slum studio turns clothing waste into hand-painted clothes

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“If you are in the north of the world, don’t say that you don’t know that the donated clothes end up in africa” sel kofiga, Ghanaian artist and founder of the slum studio, tells designboom. a welcome antithesis to fast fashion and current greenwashing trends, slum studio is an accra-based brand that sources second-hand textile scraps and garment scraps from markets in ghana and transforms them into new clothes. the line of ethical clothing highlights the issues of overconsumption, mass production and wasted fashion while creating tailor-made recycled pieces that illustrate the living stories of these second-hand markets through glorious colors and illustrations.

in this interview with designboom, kofiga discusses why he formed the slum studio, fashion policy, and what individual consumers can do to become more responsible when buying – and donating – clothes.

fibi afloe images

designboom (DB): you are above all a multidisciplinary artist. What brought you into fashion and what inspired you to create the slum studio?

kofiga salt (SK): my practice, which presents itself as an interesting intersection of many things such as performance, installation and abstract expressionism, aims to highlight the different meanings of the coexistence of body and object in a space. I’ve always been fashion oriented, it’s something I see having a culturally and aesthetically intriguing performative element. So I wanted to explore it further. the slum studio started out as a medium i wanted to use to talk about kayayei, a force behind the redistribution of second hand clothing in ghana. while I wanted it to be an expressive access point to my audience, I also wanted it to be a space that I can always come back to while exploring and finding meaning in a lot of other things happening around me. .

slum studio turns clothing waste into hand-painted clothes designboom

DB: you recently shared a quote from architect francis kéré when speaking to designboom about his take on sustainability and the sustainability trend. What is your take on sustainability in fashion. Is it frustrating to see fast fashion brands jump on the trend just to sell more products?

SK: it’s so surreal that my work is among some of those great minds, legends to say the least. when you wrote to me I was shocked to be honest. I think these great minds, francis kéré, lesley lokko, richard rowland, etc. whose work I love so much, have an interesting approach to sustainability in their practice and they deliver it all the time. my dad was an architect too, i don’t know if that influenced me but i like to look at things through structure, form and form. the kind of role color and object play in our urban spaces is interesting, and as creatives it’s even more important to revisit the things we invite into our creative process.

slum studio turns clothing waste into hand-painted clothes designboom

SK (continued): many cultures around the world have a well-documented history of how sustainable clothing has been beautifully presented, the word is not new. yes, we have evolved and become more innovative, but I think it will always depend on our ability to use the resources that we have. after using them, how do these resources affect our ecosystem in the near future?

it is indeed frustrating how big brands and many fashion designers are using sustainability as a marketing tool to sell, but through it all i am hopeful.

slum studio turns clothing waste into hand-painted clothes designboom

DB: Tell us a bit about the process of creating the clothes for the studio in the slum? where do the clothes come from and how can they be reused?

SK: the process starts from a bland thought and then gradually develops into a lot, I guess lots of colorful thoughts. in accra i visit many markets, one of them is kantamanto which is well known to be one of the largest and busiest second hand clothing markets in west africa. it houses hundreds of bullets that enter the country in a week. here I start to document (chat with dealers, ask questions, take photos, videos, etc.) to create the story. it is in this story that I redevelop in different color palettes and symbols which are all connected to the market. I start collecting used cotton fabrics, curtains and scraps (all from US, UK, Korea, France, Germany etc) put them into new clothes. this has been happening for two years now. very soon I will migrate to tapestry and also try my hand at sculptural pieces.



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