Studio 189’s SS16 Collection

Breaking free of what's expected from African fashion, the social enterprise spotlights beautiful indigo hues and techniques

Co-founded in 2013 by actress Rosario Dawson and former Bottega Veneta associate communications director Abrima Erwiah, Studio 189 isn’t just an emerging fashion brand started by two longtime friends. It’s a movement creating opportunities in a place where there aren’t many—yet. Headquartered in both New York and Accra, Ghana, Studio 189 produces all of their pieces in Ghana, with handmade fabrics from Mali and Italy, using traditional techniques like hand-batiking, Bògòlanfini (dyeing cotton with layers of fermented mud), beading, kente weaving and (featured most prominently in their upcoming SS16 collection) indigo dyeing. And the silhouettes—from kimonos and jumpsuits to tunics and blazers—are contemporary, even leaning toward androgynous.

“I believe that through fashion and creativity, you can create social change—I actually believe that. And I believe if you work together, we can create an industry that can create jobs, education opportunities and advance the next generation of awesome people,” Erwiah, a native New Yorker with West African roots, tells CH. “There are so many amazing people that are doing quality handworks but lacking the next stage: the network, the opportunity to make it modern, more accessible, etc. I felt that we could help bridge that gap.” Focusing on sustainability, empowerment, education and skills training, rather than charity, Studio 189 is investing in Ghanian and Malian artisans and, overall, changing stereotypes associated with luxury fashion. The SS16 collection is their third and most sophisticated effort yet, channeling versatility, modernity, quality—and it’s redefining the conventional imagery often associated with Africa in the fashion world.

“We wanted to be able to show you how something was made, and go all the way back to the farm, to how indigo is grown, the colors it takes to dye it, we take you all the way through,” says Erwiah on the SS16 collection. “[Indigo] unifies a lot of us. Japanese, the fine art of shibori; the US, the all-American denim jeans; there are tribes in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso that make indigo.”

“My friend was just listening to a final interview from Dr Oliver Sacks on Radiolab. He was saying how, in his lifetime, he was interested in finding and discovering indigo. He claims to have seen it twice [in hallucinations] and said that indigo was the color of heaven,” continues Erwiah. “I think indigo is a very beautiful, important color that connects us all; so we really focused on blue in different hues and different techniques.”

Erwiah is especially proud of the new leather backpacks that will be coming out next year. “We did bags before, but what we did this time, we spent a lot more energy, a lot more money,” she says. “The perfect bag,” as she describes it, highlights the work of both Ghanaian and Italian artisans, with hand-batiked lining, hidden utilitarian zippers (including a roomy pocket for a laptop) inside, and recycled glass beads for subtle ornamentation.

While we wait with bated breath for next spring to come, shop Studio 189’s current collection online.

Images courtesy of Studio 189