Pictured: Kunjina - designer and creator of clothing brand 'Kunjina'
Photo courtesy of Kunjina

Spotlight: Ethiopian Brand Kunjina Is On a Fashion Metamorphosis

Founder and creative director Kunjina Tesfaye speaks on her namesake brand, and how her personal evolution manifests through the unique garments.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ethiopian fashion brand, Kunjina. The Addis Ababa based label focuses on ready-to-wear fashion and empowering woman through their garments and designs. Creator Kunjina Tesfaye established the brand in 2017 in her home country Ethiopia, and has since shared her distinctive designs with the world. Each garment acts as a physical embodiment of Kunjina's life experiences, and the stages we all go through to become closer to ourselves. "When the work comes from a personal place, it portrays a true feeling therefore the output becomes Authentic", the young designer says on the website. Each garment is carefully and intentionally created, as the company prides themselves on their choice to reduce unnecessary waste -- often times what happens with brands focused on trends.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

When I was little, I loved playing around in my mother’s closet. Memories of my sister and I presenting fashion shows for the family over the weekends come to mind. I loved draping my mother’s extra-large clothes on myself. That time marks the beginning of my journey into design.

I attended Addis Ababa University to study construction management because my parents wanted me to have a "plan B" — something more "stable" — compared to my interest and passion in fashion design. While I was a fourth-year student, I took a short course in fashion design. Using what I learned there, I started small; by making clothes for myself and my friends. They loved it. Gradually, I grew into selling the designs I made on social media. During my senior year in college, I got accepted to the African Mosaique Fashion Incubator program which has made a significant impact on my career as a designer. I learned a lot about branding, production, and the business of fashion. I made a collection after completing the program, and it acted as a dialogue of my two worlds; a world where I pursued my passion for fashion design and the world where I am an Engineering student. I won an award for 'most creative and promising fashion designer' for my final collection. Eventually, Kunjina, my namesake brand, was born and I began to work on it full-time. Right now we have one physical store in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and we have recently branched out to the U.S with the help of our partner Fraol Bekele.

What are the central themes in your work?

All of our work revolves around empowerment. With each collection, we envision the empowered woman feeling her best self. Our upcoming collection, UDET, speaks of the transformation a woman goes through to find and fully express herself. It is metamorphosis; at the beginning, we see a larva, a simple being trying to figure out life for the first time. It goes through its own process and finally, we find the beautiful butterfly.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

For me, the difficult part was not being able to go out and socialize. I really love meeting people and going to events. Being unable to do that has really affected my creativity — and slowed down my pace. On the contrary, it made me realize how solitude is important for the growth of an individual. It was also a wake-up call to live and explore myself, through my immediate surroundings.

Can you tell us about your upcoming collection, UDET?

The name 'UDET' is a Ge'ez* word meaning 'cycle'. This collection is based on my personal experience on the topic and it shows the process of self-doubt, transformation, and self-actualization using the metamorphosis cycle of a butterfly as a metaphor. It has three stages and the color and theme of the collection varies according to each stage. In the Caterpillar stage; fear, sadness, and self-doubt arise, and manifest through black, with a heavily restrained use of red. Chrysalis explores the cocoon and transformation taking place inside, and the use of white see-through organza represents the shell. In Butterfly — the final stage where beauty, freedom, and self-actualization are visible — the free use of red, orange, and hints of black further magnify the story.

*Ge'ez (ˈɡɨʕɨz) is an ancient Ethiopian language

What advice do you have for upcoming designers trying to make it on the continent, and around the world?

Don’t be boxed. Explore your identity and stick to it no matter what. Have patience and always be a student.

Pictured: Models pose in their 'Kunjina' garments

Photo courtesy of Kunjina