger here.

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