As the month of October quickly comes to an end the scent of new beginnings continue to fill the air. Do you remember what happened on October 1st? Of course, you do, we’ll never forget it because it’ll always be #ForeverDuncan day!
Yes, we live in a world where Social Media is the place to be and our phones are velcro to the palm of our hands as we await the next ‘It’ notification. To most, the excitement of this hashtag frenzy has slowed down, but the parties involved have experienced success at different levels as this ‘moment in time’ has become a ‘moment for life.’
Take Gayima Kanu for example, a native daughter of Sierra Leone representing one-third of the Kanu Trio (sisters/founders of the design house, AMYANG FASHUN), also, Gayima is the designer of the #ForeverDuncan wedding dress. And she expresses to Row A Seat 1 during this exclusive interview how forever grateful she is to Alfred & Sherrell Duncan for choosing her to be apart of their special day!
Check out the full interview below…
Row A Seat 1: When did you fall in love with fashion?
Gayima Kanu of Amyang Fashun: My love for fashion started at a young age. I can remember arguing with my Dad because he shopped for my school attire and was determined to dress me as a boy. I dressed in layers, wearing what I wanted to wear underneath what he wanted me to wear, so I was always conscious of what I had on.
The only time I loved what I wore was when my Mom would shop for me. She purchased all of my formal wear and traditional wear. I felt like a little lady. As a child of Sierra Leonean parents, I loved watching my Mom get dressed for special occasions. She transformed from regular Mom to Queen Mother and I lived for it!
Row A Seat 1: Describe Gayima Kanu, the designer.
Gayima Kanu: As a designer, I allow the energy and vibrations that I encounter to stimulate my creativity. At times, I receive it while fabric sourcing. Other times I get it from people watching, or a dream will stay with me and from that feeling I sketch. Ultimately, I go within to create. It ensures my authenticity. I love bold, vibrant colors that generally compliment the skin tones of many and I appreciate fabric pairings that help to make clients look amazing.
Row A Seat 1: African prints have been on-trend globally for quite some time now, explain your thoughts on how it’s evolving as a wardrobe staple.
Gayima Kanu: We are entering into what I call the ‘Afro-politan Renaissance.’ It’s a renewed sense of pride for Africa, and there is a strong pursuit to better understand and even embrace the various cultures indigenous to the continent. Now, the difference from previous times where people of African decent have wanted to know more about the culture is that Africans are opening their hearts to African Americans and others of African decent. They are embracing them and teaching them the culture. Unity and dialogue will ensure the aspects like fashion, and the use of Ankara will become more than on-trend fashion. It will become a staple. It will become a regular choice, just like stripes, and paisley, as it should be.
Row A Seat 1: Tell us about the genesis of Amyang Fashun.
Gayima Kanu: Amyang Fashun was around well before #ForeverDuncan. It’s inception occurred a little over three years ago. My sister and co-founder, Sallay was always into thrifting as young as high school. While she was going into her last year of undergrad she really got into recycling jeans. She would buy denim and distress, bleach and add various fabrics and objects to them as patchwork. She had noticed that short shorts were trending, but she wanted to stand out. Once she wore a pair of her creations, girls on campus started approaching her, and soon commissioned her to make shorts for them too.
Meanwhile, I was in Corporate America walking around like I was a runway model. Colleagues and management constantly complimented my attire and style. I was a regular at my seamstress’ home, sketching and submitting images of dresses and jackets that I wanted to wear, but could not find anywhere. She was annoyed, but she made it happen. It got to a point where I only wore amazing thrift finds, reconstructed dresses or originals.
As first-generation Sierra Leoneans, we always had to have outfits made for special occasions, so we were always designing for ourselves. One summer afternoon when Sallay was at my house creating for her friend, we sat down and after a quick conversation, we said, let’s do it. I had always wanted to own a fashion design house and even came up with the name a decade before that moment, but timing is everything. Embarking on this journey with my sister is what feels right, and so we are in this together.
Row A Seat 1: How has business been since the amazing frenzy behind #ForeverDuncan?
Gayima Kanu: Business has picked up since the viral frenzy of #ForeverDuncan. However, we also experienced a surge in 2015 when images of our team went viral during Afropunk 2015. We have to give credit to friends, family, and Instagram! It helped to share with everyone who we were. Word of mouth as well as meeting people while we wear our apparel has also helped build our client base. Since #ForeverDuncan, we are working with new clients to create wedding gowns and custom attire. Hot leads have taken the next step and place orders. We are busy even though historically its slow production period for us, so we are excited. Our administration team has grown, and our production team welcomes the new influx of orders. It’s been a blessed time.
Row A Seat 1: Give us all the deets of the wedding gown you designed… Spill this tea.
Gayima Kanu: The Duncans are an amazing couple! The two had finished marital counseling, and Sherrell was ready to go to the Justice of the Peace! She knew that he was her husband and she didn’t want to waste any more time. She reached out to me first because she wanted to commission Amyang Fashun to create what they would wear to the Justice of the Peace.
She wasn’t concerned about having a formal wedding, but she did want them to look nice on their big day. That day I took her measurements, we talked about ideas of fabrics and design options, and how I would convince Alfred to allow me to measure him as a fit model for a design I was working on. She wanted to surprise him with a couture suit. Since we are both pretty emotional, we also cried a little and laughed a lot. It was exciting.
About a week or so later, we met again, but she was not in the best of spirits. Alfred was not in agreement with her idea to go to the Justice of the Peace. She was sad, but said that she would exercise patience and allow him to handle things so she was cancelling the order. What she didn’t know was that my next appointment that day was with her future husband. He invited me to lunch and shared that he was going to surprise her with a wedding and that he needed my assistance. I was so happy! We sat for about an hour and discussed his vision and next steps. I was elated!
Since, Sherrell is a certified personal trainer, my biggest concern was her measurements. Sherrell had shared that she recently hired a personal trainer, so I knew she was going to loose inches. I had to find a way to measure her again without blowing my cover. It was the end of August and I still had not sketched the dress. I was in NYC for the majority of the summer, so when I knew I was heading to Maryland, I scheduled an appointment with her. I told her as we were working to finalize which fabrics would be used for our new collection, I needed her opinion. I was measuring all clients that workout, because I needed to know which measurements actually change. I really did need this information, so it worked out for both of us. I stopped by to collect updated measurements and began to sketch!
Initially, I thought I was going to be sketching a yellow-gold wedding dress, Sherrell’s favorite color. However, once I sketched the dress and sent it for approval, Alfred loved it, but shared his only request. The dress must be black. Of course, one eyebrow of mine jumped to the moon. Black? He responded… Black. I showed the sketch to Sallay, shared with her the color and she just looked at me. For about 74 full seconds… We discussed fabric options. On an afternoon when I was fabric sourcing for the wedding, my staff photographer captured me in the garment district heading to pick up black tulle and I posted it as a Facebook Profile picture. Sherrell commented about loving the photo and asked when I would be returning to Maryland. It took everything in me not to respond and say, “Of course you do! I’m gathering fabric for your surprise wedding!” I had to respond and say that I would be back in mid-October. A boldface lie. (sigh) But, it was worth it!
We work with an amazing, but shy tailor in NYC that has a long list of clients, including celebrities. He is dedicated to the craft and his hard work and skills ensured that the sketch came to life. I picked up the dress from him late Thursday evening, headed back to Maryland by Friday evening and presented the dress to Sherrell as her “Engagement dress” on Saturday afternoon. She was excited to see me before she knew I had a dress for her, so the moment she was fully dressed meant so much. The waist was about an inch and a half too big, so I cinched the waist for an exact fit once she was in the skirt. The top fit perfectly and although the train was designed to be detachable, I didn’t want to chance it not staying hooked in place at the waist, so I quickly tacked the train to the skirt at the waist… and the rest is history.
#ForeverDuncan was a project of love and dedication from all aspects. Amyang Fashun is proud to be apart of their wedding history.
Row A Seat 1: We did a little digging and we heard how much you admire Solange. Row A Seat 1 can’t get enough of album… I’m sure you’re smitten by the music AND the wardrobe, ugh!!! If she were to contact you to design a few pieces for her, tell us how that would unveil?
Gayima Kanu: Well, if she were to contact us directly, she would hear her voice in the background singing, because A Seat at The Table is on REPEAT. This body of work is profound and it literally speaks for us. Listening to this project is like listening to myself if I could sing and wanted to sing my feelings out loud in a powerful, yet classy way. Solange did it. She did it! And I appreciate her so much for doing it. She delivered my current state of mind and I am sure that of many others. She delivered the truth and her selection in who she worked with on this project speaks volumes and makes the project even more profound.
Therefore, if she called, I would probably scream for a few minutes and cry while Sallay calmed me down. Then, we would FaceTime our youngest sister and praise dance for another few minutes. After all of the emotions, we would get down to creating for a creative genius. We know she is limitless and so we would allow her to inspire us, having no boundaries; all of the freedom. It would be an iconic moment curated by #blackgirlmagic.
Row A Seat 1: What’s next for Amyang Fashun?
Gayima Kanu: We release our new collection on October 29th in Washington DC, called The Blackout. The Blackout, delivers contemporary cuts and bold fabrics that pair well with various styling perspectives. We hope to debut the collection in other cities this fall.
It is a ‘Street Style’ capsule that offers options for both men and women. Each piece was created with black fabric options or with the intention to be paired with a black option. Sallay, the Creative Director for the capsule drew her inspiration from the pride and beauty of all that is Black. “Our hope is that our clientele connects with each piece they purchase, and enjoys the attention received when they wear a piece from The Blackout.”
I wanted the element of “couture” to maintain a presence with this capsule so clients may select from nine Ankara fabrics for each piece as they shop The Blackout capsule on our site. We hope that this capsule is well received and made available in selected retailers across the world. We will continue to serve our clients with Client Inspired Couture Designs, Personal Styling Services, and continue to serve our purpose as inspiring fashion curators that are inspired by the Continent of Africa, creating for the global citizen.
Here’s more information on the Kanu Trio of AMYANG FASHUN here. Follow them via Social Media: