Yesterday marked the start of New York Fashion Week and also the first in the Oxford Fashion Studio Runway Shows. I had the opportunity to do a skype interview with the creator of Urban Zulu, Papy Kaluw. It was such a pleasure and a blessing to interview him so I hope you enjoy this interview.
Meet Papy Kaluw!
He is the head designer and founder of Urban Zulu, a South African based fashion label. When he was a young man, in the late nineties, he moved to South Africa from The Democratic Republic of Congo to pursue his dream and establish himself as a fashion designer. Over time, he developed not only his pattern making skills but also his distinct approach to blend traditional African fabrics with contemporary design. Papy has dressed a number of celebrities and his work has been shown on national television. He has showcased several times at South African Fashion Week and other national events and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Fashion Design and Technology Department at the Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria.
Urban Zulu specialises in ready-to-wear as well as custom made clothing for men and women as well as accessories and concepts. The name Urban Zulu signifies the meaning of Urban Heaven and their latest collection that will be at Oxford Fashion Studio’s New York Collections aims to reflect that. Here is what Papy had to say about his new Black Angels collection:
Victoryforu: Why have you chosen Oxford Fashion Studio to showcase your amazing designs?
Papy Kaluw: I like the team, I like the freshness of the team. They’re new, young and talented with a great vision. Oxford Fashion Studio, They are not like an old machine that when you press the button, everything works slowly, they’re really fresh, they’re really young, they have great new ideas and they really take care of the designers. They follow up, they help you: They are really great! I think, for me, it’s one of the best experiences, I have worked with many different people but the treatment that I get from them (Oxford Fashion Studio) is different. I like working with them!
V: I am sure Carl, Tiffany and the Oxford Fashion Studio team would really appreciate hearing that so thank you, What was the inspiration behind this collection?
PK: I did this collection specifically for New York Fashion Week, it was not a collection that I already had planned and put together. When I decided to do New York Fashion Week, that’s when I decided to do this collection called Black Angels. Urban Zulu as a brand actually has a mandate, I am a little bit religious, I believe that God has assigned me to do this, to bring positivity back to being black. Every time black is mentioned, it is always to do with negative stuff, if Africa is mentioned, it’s almost always something negative. For me, New York Fashion Week is one of the greatest platforms, we’re bringing down Black Angels. When we talk about Angels, it is positive and anytime black is mentioned it is almost always negative. So the Black Angels is to show the positivity of being black which is Africa. That is the inspiration! We use a very popular cloth with a pattern called Dashiki. This is what we use as the centre of attraction because what the Dashiki has done, it has united the people all over, the people of Africa all over the world. When you go to Congo, they’re all in Dashiki, when you go to Cameroon, when you go to Nigeria or England even in Europe, you see people wearing Dashiki all the time. It has become a symbol of unity for the African Community.
V: So from that, is your target audience the Black community or are you targeting everyone?
PK: Everyone. You must understand one thing. The cuts of the suits we use every day come from the Italians because they had done such a great job of trading in the market and now it has become the norm. So, now my job, my assignment is to bring that greatness of what African fashion can be to the world. I want everyone in the world to be able to wear African style without having to think this is African Style in the same way that Italian Suits have become the norm. Coming to New York is actually helping us to show this further, we want to target the rest of the World. Everyone already knows about us in Africa so now is the time to spread out.
V: That makes a lot of sense and it is really empowering to see loads of people from different cultures embracing different cultures. I think that is something that is definitely necessary in this world and another way of us all showing love. What would you say Urban Zulu’s brand Ethos is?
PK: Our Ethos and What we stand for is the assignments to bring the heavenly to earth. The direct translation of Zulu into English is Heaven. So basically, Urban Zulu is the representation of Urban Heaven – Heaven on Earth. When you are an Urban Zulu guy, you represent that Heavenly mentality. In creation, God created one man (Adam) and from that man we all came. Whether you’re Green, Peach, Black or White, for Urban Zulu we all came from that one person and that should unify us. Our Ethos is “We are One, We are all from heaven. (Created By God)” This is what we always try to promote and always try to represent!
V: That is extremely interesting, Thank you. What would you say have made you the person and designer that you are today?
PK: What made me into the person and designer that I am today is the idea of Service. I am here to serve, as much as fashion can be a little bit glamorous, it’s more about service. If you place yourself in a position of service and know I am here to serve these people, It will change your way of looking at things. For me, Clothing people is my assignment, when you put it into that concept, it makes much more sense. When I am dealing with someone, my mindset is always service to give the people what God has given to me to offer. When you are ready to serve, you will be served, once you start serving the people, things start to come back to you and you will become popular. Service is the Key!
V: Through your life, Through your design career, are there any mistakes that you have made and if so, what have you learned from them?
PK: You don’t stop making mistakes! You don’t get to a point in life where you make all of you mistakes and then Stop. If you look deeper into my biography, you will find out that I am a self-taught designer and self-taught businessman. The idea of me starting this brand on my own to where we are today now having employees is amazing but it wouldn’t have happened without the mistakes. There have been countless mistakes and I don’t regret any of them. It’s actually the mistakes that teach you what you need to know, I am actually quite happy with all of the mistakes that I have made. If I didn’t make some of those mistakes, I wouldn’t be here. So I can’t say that I would change any mistake I have made because it has made me who I am today. I am very grateful for all of the mistakes I have made and also grateful to God for granting me life so I can learn and make mistakes.
V: Which designers do you aspire to be as successful as and linked with that who would you like to dress?
PK: I have been asked this question quite a bit and it is a little hard for me to answer because of the fact that I am a servant. If I get the call to serve, I will serve. I don’t look into other people’s work – That is also my mentality – I focus on what I am doing. I am not aspiring to be another designer as I have had an amazing unique journey. I believe that my journey is really unique and it has been destined to be what it is today. Maybe one day, someone will look up to me but they will follow their own path. However, I do like some other designers work. I was born and raised in The Congo so I used to like Papa Wemba, there was this guy who used to dress him called Yohji Yamamoto – he’s Japanese – I liked how he cuts the clothes, it’s very funky! I think it is also very original and very spiritual. I love good cuts and patterns and Yohji has it, he’s someone I would love to dress. Celebrity wise, I have dressed people in South African, I am actually one of the top artists. There aren’t many big names in South Africa that I haven’t dressed, I am one of the top guys. I would love to dress Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am because he’s very funky and very trendy. I also grew up loving the Fugees and I’d love to dress Lauryn Hill. I think we could also take Urban Zulu to Solange as well. These are the people in America I would like to dress but in South Africa we have dressed Micasa and some other big names from South Africa.
V: I could completely see Solange and Will.I.Am in your designs. So what is your personal style?
PK: My Personal style, Great, It’s very street and African and Urban. It’s also very classic and clean. I am the guy that will wear the latest Air Max or Adidas or Yeezy with with African Print trousers, a white shirt, slim leather tie with a Jacket, cowboy hat and glasses. That is actually my style. It’s classic, it’s street, it’s funky and it’s African and very slick at the same time.
V: That actually sounds so brilliant. Personally, I love anything with bright colours, bold patterns that are dynamic and interesting. So your Personal Style sounds like something I’d love to try out.
PK: Or I would wear a pair of Jeans with a nice white sock, Doctor Martens Shoe, a white shirt with an African Bomber Jacket even if it is longline, I still keep that white clean look but I can’t hel but add an African touch to my body, it’s just in my blood. I am currently wearing a white shirt with my own African Print bow tie.
V: I really like the bow tie, it looks so brilliant. Definitely something I would wear!
PK: Thank you very much, I will send you one with Carl and Tiffany.
V: Thank you very much! I look forward to wearing it. What advice would you give to an up and coming designer?
PK: Originality. My advice is Originality because when you find you, you will find you. God never created two people the same, he created one. Like Darius Smith, there is only one guy. If you don’t find you and you are trying to be Vivienne Westwood or Massimo Dutti or even Urban Zulu, it won’t work. You need to find your own assignment aand do it to the best of your ability, you have been equipped to run your own assignment. Young man, find you, make you and you will never work a day in your life.
V: Thank you very much for that Amazing advice. For me, Fashion, Writing and Dance are my passions so doing interviews like this are perfect. I am in my element. I’m just so happy and that is why I am smiling at the moment.
PK: I am grateful that I can share with you what I know about style and fashion and I am so grateful that I can speak to you as well. You are in a place that we as a company want to get to. England is somewhere that Urban Zulu would really grow. It has been a priveledge and an honour so thank you!
V: Thank you so much. I wish you all the success with Oxford Fashion Week’s New York Collections and I hope to speak and work with you soon.
Being able to interview Papy Kaluw was such a blessing and hopefully we will be able to work together in the future so keep it locked here on Victoryforu Fashion to see the developments of this interview.
Last Night, Urban Zulu took to New York Fashion Week with Oxford Fashion Studio and he absolutely dominated. Check out this video to see some of the amazing designs:
Another Big shout out to Sibo Mabuza (Papy’s Wife) for setting this interview up and being so kind to me in the process. I pray that God will continue to bless you both in your marriage, in your business and in your lives.
Go and check out urbanzulu.com for more magnifient work!