In Conversation with Kuki: Celebrating Individuality with Inferno’s ‘Unapologetic’ Collection

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Art imitates life, and life imitates art.

As with life, where each living organism has its own unique DNA; in art, all great artists of the times that came before us were exceptional in nature, and it reflected in their works of art.

That’s why the Monalisa is the world’s most famous painting – because no one else could do it but Leornado Da Vinci.

That’s why Dominic Benhura’s sculptures sell for thousands of dollars – because it’s Dominic Benhura, no matter how many roadside sculptors try to imitate his work.

That’s why Mcheno And More is Zimbabwe’s go-to source for everything fashion, art and culture – because where else would you go to?

In our time, Zimbabwe’s creative renaissance has been led by trailblazers who tuned into the power of their individuality to pour out their true self onto their works of art.

Indeed, it took pathfinders who overcame societal stereotypes drilled in by the group-think of a fake-conservative nation to show us all that self-expression is at its best when it is authentic and unapologetic.

Taking inspiration and being the inspiration, multi-creative Kuki has emerged as one of the pathfinders of our time, fast-becoming a key figure in Harare’s urban culture scene.

After already gaining critical acclaim as a visual artist, and an almost-cult following as a model; Kuki has added ‘designer’ to her glittering portfolio.

She debuted her brand called ‘Inferno’ at the 8th edition of the Fabrik Party, and her close-knit circle of friends formed a core part of her creative process in coming up with the first collection titled ‘Unapologetic.’

We had a sit down with Kuki for a long-ranging conversation on all things Inferno – her debut collection, her creative process, her inspiration, as well as her vision for the sustainable brand. Enjoy!

Meet Kuki, a multi-faceted creative from Harare.

First off, who is Kuki?

I’m based in Harare, I’m 21 years old, and I am the creative director of Inferno. I founded Inferno officially in 2023, but I had been making clothes under wraps for myself and my friends since 2020.

I’ve always been a lover of fashion and design and I always thought of starting my own sustainable brand. Finally, I was able to bring that dream into fruition last year.

What inspired your interest in fashion?

My inspiration and interest for fashion actually started with my love for visual art. As a visual artist, I wanted to find new ways to express my art form, and fashion became one of them.

I’ve always wanted to find a balance between fashion and visual art by making wearable sustainable pieces either by upcycling, dying, tinting, hand painting or crafting.

Inferno’s debut at The 8th Edition of The Fabrik Party.

Who are your role models?

My role models have always been people who push and work beyond their capacity and test themselves, in any industry.

Alex for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

One of those people is my mom. She taught me as long as you believe in yourself and accept that being different and unique from other people is what makes you and your work stand out you will always succeed.

My role models include Ray Kuwakubo, Owen Masuku and Rihanna.

Their creativity and business ethic, as well as their ability to transition and adapt creatively inspire me to test my limits and become a better creative.

Panashe for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

How long did it take you between conceptualisation of the Inferno brand, and when you launched?

The brand itself had been in the conceptualisation stage for the whole of 2023.

Ethan for Inferno, photographed by Edible in Lens

It took longer than I expected because I was still trying to keep my fashion and visual art under the same name.

I then decided on having ‘Inferno’ as the main brand and ‘Inferno Gallery’ the visual arts side running under the fashion brand would be a good idea.

Towards the end of 2023, that’s when I had the runway debut of the Unapologetic collection at Fabrik Party.

Shami for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

What statement is Inferno as a brand looking to make? Who are you trying to appeal to? What is Inferno bringing to Zimbabwean fashion?

As a brand we want to represent individuality, hence why our ethos is ‘one’s true self.’

We want to appeal to people who dislike fast fashion, people who are into sustainability and unique pieces of clothing that they know they won’t get anywhere else.

Nisha Khaleesi for Inferno, photographed by Edible in Lens

I’d say our ideal customer is the young adults, up to people in their mid-30s. But also, older because our product may likely appeal to older people who like to experiment with their dressing as well.

I feel Inferno is bringing a local alternative dressing and style to Zimbabwean fashion and we’re also promoting sustainable fashion.

Inferno’s debut collection, The Unapologetic Collection, takes a refreshing approach to design – start with the models. In coming up with that idea, what was your rationale? Are we going to be seeing more of that approach going forward?

Yeah, because my brand focuses on promoting individuality, I decided to take that approach with my first collection.

The reason why it’s called ‘Unapologetic’ is because the collection was based on people who are unapologetically themselves without the fear of what others may think of them.

Dumi for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

They stay true to themselves. So, the collection had to be about the models and their characters; because in my eyes they each were a sign of individuality, freedom and truth.

Inferno will definitely be taking that approach, different people, places and events will be a major inspiration in my design process.

Can you give us a brief breakdown of how the process of making the pieces went? Who were your models for this collection?

For the Unapologetic collection, it was 50% upcyling and reconstruction; and 50% tailoring. I did that because I had specific textures and fabrics that I wanted to work with, of which some are hard to get in Zimbabwe.

Jaxx for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

I ended up thrifting for the stuff and quality I was looking for.

Because I consider my brand an alternative brand, I used paint to handpaint some of the pieces. I also dyed and tinted fabrics and used silver hardware to add character because I’m obsessed with pins and chains.

Kuki and Panashe at the Eighth Edition of the Fabrik Party, photographed by Lennox the Photographer

In total, I worked with 14 models; Panashe , Nisha Khaleesi, Nia, Luba, Shamiso, Thando Mlambo, Courtney, Cozy Scott, Jaxx, Alex, Kuda Rice, Nobunaga, Ethan and Dumi.

Some of these guys are my closest of friends and the others are industry colleagues.

One might argue that it is collaboration that has taken you thus far. Would you consider collaboration across artforms e.g. fashion and – film, music, etc etc?

Collaboration is really great, especially if you’re collaborating with people who you believe benefit greatly from your services and vice versa.

Cozy Scott for Inferno, photographed by Edible in Lens

I would consider collaborating across artforms, but it depends on who it is.

You’re hosting an event on the 17th of March. Can we expect new designs, or it’s a showcase of the pieces on the Unapologetic Lookbook?

I’ll be showcasing new designs – a part two of Unapologetic called Fragile Hearts. We’ll be hosting the show at ZICCA, Old Greatermans Building, corner Second Street and Jason Moyo Avenue. I can’t wait!

Kuda Rice for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

You managed to rub shoulders with industry giants last year at events like the Fabrikans Convention and Italian Cuisine Week. What was your biggest takeaway, in terms of curation of a collection?

My biggest take away in terms of curation is organisation and story telling.

I learnt that you can be as experimental as you like as long as you find a way to make it work.

You are also a model. What’s your perception of the Zimbabwean modeling industry?

I’d say the Zimbabwean modeling industry is 50/50 right now, not bad but could definitely be better.

Kuki on the runway at Italian Cuisine Week in Victoria Falls, circa 2023

It is very much unfair on models sometimes, especially professionally. I do hope as we progress both non-creative and creative corporations start valuing and respecting models more than they do now.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of this career? How do you deal with it?

The most challenging aspect I’d say is resources and affordability of my product.

Courtney for Inferno, photographed by Opus Photos

Resources such as materials, quality paints, curing, good outsourcing and the like are hard to come across in Zimbabwe and it shoots up the prices of products; which at the end of the day your average person may not be able to afford.

So, at the end of the day you put in work and money but have a hard time commercialising your product because it’s not affordable.

To be honest, I wouldn’t say I have found a way to deal with it yet.

On the visual arts side, can we expect an exhibition from you this year?

This year because I’ll be working more on the fashion side of the brand, I highly doubt I’ll be able to as well as I’d want to on the visual arts side.

Luba for Inferno, photographed by Lennox The Photographer

I do have a new technique I’m experimenting with, so if that goes successfully I will definitely enter into some group exhibitions.

What do you see in the future? For Kuki, for Inferno, and for Zimbabwean fashion?

In the future, I definitely see myself exploring scopes outside of Zimbabwe so I can learn and advance more, as well as to keep an open mind.

As for Inferno, I want to take it one step at a time and establish the brand well. With the talent that’s brewing in Zimbabwe right now, I see Zimbabwean fashion breaking boundaries and surpassing expectations.

[end of excerpt]

Kuki, photographed by Edible in Lens

At just 21, Kuki is staring ahead at the rest of her life, and yet what she has managed to achieve so far already speaks volumes of her talent and ambition.

In a not so distant future, we shall see a plethora of emerging creatives inspired by Kuki and the work she is doing in the present.

Kuki’s desire to keep exploring new avenues of expressing herself as a person and as an artist is her ‘Da Vinci factor’ (or does ‘Benhura factor’ have a better ring to it?).

She embodies the power of individuality in every sense – as a person, as a visual artist, as a model, and now as Inferno’s creative director; celebrating the individuality of her peers at just the first collection.

Be sure to attend Inferno’s first runway show of 2024 on the 17th of March and witness the greatness for yourself.

Be sure to be there!

Meanwhile, you can follow Inferno on Instagram to stay updated on new drops, collaborations, and shows. You can also get an exclusive sneak peek into the life of Kuki on her personal account.

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