Malawian Designer, Lynne Kayenne, Discusses Her Brand, Inspirations and Rocking the Lockdown-Look

Malawian Designer, Lynne Kayenne, Discusses Her Brand, Inspirations and Rocking the Lockdown-Look

Growing up in Malawi taught Lynne Kayenne, the designer and founder at Lynne Kayenne Studio, to be resourceful. With the electricity always going off one had to learn pretty quickly how to use alternative ways to light the house and cook, which has made her a problem solver and has helped her in other aspects of her life as well as her 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 have shaped me into being who I am,” she told Fashionomics Africa.

Lynne has moved around between Malawi, Côte d'Ivoire and Tunisia, and all three of these African countries have had a different influence on her idea of fashion. “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.”

She was also fascinated by the fact that, in Abidjan, it does not matter whether you are a hairdresser, housewife or business owner – every woman seems to care about wearing fashionable and often embroidered pieces. “In 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 and it’s something I’ve always tried to emulate.” Lynne’s eye for fashion and style caused her peers to encourage her to start modeling at an early age, but she was very skeptical. “I remember watching MNET’S Face of Africa - a TV show that was on DSTV in 1999. It 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.”

During her time at University, Lynne came across a young Italian designer called Dario Cucci on Facebook and they 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 Dario Cucci, 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 Lynne to write her 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 delves into how dream chasers like Oprah Winfrey and Rihanna overcame adversity to achieve their goals. She then went on to launch her own blog, Populaire Life – initially, more out of frustration than anything else. “To be honest, 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 and people that reflected African excellence – black superstars of African descent 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 these experiences the common thread has been Lynne’s love of fashion – modeling it, writing about it, styling people in it – and, last year she finally made the decision to design her own collection. “I feel like it has always been inside me and now is the time for it to come out. I think creatives are chameleons and this is what I’ve grown into after all the influences and experiences I’ve had on this constant journey to express myself. 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 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 would also have to include the greats such as Gucci, Valentino, Balenciaga, DVF and Anya Hindmarch as I am constantly inspired and amazed by their creations.”

Her first collection is inspired by a conversation she had with someone about Malawi. This person knew Malawi only as a place of poverty and through its association with Madonna. This started a fire in Lynne’s bones, and she felt inspired 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 with over the past ten years. I wanted to create beautifully 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 nightwear.”

Throughout the founding of her business, Lynne was confronted with the 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 volumes 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.”

Lynne has had a lot of help from African designers such as the ladies at Zuri in Kenya, Mariama Camara and Anyango Mpinga. “I was so surprised by their readiness to help 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 Renatta Anna: she said that, Africa is  rich in creativity and human resources 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.”

Currently stuck in London due to Civid-19, Lynne remains hopeful that she will return to Malawi as soon as this is over.  “I am trying to stay productive and optimistic. I am working from my kitchen because of the space and the feeling I get from being in there. I have my laptop and my phone to schedule zoom calls and keep in touch with work as well as my family. I am trying to keep to my usual routine even though I know we can’t go outside. I try to keep a schedule by getting up at the same time and wearing make-up and my work clothes as this instantly boosts my mood and gets me into work mode. Also, this is a global pandemic, which means everyone is going through the same worries. Even though my team is in Malawi, we communicate and schedule virtual meetings and even if I don’t necessarily have to speak to them I always try to send encouraging messages – ‘have a great day’ or ‘sending you light and love’ – and encouraging them to stay at home and wash their hands.”

The lockdown has given Lynne a new take on styling, which she believes can get everyone through this bizarre time feeling and looking their best. “A good bodysuit with oversized jeans will instantly make you feel confident during lockdown as it allows us to still look fashionable whilst in doors. Use vitamin C infused moisturizer to feel hydrated and sugar lip scrub to give you an instant boost whilst in lockdown. Use a headband or a scarf if you don’t feel like styling your hair so you can get to your workspace quickly without spending ages on it.”

The lockdown hasn’t stopped Lynne from staying up to date with upcoming trends, either. In fact, she is certain about the looks that will highlight this fashion season: “An oversized collar and lapel will become a huge trend this year, as well as 60’s wallpaper print. I am hoping this will open the door for wax print to be front and center. And, finally I think fluorescent neon and highlighter colours are here to stay. This trend has been taking over the catwalks across the world for the last few seasons and does not look like it’s going away anytime soon.”

While Lynne remains stuck in London for the time being, she is hard at work planning her future. “I want 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.”

All comments

  1. Magdalene

    I love this interview. It opens my mind to see that you do anything irrespective of the limiting factors. I am a creative my self and love the runways that show case African fashion. Tye - dye (Adire of Yoruba tribe in Nigeria) has gone international in the fashion world. So, I believe that African textile will be huge part of the international runway pieces someday.

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