How did you guys meet and what made you decide to become partners in forming the brand Duka?
We were 2 years old when we met and were inseparable all through childhood. We called each other twin opposites - we had the connection of twins, but are very different people so we complement each other really well in life and in business. Kate is low-key and practical, while I'm a bit more nonstop and conceptual.
Starting DUKA was a long chain of events, but in essence, we became partners because we both have a strong sense of purpose and wanted to work in accordance with that. DUKA allows both of us to live out our dreams - I am constantly inspired by the textiles and able to creatively express myself while working in an industry I love, both here and in Kenya. Kate is able to continue to utilize her foreign affairs background, be on site to keep our process as ethical as possible and live in the country that has been home to her and her family for the past 8 years.
Tell us a little bit about your goal with Duka.
To us, DUKA means a systematic change in the way fashion is produced and consumed. We'd love to participate in changing consumer perception, to shift away from standards of 'perfection' which to us don't exist and in reality seem to translate as uniformity. We believe in slow fashion and are happy to see more and more conscious consumers and brands considering the impact of their fashion choices.
How do you make the ethical fashion component work?
Ethical fashion is an interesting term that is interpreted differently by different people. At DUKA, ethical fashion means fashion that is sourced, designed and manufactured using sustainable business practices that meet social and environmental standards, such as fair wages and good working conditions. Operating this way requires constant attention, so we built our own production facility in Coastal Kenya where Kate works daily with our tailors. This way we can oversee the conditions and stand behind them with confidence. We work hard to be ethical in every small detail of DUKA - it's slower and more expensive, but we know we are creating pieces that are true to us, respectful of the culture and timeless and that there is a growing consumer base who craves special items.
What are the most important things to you about your brand?
Showcasing the textiles is really important to us. We see ourselves not just as designers, but as mediums for these beautiful textiles that come into our hands. The prints are stunning, the proverbs are so unique and the energy they carry is undeniable. This sets the tone for individuality, imperfection and journey - qualities we embrace as ultimate attributes of style.
The bottom line though, the most important thing to us, is our employees. At the core of it all is the DUKA family. Our creative vision and brand means nothing if we can't sustainably employ people to create a product that brings people joy and provides a stable income to everyone involved. This isn't a romantic answer, but it's a realistic one. DUKA means Shop in the Swahili language. We believe stimulating the economy is the best way to create development.
How do the women in Africa feel about you making such beautiful clothes out of their worn kangas?
In the beginning they thought we were nuts, but have come around to appreciate and take pride in the transformation. Different styles are popular in different cultures - the Kenyan women we work with love new, crisp, bright textiles so they love the opportunity to make some income off their old ones and buy new ones that are in fashion in their communities.
Do you have any good stories about interactions with the women and the culture in Kenya
One of our tailors, Dzendere, wears a kanga (proverb scarf) as a headwrap to work everyday and looks beautiful. Dzendere is a generation older than both of us, and this is her first formal employment, helping her to pay for her daughter's high school. She has been timid in the work setting, but is gradually opening up. Neither Kate nor I could figure out how she was able to wrap the cloth so perfectly so we asked her if she would be willing to teach us her method. It was a small shared moment, but memorable as she allowed us to video her putting a headwrap on another tailor. There was giggling all around as they tried it on us and uncertainty on all parts about how we looked! Respectfully appropriating culture is something we take seriously, so having our tailors excited to exchange their ideas and style means a lot.
What are your favorite pieces from the collection and how do you like to wear them?
We have such a small core base of products and are so thoughtful about the launch of new items, that it's hard to pick a favorite! Our hearts and hands are so heavily invested in each piece.
Our styles are different, and on top of that we live in different climates! I (Jules) wear a lot of black as a NY'er, but never leave the house without a proverb scarf - I feel naked without one. I often tie two together to created a mixture of prints and wear it as a statement piece around my neck, wrap them around my waist when I'm sitting on a curb, and loop them onto my purse straps when I'm feeling gypsyish or just need to take them off.
Kate loves the market dress as it's the perfect loose, breathable fit for a hot climate. It's one-size and she ties it as an empire when meeting friends at night and leaves it loose in the day or on beach outings.
Which item from the Cauldron shop are you coveting most and how would you mix it in to your wardrobe?
I (jules) am coveting the Wolfmother necklace. I have a feeling i'd wear it everyday ... the energy of the quartz, pyrite and abalone are a magical combination. The clear-sightedness is something every designer seeks, while the connection to the sea makes it even more special as I miss the Indian Ocean when I'm away from Kenya.
Kate has her eyes on the White and indigo Ceramic Vase as a centerpiece for her kitchen table. Her two kids love to pick flowers from the abundant bougainvillea vines that wrap around her house and she'd fill it with other blossoms that flourish in her Kenyan oasis.
Who would be your ideal front woman for Duka? Who embodies the spirit of your brand most?
Jules loves Annie Lennox, while Kate is feeling Emma Watson. Both women are independent thinkers with unconventional style and spirited confidence. As for men, both of us agree on Kehinde Wiley. His fusion of prints, textiles and portraiture and his intent to blur lines between the contemporary and the historical fit particularly well with the Duka sensibility. It's clear with all three of our choices that style is an extension of personality which is exactly how we hope DUKA is worn.
Photos shot and styled by Danielle Francine Schwartz