This fashion designer is turning afro hair into luxury fabrics
Lamula Anderson’s second collection is as attractive as it is provocative. She talks about her inspiration and journey to self-acceptance
26 April 2017 // Yovanka Paquete Perdigao
British-Ugandan, Lamula Anderson, is the brains and beauty behind Lamula Nassuna, a women’s wear label based in east London. The label draws inspirations from the modern global woman, creating smart wearable clothing that combines sophisticated fashion with an ultramodern edge. Anderson talks to Yovanka Perdigao about her life and work.
My first love was art. As an 8 or 9 years old, growing up in Hackney, my uncle saw I was always drawing and promised to buy me colouring pencils. Although he never kept his promise, it reminds me of the first time I realised I loved to draw. I drew anything I saw – from magazines to my own toes – and at 16, went to college, which lead me to study fashion at University of East London.
Setting up the Lamula Nassuna label took guts. It may sound trivial to some, but it was a big deal for me. The fear of not pleasing the majority was scary. I was initially inspired by the elegance of the 1950s with the likes of Audrey Hepburn. But gradually as the label evolved, I felt it needed to go in a direction that was more unique and fulfilling.
Figuring out that direction wasn’t easy. When I started my fashion career in 2012, interning with brands such as Jens Laugesen and Polo Ralph Lauren, I struggled to find role models I could relate to. I could not see any black women in the mainstream fashion media – it is still difficult to name a popular black female fashion designer in the UK. So instead, I hid behind my friends as they set up their own companies. I struggled with self confidence and not believing in my own ability but my best friend helped me pull my head out of the ground and Lamula Nassuna came to be in 2014.
“The process of normalising black women’s hair is still present, especially in fashion”
The desire to incorporate hair into my work was largely derived from my own personal hair journey. At 15, I was allowed to relax my hair. From that moment I found myself in an unstoppable cycle, using dangerous chemicals to manipulate my hair’s natural state to suit what society deemed “acceptable”.
The short version of the story is that I eventually cut off my hair as the chemical relaxer and weaves were affecting my physical and mental health. For the first time since my mother had stopped braiding my hair, I wore my kinky natural hair out in public.
I carried out a lot of primary and secondary research, both visual and of literature. I interviewed several women. The findings left me feeling quite sad; my research took me back to the period of slavery and how it has affected black women’s choices with their hair.
During slavery, kinky or afro hair was compared to wool and seen as unattractive. ‘Relaxed’ – chemically treated – hair came to represent what ‘normal’ and beautiful hair looked like. Sadly this process of normalising black women’s hair is still present, especially in fashion.
I looked at the history of black women’s hair and compared with today. I experimented a lot with the hair and created my own fabrics using hair. I also looked at the process of how we create the weave and protective hair styles such as bantu knots and cornrows. This was all used as inspiration to design the garments.
This collection, called Enviri, which means ‘hair’ in Luganda, has been a turning point for the label. Enviri uses the same process that black women use with our hair, and incorporates it into wearable garments.
Initially I started by mirroring the traditional application, for example the “braided pencil skirt” symbolises protective hairstyles – cornrows or single plaits (sometimes also called braids). Each piece is hand braided and then individually applied to the base cloth by hand stitching. This again mirrors the technique and labour black women pour into th
e care of their hair. The end result is a beautiful weighty garment that represents black culture. The “Afro dress” fabric is another example. This was created by applying weave onto a cloth base by sewing the weave tracks on individually. This is similar to creating a weave cap but only on a larger surface.
The Enviri collection specifically uses kinky hair because society needs to accept this type of hair. Whether it be at work or at school, or even on the red carpet – what better way to embrace this than to introduce this beautiful versatile texture into fashion? The ultimate aim is to inspire, celebrate women and start a dialogue about one’s relationship with hair.
The message here is that afro hair can be glamorous and fashionable. Look at the likes of Lupita Nyongo and Viola Davis, the new emerging role models who women and young girls of colour can relate to.
The most important lessons I’ve learnt are perseverance, determination and to talk to myself in the mirror! Every single failure and rejection is something to learn from. The fashion industry is highly competitive, make sure your brand has your DNA. Your brand is you. If something is not working don’t always do the same thing over again, take risks and the results may surprise you. Finally, surround yourself with encouraging and supportive people. One good friend is better than 1,000 followers on instagram.