Ms. Caterina Bortolussi, a Nigeria-based Italian and Creative Director of Kinabuti, an ethnic fashion firm, is not just passionate about making inspirational designs but she is also obsessed with a burning desire to bring the dreams of young people to reality with the various projects she embarks on. During a recent launch of one of such projects, the Dare 2 Dream Reality TV show, she spoke with Mary Ekah about her massive dream for Nigeria
What is the Dare 2 Dream project all about?
Dare 2 Dream Reality TV show is a 17-episode documentary TV Reality show that would be on various TV and Radio stations. It is more like a multimedia interactive platform. We are trying to use a different approach for this television show to make it more interactive and engaging.
What exactly do hope to achieve with this project?
The project is all about inspiring the youths so that they can live their dreams. We all have dreams and these dreams we have had them since we were young but growing up we tend to forget them becoming somebody that we didn’t dream to be. So I think that you have to have passion for what you are doing and if we have passion for what we do, work hard and be persistent, we will end up living our dreams. It is not going to be easy because nothing happens over night but it is a process. So this is what the Dare2 Dream project is all about. And modeling is what we used but in reality, it is about transmitting good values of working hard, being persistent, resilience and passion. These are values you can apply not just to modeling but also to every other field of endeavor. So here we speak the language of the youths and we inspire them by bringing in personalities they would love to listen to and also those they might want to be or look up to. They have come to realise that every one that wants to be like those people, has to go through the same process; you have to sweat it out!
Again, over 100 million people are under the age of 35 and have a lot of talents. Some go to the university while others try to go but could not due to one reason or the other but they have the power of creativity, their energy and the opportunity to start businesses in an economy with bountiful opportunities. They can create small and medium enterprises that can inject capital into the economy and as a result increase the buying power. In This way you can develop Nigeria through home grown talents and businesses.
What has been the impact of the project Dare2Dream project in the last few months?
For me, it has been very inspiring and there has been a lot of love shared. The impact generally is that people felt it. And a lot of participants want to remain a part of the project as it makes them happy at all time. It makes you happy because people are feeling the genuine intention and love behind the whole project. I know we want to grow bigger but there is a bit of difficulty when it comes to getting sponsors because of the present economic situation. But we want to amplify the project, not just on modeling but also on finding designers, singers, Dancers, comedians in Universities in Nigeria. Last year we brought a designer from University of Lagos to showcase his designs and then others from University of Uyo (UniUyo) and then we brought two singers from University of Port Harcourt and University of Lagos and finally a comedian from UniUyo for the final event in Lagos at Federal Palace. The project is all about the youths’ talents and empowerment.
Kinabuti has been involved in a lot of community development projects over the time. What are some of these?
As I am talking now, my business partner is in Orile where we are completing the printing of T-shirts for a project and we are about to start a batik and tie & dye programme in collaboration with a number of Nigerian organisations like Nike Art Gallery. What we want to use is traditions from Nigeria, which they have forgotten or left in a rudimental way. We want to bring them to high fashion. We also are launching our third edition of tailoring training in collaboration with a Nigerian Foundation. And again we have planned for a monthly sanitation exercise where we go out and pick up rubbish in Orile in collaboration with the Orile community. We are also trying in collaboration with this Foundation, which has been supporting us in all these initiatives to send 100 children to school in Makoko for primary education.
What is really the driving force behind these numerous projects?
I guess it is really the ‘dare to dream’ thing; not just the project but, we believe that you really have to dare to dream… and do something that will not just benefit you, but has a larger extent of intent. You feel more motivated because you know that you carry people along while living your dream with your heart and the vision of every body living a better life. And if you can incorporate that into your business and into the way you do things – that is really like our ‘dare to dream’, you know, being sustainable, being ethical and also become a better person every day.
I can be so scattered, I can scream and so I want to be a better person myself. I am aware of my limit and I am aware that sometimes things get so challenging and I might not have the patience … I also know that we are all here to learn and that life is a journey and I know my limit and I thank God really. We are friends first of all with all the people that have supported us so far; everything comes from good synergies, and so you cannot take the benefit claiming that you have done it alone, never! Everything is a synergy and joined vision. Like somebody say, ‘we are a vehicles of God’. This is true! We are just vehicles and we are lucky to be vehicles of things that are so beautiful. And sometimes we make mistakes and we apologies, and then we try to do better and then we make more mistakes and then we try to get better – it is a process.
Like you mentioned that there have been a lot of challenges trying to bring your dreams to reality. Can you mention a few of them?
There are lots of challenges like financially; you know Nigeria is a very expensive place to run a business; you have to run a Generator, and when you are in business of fashion, you think of how many clothes you can sell in a particular period when there is no distribution network… it gets better and I believe in the power of doing something that is socially conscious because you are not just doing it for yourself but you are doing it for a greater circle of people and what you invest in others will come back to you if it is genuine. Distribution is another challenge because there is no distribution networks in Nigeria when it comes to fashion and another challenge is power supply, which is very scare, at the moment we know we have to queue for a very long time to get petrol, then availability of raw materials like fabrics which are all imported … there are many challenges and I think these challenges make Nigeria a place with high risk as well as high returns investment. However, challenges will always be there but I believe we will reap the fruits of our labour – all of us.
Despite all the challenges, you still chose to stay instead of going back to you country Italy, where you have virtually everything?
I have been here for nine years. This is because when I arrived, I saw the potentials of Nigeria and I believe in Nigeria. I really dream to see small and medium enterprises becoming major contributor to the development of the economy. I have realized that in Nigeria 95 percent of the population probably are dedicated to Small and Medium Enterprise but they contribute little to the GDP but I do believe that the economic development will come from this particular segment because they have the potential of injecting more money into Nigerian economy and if that happens, the buying power will increase and this is the only way you can grow an economy not by importing but by retaining the capital here.
I come from a region, which was all made of small and medium enterprise and at a point it was one of the richest region in Europe but not any more, especially now that we have crises in Italy. I believe in the power of these enterprises and that is why we do training for young people to stand on their own and after the training, the people that are willing to work hard and are willing to be entrepreneurs will make it. So with trainings and TV shows, we are giving them the tools and it is now up to them to seize the opportunity. So my dream for Nigeria is to have more small and medium enterprises becoming major catalyst for economic development.
Will you describe yourself as a fashion designer or entrepreneur?
Well, I like it when people call me a fashion designer. I am a fashion designer and also an entrepreneur. I get involved in a lot of things like empowerment, fashion, social project and so on. I think I am a lucky person because I do what I love more than anything.
Kinabuti designs are always unique with ethnic touch. What inspires that?
You know our designs are a bridge between Europea and African. We want a situation where one can easily wear them in Nigeria, Europe and anywhere else in the world. It is an afro-Euro approach to fashion… it is a kind of bridge between where we are from, Italy, and where we live in, Nigeria. Nigeria is home for us. Our design is therefore a cross-cultural line. Some time people look down at Ankara, but I love Ankara so much, especially those with high quality. Apart from the fact that it is of high quality, it makes me happy, and people love it when we use it for our cross-cultural designs.
You deal a lot with young people in course of carrying out your various projects. What will be your advice to youths?
I would advice them to work hard. Nothing in life really comes free so you have to work really hard, stay humble, believe in your dream and in yourself, stay close to God and it will all come to existence with patience. You would learn by experiences but it is up to you on how to perceive them. You know ‘a winner is a dreamer that never gives up’. Those are the words of Nelson Mandela and he definitely didn’t give up but lived up to his dream of seeing a South Africa with no apartheid. So dreams can be realised, it is up to you to hold on. For us, it was about being an ethical fashion label, creating something that can benefit communities while at the same can empower and impact on society as well as the economy of the nation. Nigeria has oil, we thank God for that but there are so many other potentials in Nigeria, you have people and talents, and so this is where we are investing our energy.
You do a lot of things at the same. How do you cope?
I thank God really but to be honest I get tired sometimes… yes we do a lot of things at the same but we have a good team and that is why it works for us. And I won’t lie to you, we train people because we need them – we need talented people with visions. You know like the boot camp was more like a military boot camp. Some girls behind the stage worked so hard, they were not sitting down checking their phones. Every single person matters; you have to be able to delegate duties and you need to work with people that understand how your work and can be in charge so that you can focus on other things while you keep on them. So we are grateful to the good team and we all trust God
You recently lunched your T-Shirts collection. What inspired the design?
At Kinabuti, we believe that what we wear is a strong form of self-expression, which can have an impact on our thoughts and actions. Positive thoughts can change our lives or at the very least make someone smile, hence we decided to make our line of T-shirts follow suit. The t-shirts, printed by the youths of Orile who were trained last year in Silk screening through the empowerment project by Kinabuti and Thea Kuta, is made from the lushness’ of 100% cotton and come in various color tones with designs that are simple yet very stylish. Most of the Tee’s are filled with inspiring quotes and mantras such as “Always solutions never problems”, “U think big, U get Big” amongst others.