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Ghetto Glamor

Published 7 years ago
By Forbes Woman Africa

Italian fashion designer and Lagos-resident

Caterina Bortolussi can be mistaken for a home-grown Nigerian. She fits in seamlessly with Lagos’ thriving social circuit and is always on the VIP list at sought-after city events.

She is the founder of the ethical African fashion label Kinabuti, dedicated to sustainable development in the Niger Delta, and popular among fashionistas, Afropolitans and Nigeria’s entertainment elite.

Lagos (Nigeria)
Kinabuti Collection 2012

“I believe it was God who guided me towards this idea; I just had a dream of designing clothes. I never thought I was going to live in Africa or Nigeria. I didn’t have formal education in fashion and didn’t even know how to sketch but I have been lucky to come across so many amazing personalities that inspired me with their vision and drive,” says Bortolussi.

She had been working in the strife-torn Niger Delta since 2007, when a state of emergency was proclaimed, and there were ensuing kidnappings, curfews and police blocks. She compiled a paper called Peace and Art and saw in art a vehicle to spread peace and inspire the youth.

“This propelled me to start the Kinabuti fashion label in 2010 with the focus of using it to go into areas described as highly unsafe and populated by militants, to provide training [for women and youth] in modeling, silk-screening, cutting and pattern drafting.”

And what does Kinabuti mean?

“It is my nickname. As a little girl, I found it hard trying to pronounce my lengthy name. I used to call it Kina [short for Caterina], and Buti [short for Bortolussi], so when people asked my name, I told them I was Kinabuti.”

Before landing in Lagos eight years ago, Bortolussi was with an investment bank in London. After that, she moved to shipping, but she was on the look-out for something more exciting and creative.

“I have made several career moves, from selling advertising to setting up my own communications agency. But the direction was clear: to set up my own fashion label,” she says.

Bortolussi says settling in Nigeria has not been easy. A lot of capital is necessary to invest in Nigeria due to high costs of starting a business, limited access to credit, lack of power, and market insecurity.

“There was a time when I lost all my money and was threatened to leave the country but I never lost faith. Nigeria is not an easy place, but teaches you to endure, to be fearless and most of all to have self-belief. Nigeria has plenty of opportunities, in eight of my years here, I have felt its transformation and development and consider myself lucky. Nigeria is a place where dreams can become a reality.”

Through Kinabuti, Bortolussi is also passionate about training young entrepreneurs. She has taken her drive to the ghettoes of Port Harcourt in the south of Nigeria.

South African apartheid activist Nelson Mandela is an inspiration, as she quotes him: “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

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Related Topics: #August 2014, #Caterina Bortolussi, #Designer, #Fashion, #Italian, #Kinabuti, #Lagos.