Just two summers ago, Aaron Kohn was a Cool Hunting intern eager to make videos about Africa. His passion for the continent was impressive, to say the least, so we couldn’t be happier to see that he’s now channeled his fervor into an online marketplace that is home to an array of design-led exports. African Lookbook is a shop stocked with select items that have a strong narrative, as well as an editorial component featuring interviews with some of Africa’s brightest minds.
Kohn, who is still in school at Columbia, came to the idea after attending Cape Town’s annual Design Indaba conference in 2011. “I was just thinking about how much awesome stuff there is there that’s not available elsewhere,” he says. He spent past year studying abroad in Johannesburg, where he was able to lay the foundation for African Lookbook. Kohn met his partner Phil Sandick while studying, and the two began meeting with the people who inspired them most. “Phil has a masters degree in oral history, so he has really made that side of the project, and all of our interviews are going into various university archives,” Kohn explains. From young South African rapper Spoek Mathambo to the talented Senegalese furniture designer Ousmane M’Baye, the interviews dig into what it means to be African, showing both the diversity and sense of unity among the extensive population.
African Lookbook’s inventory currently includes the last remaining batch of Laduma Ngxokolo‘s incredibly knitted sweaters and books like cyclists Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler’s “Bicycle Portraits.” The shop also stocks Chinese-African vases that each take three days to make, and Della iPad cases—from an LA-based outfit that supports women in Ghana. According to Kohn, their laptop-sized cases will soon be the first fair trade case sold in Apple stores.
Africa is a continent filled with brilliant innovators excited to show off their design chops to the world at large. African Lookbook is hoping to help them do this, and while Kohn acknowledges it isn’t an easy or quick process, they will continue to update both their editorial content and shop as much as they can.