THE PAN-AFRICAN BRAND THAT BRINGS CULTURE TO FASHION
Montreal, Canada @kali.works
Explore pan-African traditions with this bold boutique brand that pays homage to the continent and celebrates the art of making culture chic. We caught up with the founders, Alex and Lindy, to talk about how Kali Works turns the feeling of taking pride in your roots into a fashion statement
Founded in Vancouver in 2019, and based in Montreal since 2021, Kali Works proves that combining slow fashion with art is the 'it formula' that transforms the wardrobes of stylish chic lovers. The pan-African boutique has released collections focused on exploring indigenous culture and proudly wearing it on your sleeve. A one-of-a-kind brand with unique vision, Kali Works finds inspiration in the vivid past of African traditions, showcasing that distance is not an obstacle as long as we feel connected to our homeland and the places we belong to.
Alex Dingiria, the conceptualist, and Lindani Mokgweetsi, the creative brand director, are immigrants from African origin, who maintained a strong bond to pieces of their native culture even after moving abroad. Through their innovative ideas the duo expands one of the biggest industries in the world by bringing forward African values and putting an emphasis on the narrative of authenticity in the fashion world. Kali Works incorporates the ideology that traditions are an element of life which can inspire each generation to seek different ways of connecting to their homeland.
The collections introduced by the brand - The Nairobian, Bogolan Coats ,Cave Art and more - are centered around celebrating the spirit of Africa. Whilst the apparel is influenced by traditional designs rooted in African history, the clothes and jewellery by Kali Works signify that expressing your origins through your style has never looked better.
‘‘Being born and raised in Botswana, I have a deep appreciation of Botswana's preservation of our culture and history. I wanted to share a collection to acknowledge the history of art in itself.’’
Lindani Mokgweetsi, founder of Kali Works for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
We love the brand not solely for their artistic work and sleek designs, but also for their respectful approach to making the fashion world more sustainable and eco-conscious. The products used by the brand are sourced, as much as possible, from the country of origin, meaning that a lot of the materials are hand-made or painted.
Kali Works is known for being a collaborative brand. They give platform to African artists to express their culture by incorporating elements of it in the apparel. Stunning face pieces and detailed jewellery; linen loungewear and satin kimonos - Kali Works is art in the making. Support this inspirational black-owned business by shopping the brand at UBC's Museum of Anthropology gift shop in Vancouver or browse their online shop from the comfort of your home.
We caught up with Alex and Lindy to talk about indulging culture and art in fashion, the new way to pay homage to one's sense of self and the inspiration behind the founders' creative process.
NOMADSofORIGIN: We love the brand and how the designs draw inspiration from African culture. Do you consider that it's important to see more representation of indigenous and African origins in the fashion world?
Alex Dingiria: I think it’s very important to have indigenous representation in all available formats, and it’s why we try to speak on the source culture for our collections as much as possible. Otherwise, we as Africans also risk misrepresenting and ‘othering’ ourselves the same ways that we complain we are viewed within western gazes. We’re definitely not perfect, but we make a great effort towards that respect. Doubly important because Africans benefit the least from the commodification of their cultures, so if commodification is unavoidable, we should at least try to own its production and elevate their narratives at minimum.
NOMADSofORIGIN: You collaborate with African artists and creatives to bring collections to life. Who are some of the talents you have worked with so far and who are the people you would like to team up with in the future?
Alex: There’s been quite a few to name them all, from Kakinbow in Senegal for mud cloth goods, Rosen Ian in Kenya for stylised illustration, Koketso in South Africa for some of the metal jewellry. I have my eyes on a few people we’d like to work with in various stages in future, but I’ll hold on to that list for now! Brands like Maxhosa, IAMISIGO, Daily Paper, and Atelier New Regime are some of the ones we look up to.
NOMADSofORIGIN: The style of Kali Works is authentic, bold and timeless. What do you wish the lovers of the brand to feel when they wear the pan-African boutique pieces?
Alex: On top of the pieces just being ‘fly’, our supporters tend to ‘click’ with something in the piece right away, whether it’s the pattern, the origin culture, choice or cut of fabric, or just our reason for making them, it’s about maintaining that initial reaction of ‘Wow! I didn’t even know this cool thing could even exist!’. That’s a reaction of being seen, it makes you feel alive somewhere inside. For me, that feeling makes me curious about what else is out there that is similar? So when you begin to ask yourself all kinds of questions about fashion, art and culture, we’re here to help you answer them.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Since the brand was founded, you have launched some impressive collections, including the Nairobian and Bogolan sets. Your latest collection, Cave Art, is rooted in Southern African traditions. The linen sets and kimonos pay a tribute to cave artworks found in Tsodilo Hills in Botswana, which are believed to have been drawn 24 000 years ago. What inspired you to center the pieces around these artworks?
Lindy Mokgweetsi: Being born and raised in Botswana, I have a deep appreciation of Botswana's preservation of our culture and history. I wanted to share a collection to acknowledge the history of art in itself. How important art is in illustrating the worlds we live in and the worlds we come from.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Is there a secret to creating such incredible pieces - clothes and accessories - in a way where they simultaneously are seen as fashion statements while representing Africa?
Alex: Look, if they do exist, we’re absolutely in search of secrets ourselves! Not sure about there being a single secret in what we do, we just try to learn and work towards expressing that as best as possible in our products.
‘‘I’ve travelled a bit, and I’ll put Nairobi up there as one of the most vibrant cities on Earth, just in terms of concentration of human activity and the appetite for life that flows from that.’’
Alex Dingiria, founder of Kali Works for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
NOMADSofORIGIN: You source a lot of your products from the countries of cultural origin, which has allowed your brand to consist of pieces made in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, DR Congo, Botswana and many more. What obstacles have you faced when becoming a sustainable forward-thinking fashion brand?
Both: Every collection is a learning experience because we’re always experimenting and trying something new, often somewhere new as well. Africa is vast and varied, so how people do business changes drastically from country to country. Even within countries, it can change depending on the region.
Understanding this is part of our sustainability because it is also about working with people respectfully and responsibly, not just extracting materials and labour. What is sustainable or ‘the smart thing’ to us in the West/Global North might not work as well in another social context, so we adjust our expectations accordingly. The internal challenge then becomes aligning these processes to our own.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Alex, what is your favourite collection that you have launched so far?
Alex: Probably The Nairobian, which plays directly off of The New Yorker magazine covers, for three main things. First, it’s an homage to my hometown Nairobi where I’m claiming space among other internationally admired, cultural epicentres like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo. I’ve travelled a bit, and I’ll put Nairobi up there as one of the most vibrant cities on Earth, just in terms of concentration of human activity and the appetite for life that flows from that.
Second, The Nairobian also launched with our Kenyan online store, continuing our Pan-African vision by having an African presence where some of our goods are directly available at/close to source. And third, I don’t think Africans’ view on culture is fixated on indigeneity, especially for those of us who grew up urban. So, it’s important for me to show the urban sides as I know them, and as enthusiastically and equally authentic as our indigenous-derived works.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Lindy, what is the one Kali Works piece you can't live without?
Lindy: The cave art kimono. It is very versatile and I can wear it throughout the year. I love that it has a perfect balance of simplicity and sophistication.
NOMADSofORIGIN: The brand started in Vancouver and is now based in Montreal. You have also recently opened an online shop in Kenya - congratulations! What else can we expect to see from Kali Works in the near future?
Alex: The results of some experimentation, we have a couple of cool stories we’re working on bringing to life. Overall our big picture goals are unchanged, just some refinements and making sure each series has something better than the last one.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Thank you for this interview. We wish you the best of luck and send our love to the Kali Works' team. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Both: Thank you for the interesting questions. It was a pleasure, and we hope to chat again. Congrats on your publication too!
Shop the botique brand online
See below the pieces we love and follow the brand on social media.
NOMADSofORIGIN x Kali Works