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Anta and Asna are sisters and designers with a clothing brand in common, Kaalag. Defined as "The project of an African generation eager to redefine its own rules,” the Ivory Coast brand truly represents its creators’ roots, having colour and Africa’s vibrant energy as evident protagonists of its designs. Launched in 2019, Kaalag is inspired by the know-how of their craftsmen, as it “was part of an exploration process of who we are and how we identify ourselves in society,” the sisters explain.

Even though they prefer not to share their last names, the brand manages to speak for them as it embraces their culture and works as a medium to express their social concerns. Following the Ubuntu philosophy “I am because you are,” Anta and Asna prefer to keep their lives private and focus on the value of community, making Kaalag a source for this sense of belonging. Their latest editorial in collaboration with Olga de la Iglesia conveys just that, an explosion of colour and a beautiful feeling of identity for the newest African hybrid generation.

Anta and Asna, you are sisters and designers with a project in common, Kaalag. How would you describe each other? And what does it mean to collaboratively work as sisters?
As sisters, we are very close so it’s kind of natural that we decided to work together.
Anta: Asna is a very caring person who always shows kindness to others. She manages to remain calm and show empathy in every situation. She is also a dreamer and a very spiritual person. She is the eldest, and when I was little, I was convinced that she was able to connect and interact with invisible forces.
Asna: Since childhood, Anta has always been very precocious. She always had a very assertive vision and a great curiosity; she has a very precise vision of what she wants. We always have been very close to the point of being often mistaken for twins. Kalaag is also the materialization of this very strong bond between us.
Both of you felt called by fashion and didn’t hesitate to start a brand together. When did you discover fashion design as your vocation? How was Kaalag finally born?
When we were still in school and even today in the Ivory Coast, all students were obliged to wear a school uniform made out of the same kind of fabric. In Africa, it is still very common to have clothes made-to-measure at the local tailor because it’s still cheaper than buying ready-to-wear often imported from abroad.
So, when we had to have our school uniforms made, we had the choice of the model and I remember that it was something very exciting for us because it was the opportunity to come up with a new design. Then the start of the school year was a little bit like our fashion show where we could present our new designs.
We see fashion more as a way of expression than a vocation. Kaalag was therefore born from a desire to express ourselves and the medium of expression we have chosen is fashion and design... For now.
You prefer not to make your last names public and, this way, the attention is focused on your brand and designs instead of the designers’ private life. Why did you make this choice? Why is it important to separate your private life from Kaalag?
For us, there is one main answer to this question: The Ubuntu philosophy that can be translated as “I am because you are.” Michael Onyebuchi Eze has a quote that goes: “This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am.”
What else there is to say after that except that we adhere completely to this doctrine and that we want everyone who joins us on this adventure to feel wholly part of it because after all, we are because you are!

Your brand was born in your own country, the Ivory Coast, and it is described as "the project of an African generation eager to redefine its own rules." Could you please unfold this phrase for us? How are your roots reflected on the brand and what are they intending to transmit?
Ivory Coast is a former French colony, and like any former colony, the culture tends to be imprinted with things that have been brought back from abroad. This is a double-edged sword because we also grow up under a culture that is not necessarily our own and we can sometimes lose feet and get lost in standards that do not really suit us.
So we decided to create Kaalag in 2019. The project was part of an exploration process of who we are and how we identify ourselves in society. We use fashion and design to express ourselves.
Over time, I think that we have integrated the fact that we were impregnated of several cultures and that it is what defines us. Also, we tend to think that we are our own standard.
What does ‘kaalag’ mean? Why did you choose this name?
Kaalag means ‘amulet’ in Wolof, it’s an ode to the constant presence of spirituality in our culture.
When working together, how do you divide work? Are there specific tasks for each of you, or do you both prefer being part of the whole process?
It really depends on the project we are working on. It can be tricky sometimes because we rarely find each other at the same place at the same time, especially right now, but thanks to technology the communication is smooth and we usually take the key decisions together.

Colour is definitely one of the protagonists of your designs. In fact, in your latest editorial in collaboration with Olga de la Iglesia, we can perceive an explosion of colour and textures that complement each other. What is the role of colour in your designs? How did the conceptualisation process of the photoshoot work?
When we live in Africa, we have a different approach to colours because they are part of everyday life. Dressing in a colorful way is the norm. So it’s natural that we were attracted by Olga’s work around colours which is amazing. She helped us create a colourful story around the jewelry which reflects very well what we want to communicate through Kaalag.
This collection is about jewellery and we simply want every person wearing a Kaalag piece to feel special and beautiful.
2020 was a tough year for everyone, especially for small businesses and designers. How was Kaalag production affected due to the Covid-19 crisis?
We had big plans for 2020, for us it was supposed to be a turning point but, as many other small businesses, we had to lower our expectations and adapt to the new situation. I think it was difficult for everybody, so we just feel blessed to be where we are today.
Now, looking into the future, what are your plans for the brand in 2021?
To continue to create and explore new things but most importantly do what we love.

Romina Román
Olga de la Iglesia
Tania Morenilla
Hair and Make up
Itziar Nzang
Digital assistant
Marc García
Set assistant
Cendela Baena
Styling assistant
María Baten
Make up assistant
Rosana Ehizele

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