Japanese Brothers meet Africa – DESIGNER PROFILE

Posted on August 8, 2011


One of the most inspiring and relevant catwalk trends of 2011 is the ethnic/tribal direction many brands have taken. Even at the recently held PURE tradeshow in London – trend forecast specialists held Africa as a major print from Spring/Summer into Autumn/Winter 2012. Generally in fashion things have been updated by merging techniques and influences from different cultures in the same collections or even on the same garment. Is this a result of an increased interest and awareness of our origin and what is authentic in the vast sea of fast fashion and mass production that is making large cities more and more similar? What you find in NYC is the same as what you would see in Istanbul and even Cape Town, with the aggressive expansion of retailers in Africa such as Zara, Wallmart and Gap.

With this trend in mind, I cannot help but think of the Japanese brothers known as the Inoue Brothers and their The Inoue Brothers/ Ubuntu Project. You may not be too aware of them but at AfricaFashionGuide we like to bring to you these ‘silent’ ‘undercover’ designers making tracks globally with projects in Africa.

Born and raised in Denmark, Satoru and Kiyoshi Inoue run a design studio where they combine Scandinavian simplicity with Japanese sensibility to create something they call ‘SCANDINASIAN design’.

Originally working with graphic and conceptual design for clients in the UK and Denmark and moving on by producing their own collections, the brothers have made a name for themselves as a quality knitwear brand with sustainability and social responsibility as their key focus and starting point. In 2005, they initiated a long-term collaboration with a network of traditional Bolivian artisan mothers to produce garments with an authentic yet contemporary touch in Alpaca, Pima Cotton and Andes Highland Wool.

Sharing a similar philosophy of quality and ethics, they caught the interest of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons in 2008, resulting in a collaboration for a special Christmas collection of hand knitted sweaters, a hat and scarves in 100% natural Alpaca.

One of their more recent initiatives, starting in s/s 2010 and named UBUNTU, is a result of a relationship formed with local South African designers, producers and a co-operative of artisans from the township of Khayelitsha who use their skills to create beautiful beaded pieces that are unique to South Africa. The word “Ubuntu” originates from the Bantu languages of Southern Africa and has many meanings, one of which translates to “I am because we are”, signifying the power of being part of a community.



The result is a collection of beautiful and funky printed t-shirts with unique photo prints by Gazelle (South African art and musician duo), multi coloured beaded accessories and organic hemp t-shirts (sewn locally in Cape Town by a family run factory that we have also had the pleasure to work with).

These t-shirts with and accessories for men and women have been sold worldwide at leading department stores, including Beams in Tokyo, Barneys in NYC and LA and Dover Street Market in London.

image copyright - inoue brothers

image copyright - inoue brothers

image copyright - inoue brothers

image copyright - inoue brothers

Beaded garments in hemp was far from the design duo’s initial ideas, but rather a result of how the brothers see work by creating something with the people and seizing opportunities when they arise rather than forcing an idea built on a cliché. The brothers originally investigated the possibilities of working with cotton, but soon discovered that naturally grown hemp, being more sustainable and needing no chemicals in harvest, was better suited to their values.

When asked what the next step is for the Inoue brothers and the Ubuntu project, Satoru answers that the past couple of collections have been “the first small steps to ensure seasonal collections with the wonderful people of Khayelitsha. But we have only just scratched the surface of what crafts and skills lie beneath. We will continue to work hard to ensure the dignity and empowerment of all people that sincerely need it. And as such we plan to continue to work with this community and at the same time keep expanding our reach as far as we can – all in the true spirit of Ubuntu”.


Saroru’s statement thrills us at AFG, as we believe that the best way for a sustainable development of Africa’s fashion and textile industry is long-term thinking and dedication to the people. We are looking forward to seeing what amazing products this relationship between Asia, Scandinavia and Africa will bring!

Below is a special UBUNTU photoshoot by Creól Brothers + friends entitled ‘The Lagoon’

The Inoue Brothers Ubuntu SPRING AND SUMMER/ Made in Africa 2011 collection is entitled “I am because we are” is available at Storm Fashion (Copenhagen), Dover Street Market (London), Barneys (New York), International Gallery Beams (Tokyo), Addition (Tokyo), Edition (Tokyo), Happy Shop (Berlin) and LN-CC

In collaboration with Gazelle.
Photography: Xander Ferreira and Troels Jepsen

Author : Ella Soccorsi

Posted in: Crafts, Fashion