The theme of this years LABA festival was liberation.
I strongly believe liberation begins in the mind.
The whole concept behind the Gulu Loves Hip Hop Lulu collection was to change the mindset and prevailing myth that Northern Uganda is still in conflict and a place of sadness and desperation. I was chatting with my friend Burney MC one day at National theater and thinking about how cool it was that the youth in Gulu had embraced Hip Hop as a means of self expression. Music, dance and art have such healing qualities and I think that as artists we have a responsibility to create conscious art. That day at National theater in January was the first spark of an idea. The phrase Gulu Loves Hip Hop came to me instantly after that meeting. Next I started thinking about how fashion and Gulu could be linked to Hip Hop. Initially I just thought I could use the phrase as inspiration but later on a chance visit and tour of Phenix factory – I learnt that most of the cotton and all the organic cotton at Phenix comes from Northern Uganda. Phenix is perhaps the only factory in Uganda that takes the raw product- cotton and spins it into yarn, dyes it, produces fabric and then produces final products such as shirts and t-shirts. It also does awesome printing. So the next stage of the idea was to re-create a mini Phenix and use organic cotton and printing with Lulu designs. I also wanted to incorporate Graffiti. I love sketching and graffiti is the aspect of Hip Hop that is closest to my heart. So I contacted Spray It Uganda and we took several months coming up with ideas for t-shirts. It was very cool going through the entire design process even with all the stumbling and road blocks. We finally got a product that we were happy with. I am proud to say that it is 100% Made in Uganda. Cotton from Gulu, design by Ugandan designers, and Printing by fabulous Ugandan screen artists.
Combined with the t-shirts I also designed Lulu swim suit shorts and basket ball shorts from Kitengi fabric. I was looking for graphic black and white prints. And Then I concentrated on three main looks for the Laba Evening fashion show. For this I used denim and black and white Kikoyi. My inspiration came from those powerful female MCs like Eve who lead a troop of male MCs. I designed a jumpsuit from jeans and Kikoyi with a jean cap lined with Kikoyi, a mens tracksuit with Kikoyi detail for men- inspired by early 80s Addidas tracksuits, and an overall with Japanese overtones and Kikoyi detail for men.
Finally I looked for models. I decided to use a group of bboys who would dance on stage wearing my clothes. This was a two-fold decision- I have been dancing with the bboys and was so inspired by them and their service to the community- please check the BPU website http://voiceproject.org/programs/breakdance-project-uganda.php
secondly I wanted to show that my clothes are for active people and that they are wearable art!
Next I imagined what people from the North of Uganda look like. The image that came to mind was tall, dark African beauty. So with the help of Crystal Model Agency I identified some awesome Basketball players. They were tall and dark and athletic! YES. And finally I looked for my leading lady. I found an awesome leading lady who unfortunately left the country one day before the show. I was so sad but – she was kind enough to introduce me to the perfect replacement. I found my tall dark, athletic leading lady and was blessed to work with such a talented super model.
On another chance meeting I met the co-founder of Grass Roots Reconciliation Group – GRG
http://grassrootsgroup.org/ – a Gulu-based NGO that trains former child soldiers in farming and gives them skills to empower themselves. I thought it would be awesome to collaborate with a group that has such a positive message and has been doing such amazing work for the last 5 years.
So now I had almost covered all 5 aspects of Hip Hop – I still needed to find a Gulu based MC.
The 5 aspects are: MCs, Graffiti, Bboys, Djs and Knowledge. The knowledge part was sorted out when GRG agreed to bring a representative/ former child soldier to the festival and have him share his story and GRG information with the public. I found a perfect MC from Gulu but unfortunately he was not able to perform on the day as he was delayed in the North. So we had Bonfire Uganda in our tent instead playing Ugandan Rap. And we had a live DJ too.That happened purely by chance so really I must say thank you to God for bringing this whole thing together. We had live graffiti, bboys dancing, MCs, Knowledge flowing and just general happy vibes- most of the day.
The day of the show was so hectic. I had been away for 3 weeks and did mostof the planning via facebook and phone calls. It is actually the first time in my life I have put a show together like this. I learnt to trust the process and also to stop micro-managing every last detail. God was also teaching me patience and faith.
I hope in my small way, my team and I have helped start a new trend in collaborative art and spread some well needed optimism for Uganda.
So the journey has just started. These are the first few baby steps. Professional pictures and video will be posted as soon as possible but for now I leave you with this…
Lulu Fashion House