Nigerian-German designer Bobby Kolade distinctly referenced his African upbringing by mixing bark cloth into his debut collection presented last week in Berlin. The fabric, made from the bark of a fig tree, was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008 and is the oldest textile known to mankind.
“It was traditionally used to wrap corpses—a bit like mummifying—when I first encountered it as a child,” Kolade says, noting that he’d never thought of using it in a collection. “I randomly reencountered it a friend’s place… She went to Uganda and bought it off a mortician for me.”
He was attracted to the fabric not only by its familiar origin, but also because of its obvious sustainability as an organic material. “I’m not saying that I made a 100% sustainable collection—but I’d never use leather, for example,” Kolade says, explaining that he wants to replace leather with bark cloth. “Hopefully by reinventing and developing the fabric, it can become my trademark.”
Grit Thönnissen, fashion editor of German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, agreed. “I can imagine pieces from his debut collection being developed into a marketable product by which Bobby Kolade can be identified,” she said in a video blog praising the collection. Models of all races walked down the runway dressed in tailored wool suits, loosely fitted bark cloth coats and skirts with undone belts and collars, baby blue teddy sweaters with gaping shoulders, flaired trousers with slits up the shin, and deconstructed silk dresses.
“Things Fall Apart” is both the name and the concept of the 26-look collection. “Certain pieces weren’t perfect when fitting, but instead of just discarding them, I reworked them into the collection. The same with the bark cloth, as it comes with tears that have to be stitched together,” 26-year-old Kolade says.