You may have seen her create quite a commotion around town with her edgy modern contemporary designs and her influential activism.
You may have seen her create quite a commotion around town with her edgy modern contemporary designs and her influential activism. In this edition, we will be talking about Kunjina Tesfaye, founder of Kunjina.
Kunjina Tesfaye was born in Bahirdar in 1995, where she stayed until she was two years old and moved to Addis Ababa with her family. Since she was little she had a polarized difference with her sister. Her sister would always go out and play while she would keep to herself and draw. The young aspiring designer was inclined to fashion at a very early age. She would go through her mom’s closet styling her mom, and on Sundays, she would put together fashion shows to showcase to her family. Since her mom’s clothes were large on her she would pin the clothes and manipulate them into fitting her, and so she learned the basics of cloth-making at a pretty young age.
She finished her high school education in cathedral school where she designed her graduation dress and had it made for her. From the remains of her dress, she pinned a design on a hand-me-down manikin that her aunt was particularly fond of. The aunt bought her the sewing machine from which then she started making clothes. After high school, she was admitted to AAU majoring in construction management, where she would learn for five years. In her fourth year, for her internship program, she took a short course in Wossi International fashion institute and then started making clothes and sold it to her friends, and with that, she officially launched her brand "Kunjina".
Kunjina, at the time, was selling her clothes and had started to make a name for herself through her campus. In her fifth year, she entered African Mosaique’s incubator program where she would learn about branding and several other sides to fashion she couldn't learn in fashion school. It was hard for her to juggle the two lifestyles - as a college senior and a student in the fashion program. She would find herself getting overwhelmed between the two especially when it was exam season; she would have to travel far to get from one school to the other. She was finally able to finish that year, and it paid off for her. As a completion of the year’s course, she put together a runway piece she called "Arti’tecture" which was an infusion of the world for her a the time, and won the competition through that collection. This defined her career by getting her recognized by more people. After her graduation, she collaborated with two other designers and opened a shop located in Bole which now moved to century mall.
The most important things to her when it comes to designing are freedom of expression, getting people to relate and find themselves in her work, and also that people could distinguish her designs when they see her clothes. Through her clothes, she’d like to represent freedom, strength, empowerment, and something new. She first expresses her full ideas through her runway collections, then changes them to be applicable and wearable to everyday street fashion. She has worked with various models and artists that are the faces of the industry, like Gelila Bekele and Janoband.
When she started she had the chance to be mentored by Fikirte, one of the biggest names in the industry. She helped her get a deep understanding of what to do, what not to do, and when to do it. Her designs and collections, as hinted above, are based on her experiences, and they hold meaning in their stories. Her “Resilience” collection, released around the end of 2019, was inspired by a book she read that spoke into her life to never stop growing and to always keep searching for more.
About two years ago she joined the fashion revolution movement. A movement that confronted the industry on the effect it has on climate change and the living costs of the employees that work there. Asking questions such as; were the employees paid fairly? Was the working environment healthy for them? What the harms of fast fashion are and its sustainability. To educate people on what these matters are and be a part of the solution.
Kunjina wants to expand her target market and make it in the international industry. She wants to do more collaborations with more like-minded artists and wants to go into magazine production in the long term.
As time goes by, she hopes to lean more into high-end fashion with sustainable and good quality clothes with a close team that creates a good working environment. She is currently working on her next collection and could be accessed at her shop in Century mall. When asked what she would advise to people following her footsteps, she said, "Don't let anyone box you, bring what you have to the industry and don’t be intimidated by what you see and give yourself the freedom to be yourself, to make time for your dreams however busy you could be; And finally for parents invest in your kids’ dreams and raise them believing in them."