All you need is love, according to this up and coming Lagos-based designer, as he discusses his openhearted approach to menswear
“I’m inspired by people, by love – love is the strongest word that keeps me pushing. If you love yourself, you should be able to love others. And if I can love the people I make clothes for, then it will be something unique.” Kenneth Ize is in a reflective mood as he discusses what powers his eponymous menswear line, and life in general, with Nataal. “My style is about asking questions and listening to people’s stories. It’s about my friends, our travels together, challenging myself and being open.” This philosophy has held the 28-year-old Lagos-based designer in good stead on his journey so far and he’s well on his way to bringing his ethical luxury brand to the world.
Ize was encouraged by his parents to explore his creative side while growing up and went on to study fashion at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, completing his BA under Bernhard Willhelm and MA under Hussein Chalayan. “My time at university taught me what the fashion industry needs now. It needs people to be very real about their work, to learn not to waste things, and to make products with value,” he recalls. In between degrees he presented his first full collection at Lagos Fashion and Design Week in 2013, and interned at Edun in New York, which inspired him to focus on working directly with African artisans.
He spent his post grad developing his own woven textiles, and upon returning to Lagos he set up a production unit with three female weavers, these handmade fabrics now forming the foundation of his design process. Since re-launching for SS16, his collections have evolved traditional weaving methods incorporating natural silk and cotton yarns. “It takes two days to make one yard of my fabric. I experiment a lot and am always making improvements. My choice of colours is instinctual and then I like to keep the silhouettes simple and unisex. I want them to be timeless pieces that you’ll still relate to 20 years from now.”
“I want to be the brand coming out of Africa that’s on everybody’s doorstep”
For AW18, Ize played with proper suiting for the first time. Relaxed fitted jackets and trousers came in rich, retro shades of white, indigo, orange and ochre spliced together as thick stripes. These looks are paired with tie dye shirts and the designer’s signature scarves. “This season is the most exciting collection I’ve done so far. There was no moodboard, I just went with the flow and I felt happy and free. Everything is light and comfortable and easy to wear. These clothes are very genuine.”
With current stockists in Austria, Tokyo, Switzerland and Nigeria, he recently presented his SS19 collection during Paris Men’s Week and is looking forward to a teaching residency in New Orleans. Right now though he’s working on a tapestry-focussed art project with fellow Nigerian creative Emmanuel Balogun, which he’ll be debuting at the Alara concept store in Lagos this October alongside his clothing line. “The Lagos creative scene is fresh and it’s growing. I believe in the young kids. They are looking at what my generation is doing, but they’re already confident and have their own perspectives, which is amazing. I’m excited to see what they will be coming up with in 10 years time. When the youth of a country is doing great and fun things, that gives me hope.”
Ize has his own exciting road ahead with his tender ambitions looming large in fqshion's future. “To be honest, I want to be the brand coming out of Africa that’s on everybody’s doorstep," he says. "It’s not just about me, or my name, it’s bigger than that. It’s a tough job that feeds families, that supports women making these beautiful things, so I want to see success in my work because it’s all coming from the heart.”