Yevu clothing’s bold patterns and nostalgic art direction

AUTHOR:  
Published:  March 15, 2016
Katia Pase

Featuring the most colourful and chaotic patterns going round, Yevu clothing is an embodied celebration of graphic wax prints, and the West African cultures producing them.

The label was founded in late 2012 by Australian Anna Robertson, who had been living for 12 months in Ghana as an aid worker when she fused her awe of the textiles ubiquitous in the marketplaces and streets around her, with a desire to partner with small local businesses to create jobs for skilled workers, and to connect the Australian customer to a West African marketplace.


A handful of years later, Yevu has popped up in cities from Sydney to London, turning these riotous prints into simple contemporary cuts including jumpsuits, bomber jackets, dresses and tees for men and women.

Backed by bold, original art direction featuring hand-painted elements and nods to Ghanaian art from decades past, Yevu occupies a space where vibrancy resides in every corner of the business.

INTERVIEW WITH
Anna Robertson
Founder and director, Yevu clothing

Yevu SS16 lookbook

Yevu SS15/16 lookbook. Photography by Francis Kokoroko.

Yevu SS16 lookbook

Yevu SS15/16 lookbook. Photography by Francis Kokoroko.

Yevu uses traditional wax printed and handmade textiles sourced from markets across Ghana, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. What does the manufacturing and printing process of these textiles involve?

We use prints that are predominantly printed in Ghana and textiles that are handwoven in Ghana, and unique to the country. We purchase the wax prints for each range from the wholesale vendors in Accra (the capital of Ghana), who sell both locally manufactured prints and imported prints from Asian countries. The locally made prints are industrially printed using a batik technique and are of a much higher quality than the imported prints. We buy Kente cloth – a handwoven textile – directly from the weavers in a village in the Ashanti region. Kente is made up of long strips of hand loomed fabric, which is then sewn together to make the cloth. Only men loom this textile, which I find fascinating.

How do you think these patterns and designs have evolved? What influences the patterns sourced by Yevu today?

Of the prints designed locally in Ghana, some are new designs and some are old and have deep cultural meanings, while some represent the everyday. Ghanaian proverbs such as ‘fear man’ are common [to see printed on textiles], while everyday items such as fans, shoes and Muslim prayer mats are also represented in print.

Yevu spends a lot of time trawling the markets to find the best quality and most interesting prints that are available in large quantities. We get the best selection from the market, meaning we can use prints from all different textile groups, as opposed to just dealing with the textile manufacturers directly. There are prints that sell super quickly in each range – the prawns and USB prints are super popular.

All Yevu clothing is manufactured in Accra, Ghana. Can you tell us about the employment structure of the company?

For our last range we centralised production by expanding the workshop we operate in Accra. There are a lot of micro enterprises around the city that specialise in made-to-measure clothes, but we found that bringing everyone we work with into one space means that there is a lot more skill transfer and on-the-job training happening. It’s a more communal, happier workspace and it also allows us to better monitor quality.

Because a lot of the tailors and seamstresses we work with are from rural Ghana, we also provide accommodation and utilities for people who find it easier to stay close to work, and perhaps can’t immediately afford accommodation of their own. I have a business partner in Ghana who is in charge of employing people and manages production in my absence. She’s also very important in translating cultural issues that I still haven’t got a grasp of!

Yevu SS16 lookbook

Yevu SS15/16 lookbook. Photography by Francis Kokoroko.

What is Yevu’s biggest business challenge?

Making production and employment sustainable. It’s difficult to ensure quality and standards are being met if we’re not in the country to oversee every aspect of production and to work directly with the tailors and seamstresses who make Yevu. There are also challenges that can be factored down to cultural differences that affect work ethics and people’s personal lives. So we have to be very flexible and adaptable, and have faith and trust in those we work with. Giving ownership and responsibility to each maker, having them set their own terms of payment etc helps in these situations. Also operating in an economically volatile country, where there is a huge energy crisis and lack of infrastructure around small business support, makes everything that little bit harder. A lot of our production is powered by generators.

Not having a fashion or tailoring background yourself, how are the shapes and cuts of Yevu garments designed?

By working with really talented designers like Sydney local Anna Westcott. We work together to introduce new pieces in each range, such as the wide leg pants and A-Line skirts, while refining the basics that do well in every range, such as the mini skirts and boxy tees. We like to keep it simple and let the prints do the talking.

A lot of the preproduction is done here [in Australia]; we grade the patterns here and I cart it all over to Ghana with me and train the Yevu crew in all the new designs with the help of recently graduated local designers (as was the case for the last range).

A lot of the time we test and sample in Ghana, and that can take a while to get things spot on, but it’s very collaborative. I get a lot of technical input while still having a pretty clear creative vision in my head. I generally just try and visualise my friends in everything we design.

Let’s hear about some of the artistic collaborations you’ve got going on. Who’s behind the signage for the recent Melbourne pop-up store, and how did this collaboration come about?

We work with a lot of artists and graphic designers for each new range, which are relationships that happen pretty organically really, through friends and recommendations. A cool cat called Wilba Simson designed and hand-painted our Melbourne shopfront and did all the sandwich boards too. He is really into typography, and Ghanaian street signs are all painted by hand, nothing is digitalised, so its great to get that aesthetic right here. We also work with graphic designer Marcus King, who has thrown together some awesome collages for us based on our campaigns.

Yevu SS16 lookbook

Yevu SS15/16 lookbook. Photography by Francis Kokoroko.

Yevu SS16 lookbook

Yevu SS15/16 lookbook. Photography by Francis Kokoroko.

The latest lookbook (SS15/16) is stunning, featuring surreal hand-painted backdrops of domestic scenes by a street artist called Don, shot by Ghanaian photographer Francis Kokoroko. Who’s responsible for the art direction of the brand and what are the influences?

I worked with an incredible team in Ghana for this last lookbook and campaign. Hats off to photographer Francis Kokoroko who brought the art of Philip Kwame Apagya to my attention and had the incredible vision and ability to pull it off. We reappropriated studio photography from the 90s in West Africa where people who couldn’t afford luxuries were photographed in front of hand-painted upper middle class consumer goods. Francis and I art directed this shoot and spent quite a bit of time running around Accra trying to find the right sign writer – we found Don on the side of the road, literally. We sat under a tree and explained what we wanted: five scenes from an upper middle class Ghanaian household. A week later we had five backdrops, each 2.7 by three metres (nine by 10 feet) big, and we had a ball shooting it.

Each shoot we do is based on what is inspiring in Ghana at the time, whether it’s a certain part of the city, or a certain type of art or people. There’s a great growing art and creative scene in Ghana, so collaborating with people there always produces incredible results.

While these dreamy collage-style images seem to be popping up quite often now in contemporary fashion branding, this lookbook by Yevu pays homage, as you mentioned, to the work of 80s/90s Ghanaian studio photographer Philip Kwame Apagya. Yet it has such a contemporary feeling. What do you think gives the visual language this edge?

There’s been no digital manipulation in these images, which I think keeps it fresh and a little confusing in some respect. They are surreal and weird looking, but it was all done legit in Ghana working with the aesthetics and materials that have been used there for decades for the same purposes. So I guess we weren’t trying too hard or over manipulating the image in postproduction. We just took a big risk and it worked out. We did one or two practice shots and then just went for it. I think that shows in the images. Everything is a little uncomfortable and the perspective is all warped and that’s what makes it great.


For the full range head to yevuclothing.com.
This article was first published in the February / March issue of
desktop.

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