My name is Kunjina Tesfaye, founder and CEO of KUNJINA. I did my bachelor’s degree in construction technology and management at EIABC, Addis Ababa University. Since i was young, I loved fashion and not only wished but knew deep down that I was going to become a fashion designer one day. I used to sketch a lot and play around in my mom’s closet draping her oversized clothes on myself. I got my first sewing machine in 2013 as a gift from my aunt who was impressed by a dress I made. That sewing machine was a new chapter for my life. Without a background in pattern making or stitching, I started making clothes for me and my friends and we would just take photos and share it on social media.
When I was a fourth-year student in campus, I used my internship credits to get a short course in fashion design and that’s when I developed some real skills in pattern making and construction of garments.
Later, I joined African Mosaique’s fashion incubator program which helped me to know a lot about branding and the business of fashion. I was the winner of the most creative and promising fashion designer award from the 2018 batch of African Mosaique fashion incubators. When I finished school, I collaborated with two Ethiopian designers to start a shop and turn my childhood dreams into reality by doing what I love.
I try to listen to my thoughts and the feeling that dominates the others usually ends up being the concept for my collection. After I have the main idea, a lot of things will inspire me to build on the concept that I chose. My recent collection, for instance, is named RESILIENCE and it was inspired by this book about a man who doesn’t like the easy life. He always worked on things that made him push himself and research and learn more about the new challenges that he faced. This wasn’t just a onetime thing; it is a continuous cycle throughout in his life. This inspired me because I saw myself in him. When I don’t have the next project to work on or if I don’t have some type of purpose, I feel so empty and not present so I always try to move on to the next challenge and just immerse myself in it.
I usually start from getting the concept first and just try to build on the idea by exploring and brainstorming. This will be useful to prepare a mood board which will in turn, help me get a clear picture of what the intended collection is all about. The third step is sketching, the designs are of course aligned to what the mood-board displays regarding styles, colors and silhouettes. Then the fourth is deciding and buying the fabrics for the collection which is followed by pattern making and grading. Once I have my patterns done, I will move on to sampling the pieces with calico to see how it looks and if any adjustments should be made. Then the last step will be cutting and stitching the pieces using my main fabric.
As a creative in Ethiopia, I see a lot of changes in these past couple of years regarding art and people’s perspective about it, especially in Addis Ababa. But, still we have a long way to go to create an industry where people can freely do what they love and get the attention that is worthy of their work.
The challenges we are facing as an upcoming brand in Ethiopia is a lack of motivated and skilled labor, finance and sustainable resources. In order to compete in an international level, we need the best quality of products and sustainable resources otherwise it’s going to be hard for us to sustain ourselves. I hope to see this change in the coming years.
Choice of Colors
The colors I chose for the resilience collection is black, buttermilk and off white. With this concept, I wanted the black to dominate because black shows mysteriousness, power and sophistication which I believe the resilient men and women own as a character.
I don’t think there are absolute truths when it comes to art and creativity because I think it all depends on who the audience is. For me, Art is about the freedom of creation and freedom doesn’t have rules so whoever wants to get in your world and experience what you’re trying to share as your art, will get it. I mean, I don’t think people’s perspective regarding your art should stop you from doing more. The main thing is that you keep it true to yourself. And whatever is made from the heart for me is always beautiful and worth sharing.