Turning trash into treasure: Uganda’s Edward Sempa upcycles the old into the new with his Re/Cut collection
Catherine & Sons is an ethical fashion label founded by Ugandan-born, Kampala-based Edward Sempa. The designer’s guiding ethic is 'buy less, choose well, make it last' and his aim is to offer womenswear of exceptional quality while creating jobs, using local skills and supply chains and having international ethical standards in his workshops.
Uganda doesn’t manufacture fabrics, so designers working there have to either import materials or find innovative ways to work with what they can find. Over the last few years, Sempa has moved his brand away from creating seasonal lines to repurposing old garments found in second-hand markets into new, limited-edition pieces. This approach addresses the fact that East Africa’s clothing industries have been severely affected by the vast amount of second hand clothing that arrives with foreign aid and trade. Unable to compete with the prices, local makers have suffered and the once-thriving industry has wilted.
“The whole issue in regards to the second-hand market isn't about to go away anytime soon, so rather than get frustrated, I wanted to find a solution around what I considered a problem before,” says Sempa. “I decided to breathe life into items that might otherwise decompose at a landfill or be bought on the local market. The inspiration is really about critically asking questions around how the onslaught of second-hand waste that East Africa receives from Western non-profits and wholesalers effects the fashion industry here.”
“The inspiration is really about critically asking questions around how the onslaught of second-hand waste that East Africa receives from Western non-profits and wholesalers effects the fashion industry here”
He adds: “It's slightly complicated because the fashion buying system is set up to buy X amount of pieces in the same style colour/fabrics/sizes. Trying to work away from the system that I was schooled in and have worked with for the last 18 years is difficult.”
The 2018 Re/Cut range launched at the recent Kampala Fashion Week 2017. The striking yet classic collection comprises an array of one-off, loosely panelled pieces remade with love from old denim and linen. “Basically, every item in the collection started off its life as trousers,” Sempa explains. “They were first washed, then totally ripped apart, and then we started to lay our patterns. It's very time consuming. However, each garment then becomes unique.”
This lookbook was created in collaboration with fellow local designer and KFW founder, Gloria Wavamunno and stylist/designer Cecily Ophelia. The images are intended to deliberately step away from typically “pretty” fashion shoots. “Edward’s handmade, individual approach to design is something I wanted to reflect in the shoot,” says Ophelia. “I made masks and accessories using different crochet and weaving techniques.” The masks project both power and anonymity at the same time. Meanwhile the ropes featured throughout serve as a metaphor for the false hair worn by many African women.
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Published on 01/11/2017