With a vision to illustrate African art in fashion, photography and music for a global audience, Papa Petit and sister Velma Rossa established an online digital portal called 2manysiblings. It seems the Kenyan duo are well on the right path to achieving their goal. The siblings style is difficult to ignore no matter what space you encounter them – be it on social media or in person.
It’s no secret that African design is trending and quickly gaining global recognition. For 2manysiblings, it’s their duty to amplify African style by working with fashion designers and photographers from all over the continent. ACCRA [dot] ALT sat for a chat with Papa and Velma to discuss identity politics, vintage fashion and new projects cooking on the fire.
ADA: As a cultural and social group, what do you seek to project with 2manysiblings?
PAPA PETIT: We use different art forms like photography, music, and design through collaborations to help our generation to get involved. Art cuts across racial, social, and cultural barriers, which in turn enhances appreciation for different diversities. 2manysiblings is also committed to projecting our African background, our inspirations to share with the rest of the world.
ADA: What influenced the decision to start a fashion blog?
PAPA PETIT: My sister and I had a keen interest in fashion at an early age so it was only right that 2manysiblings was ‘birthed’ out of that passion. The blog started out of the need to document our style sensibilities as well as the tag team effort through our collaborations with different African photographers to showcase different aesthetics.
ADA: What is it about African fashion that 2manysiblings wants the world to know?
PAPA PETIT: African fashion is an ongoing conversation. It is ever evolving. There is a shift in mentality and a lot of room for innovation that is brought about by different African cultural diversities and how they interpret design. Culture and diversity are variables that work together to enrich and help people understand difference…in this case difference in aesthetics.
VELMA ROSSA: As for the branding business side of it, many African designers are not consistent and don’t massively play to the press/communication aspect of things. You can be good at home, but real players are outside. We need to play with the same rules and tools as international designers so we go forward and make people say, I know at least 10 African designers.
ADA: How is fashion redefining modern day identity politics in Africa?
VELMA ROSSA: What exactly is African identity supposed to be really? I feel that a lot that exists in African fashion (trends) is borrowed from the Western world. However as Africans, we have found a way of interpreting fashion ideologies from the West and making them our own.
PAPA PETIT: Take for instance the African Ankara print fabric. It has been worn for ages but not in a modern way. Today you’ll have a designer making cutting edge attire using that print fabric like E.G Laurence Airline. These are elements that show Africa moving forward. Also, with the power of the Internet, Africa has caught the bug of dressing as they see fit as individuals to express their own identities.
ADA: If we asked you to share 2manysiblings’ fashion philosophy, what would it be?
PAPA PETIT: Our fashion philosophy is pretty simple really. Fashion is a medium of self-expression and a means to depict your personality.
‘Wear what you feel on the inside, outside.’
ADA: There is a lot of talk about African vintage fashion as if Africans were not into this kind of fashion until recently. How are you guys countering that narrative?
VELMA ROSSA: We were actually having this conversation with our friend who owns a vintage clothes store…and it’s just plain ignorance to think that Africans were not into vintage fashion until recently. Even though we can’t claim to have started certain vintage trends, we have certainly embraced them and made them our own. Case in point in the Republic of Congo, there’s a group of tastemakers called La Sape. The Sape, formed by a group of gentlemen, dress flamboyantly in vintage clothing and compete with each other for the title of ‘Best Dressed’.
This didn’t start today. Just because an Italian photographer went to DRC and made these gentlemen’s sense of style his focus, doesn’t necessarily mean that it was new. It just hadn’t been documented.
ADA: What is the fashion scene in Kenya like and where do you guys fit in?
VELMA ROSSA: This is the renaissance period in Kenyan fashion and the arts scene. We have great designers, stylists, magazine editors and photographers who are representing the creative industry on an international platform. We fit in by lending a different voice to the commentary of the fashion and art scene by making it more than just about the clothes. We incorporate these two genres in our images to show our audience that fashion and art can exist outside traditional exhibition forums.
ADA: Are you guys going to start a fashion line anytime soon?
PAPA PETIT: We can’t say that we haven’t thought of that possibility before. We have experimented quite a bit with garment design in the past, so maybe a line in the future? Who knows, nothing is really set in stone yet.
ADA: 2manysiblings is very popular on Tumblr. What do you think is the catalyst for this excitement?
VELMA ROSSA: From the ‘fan’ mail we receive, we can say that the catalyst for our popularity has been as a result of being real and authentic especially with the art direction of our pictures. We are adding to the positive thread of our continent and in our own way rebranding Africa by encouraging people to see Africa in an appreciative light. We form part of the African energy and diversity such that we are so passionate to share with the rest of the world. People really dig that.
ADA: How have you contributed to the development of the Kenyan art scene?
PAPA PETIT: We have created a global platform on our blog that has made it conceivable to team up with other creative individuals to promote their artistic work. With the buzz that 2manysiblings has generated, more people are curious to know more about the Kenyan art scene which is generally good exposure for creative individuals trying to get their work out there.
ADA: You’ve started a new project called Creative Conversations. What is it about?
VELMA ROSSA: You know, there are moments you have conversations with creative individuals and they will say something so profound that you wish you would document it and inspire other people with those very words. Creative Conversations is a curation of inspiring words spoken. It’s about the potential of creative individuals who choose where and when their potential is used. It’s about making something out of the potential of you. We selected artists from Johannesburg for the ‘pilot’ of this project and we hope with more travels (Ghana is high on our wish list!) that we will feature more creatives in this series.
ADA: Are there any projects cooking in the kitchen? How soon should we expect them?
PAPA PETIT: There are always projects in the kitchen but some projects take longer to cook and need time to perfect. In the spirit of maintaining a little mystery, we can’t say much right now but just keep watching us …there are even better things soon to come:)
ADA: What are the plans for the coming years?
PAPA PETIT: It would be nice to get brand endorsements but at the moment we are mainly planning towards launching a conceptual clothing store in a few years time, where we will curate clothes from different garment design collectives, showcase art work from local artists and so forth. This begs for an international tour so as to get inspiration and advice from owners of similar successful retail stores. Hopefully, we’ll build something nice from there.