Crafts of Cameroon: A Discussion with Designer Kibonen
“I’m a global citizen. And I make clothes to be worn by the global citizen.”
Kibonen Nfi is a Cameroonian American designer based in New York City, the headquarters of her company, Kibonen NY. She was inspired by the craftswomen of Cameroon who produce beautiful embroidery that she viewed as being undervalued in Cameroon, the women selling their labor-intensive creations for basically nothing.
She sought to professionalize the production, creating a laboratory-like factory where all of the craftswomen wear lab coats and Crocs, take bathroom and lunch breaks, and feel empowered to believe in the cultural and monetary value of their craft. Her goal is to contemporize the traditional Cameroonian western highlands garment, the toghu, in the same way that Burberry took the Scottish tartan kilt, contemporizing it to a point where people across cultures wear it as simply a “plaid skirt.”
At the 2018 Folklife Festival, Kibonen discussed all things African fashion—from the importance of sustaining African craft traditions, to cultural appropriation, to her early days at Saks Fifth Avenue— with Diana Baird N’Diaye in the Festival Marketplace. N’Diaye is a curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage where she leads two projects: Will to Adorn: African American Diversity, Style, and Identity and Crafts of African Fashion.
Brianne Chapelle is the Katzenberger Art History intern for the Crafts of African Fashion initiative at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is a recent graduate of McGill University in Montréal and a hopeful lifelong learner.