Linda Khumbanyiwa, Founder, Lynne Kayenne Studio is a Malawian contemporary womenswear brand that utilises her heritage and culture to create high-quality, tailored garments for fashion lovers across the world. A percentage of sales is also ploughed back into the local community to empower women and support the youth in the creative sector. Today, we hear from Linda Khumbanyiwa about her influences growing up in Africa.
Tell us more about growing up in Malawi and how it shaped you
Growing up in Malawi taught me to be resourceful. The electricity was always going off and you had to learn pretty quickly how to use alternative ways to light the house and cook which has made me a problem solver and has helped me in other aspects of my life as well as my business. I also learnt the importance of philanthropy early, watching how kind and helpful my parents were in educating several of our extended family. There is not anyone in my family that my Mom and Dad didn’t help in getting an education. Those sentiments are still imbedded in me and are what I believe has shaped me into being who I am.
How did your time in Malawi, Ivory Coast and Tunisia shape your idea of African fashion?
I think all of these three African countries have had a different influence on my idea of fashion and I’ve managed to assimilate different aspects of their cultures. I’ve been inspired by Tunisian artisans who have absorbed cultural influences from around the Mediterranean and the middle east which you can see in their interior décor, silverware and weaved carpets. My time in Ivory Coast also had a big impact on me in terms of styling, especially how the women wear their garments, apply their makeup and style their hair. Fashion seemed like an everyday part of life when I was there. I remember making my own tie-dye fabric for a school project, designing a suit and getting a tailor to make it for me and modeling the finished product at an end of year fashion show. What I also, remember vividly about the street style of Abidjan is that it didn’t matter if you were a hairdresser, housewife or business owner, every woman seemed to care about wearing fashionable and often embroidered pieces. With Malawi, I think the most prominent fashion influence came from my mom. She just has the swag and knows how to put pieces together so effortlessly that it’s something I’ve always tried to emulate.
Tell me about your journey from studying Business Administration & Management to modeling, blogging for dariocuci.com, writing your book, D.R.E.A.M.C.H.A.S.E.R: 8 Ways to Make It Happen, styling and now as a designer?
From a super young age, I was always encouraged to model by my peers but I was very skeptical. I remember watching MNET’S Face of Africa – a TV show that was on DSTV in 1999 which was won by a young girl from Nigeria. She looked liked me and had a similar body frame which made me realize that maybe I could model too. But in Africa, our parents come from a generation where being a lawyer, a doctor or an accountant is the ultimate goal. So, I put this dream on hold and got on with studying, however, when I moved to the UK to carry out my studies, I decided to approach a few model agencies. Initially, I was rejected by so many and started to feel this might not be for me but finally, I got signed by an agent who got me into commercials and extra work on TV shows which was very exciting.
Whilst at University I came across a young Italian designer called Dario Cucci on Facebook and we became friends. At the time, he was so busy he did not have time to run his blog so asked me if I could help him. I started guest blogging on the Italian fashion site www.dariocuci.com where I wrote articles and did exclusive interviews with fashion designers such as Lilly Alfonso and Christian Blanken who has dressed the likes of Rita Ora and Cheryl Cole. My pieces didn’t just focus on fashion but combined it with inspirational, uplifting and motivational stories aimed to resonate with the reader and hopefully help them believe, like me, that they can achieve their dreams and that “Everything is Possible”.
Interviewing these movers and shakers inspired me to write my book, ‘D.R.E.A.M.C.H.A.S.E.R: 8 Ways to Make it Happen’. The book uses celebrity success stories and shows how these dream chasers like Oprah Winfrey and Rihanna overcame adversity to achieve their goals.
To be honest, I started my own blog Populairelife.co.uk out of frustration. I got so sick and tired of looking at magazines, newspapers and the television shows here in London and rarely seeing black people represented in a positive light. I wanted to redress this so created a space that covered fashion and entertainment with interviews with people that reflected African excellence… black superstars of African decent who are doing big things in music, film and entertainment. I covered Hakeem Kae-Kazim, the Nigerian born, British bred and trained actor who has starred in many well-known movies including the phenomenal Hotel Rwanda and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Through all of these experiences the common thread has been my love of fashion, whether modeling it, writing about it, styling people in it so last year I finally made the decision to design my own collection. I feel like it has always been inside me and now is the time for it to come out. I think creative are chameleons and this is what I’ve grown into after all the influences and experiences I’ve been through on this constant journey to express myself.
Where do you draw your inspiration from as a designer?
I draw inspiration from everywhere, from the universe, my culture, my heritage, coffee table books, old Hollywood movies, vintage stores, nature as well as powerful women across the world including my mom. I am inspired by the global fashion industry as well as the African Fashion industry. I particular, I love Tongoro, Lisa Folawiyo, Loza Maleombho, Sophie Zinga and David Tlale and get inspiration from their work, passion and energy. In the same way, I woud also have to include the greats such as Gucci, Valentino, Balencianga, DVF and Anya Hindmarch as I am constantly inspired and amazed at what they are creating.
What inspired your collection and how would you describe it?
I was talking to someone and they told me that Malawi is only known for poverty and Madonna and that built up a fire in my bones to create a collection that would showcase Malawi in a bright light. The colour palette was influenced by how our world looks from space: I was into the deep blue and yellow hues you see in pictures of the earth. I did so much research including watching Nasa documentaries and read so much about how we look from space. However, the designs were inspired by the high standard of tailoring I have been styling people in over the past ten years. I wanted to create beautiful tailored, classic and flattering pieces for women across the world. Something that is neat, clean, crisp and very easy to transition from day wear to night.
Where do you source your materials and are there any women on your team?
I source locally at the Lilongwe market in Malawi where a lot of the traders are women and I also work with my sister, Norma who helps with the operations of the label. As part of CSR for my brand, we empower women as well as support the youth in the creative sectors. As we all know, women build nations and the vision is to work with more women, train them in every aspect of production at Lynne Kayenne Studio and enable them to make a wage that they can survive on.
What has been the most difficult aspect of launching a fashion brand?
There are so many challenges and setbacks involved in launching a fashion brand. The global fashion industry is worth 1.3 trillion dollars and worth 31 billion across Sub-Saharan Africa however, our Malawian Fashion industry is in its infancy which means there is a lack of infrastructure. We have difficulty with access to funding due to the inability of the government as well as the private sector to invest in the industry. It is also expensive to distribute/ship out finished products. DHL is expensive and you need to ship in large volume in order to get a discount. One other major headache is that we don’t have reliable electricity in Malawi but in Africa, we are used to creating products with minimal resources. I don’t let these difficulties define me, I have a vision for Lynne Kayenne Studio and I am determined to be a success so do my best to overcome these obstacles however frustrating they may be.
What help have you received and where has this come from?
I have had a lot of help from African designers such as the ladies at Zuri in Kenya, Mariama Camara, Anyango Mpinga from Kenya which was very surprising but everyone has been so generous with their knowledge and wisdom. I also think one of the best pieces of advice I have been given was from Roberta Annan on Instagram live which is helpful for every emerging designer. She said that Africa is creatively and human resources rich, however, it is about learning the business of fashion and knowing the ins and outs of your business. Creativity is our forte however, we must strengthen our business skills if we are going to trade internationally.
What are your plans for 2020 and the future?
My plan for the future is to build a brand that is synonymous with sustainability, luxury, and quality. I hope to create designs, visuals, and fashion experiences that are bold, international, and recognizable thereby bringing in clientele from across the world. The goal is to create a sustainable brand that values the people I work with, putting their work at the fore, and creating beautiful garments that I hope the world will love.
See more details about the designer as well as her collection.
Brand Name: Lynne Kayenne Studio
Name of the designer:Linda Khumbanyiwa
Nationality of the designers: Malawian
Year of foundation:2020
Where the collection is produced: Lilongwe, Malawi