SELF-MADE & SELF-TAUGHT: THE DESIGNER BEHIND FASHION BRAND, URBAN ZULU – PAPY KALUW

Papy Kaluw is a self-taught fashion designer and founder of Urban Zulu. From humble beginnings in Congo, Papy is now a global name as his pieces celebrate African heritages and arts.

Papy Kaluw’s fashion brand started when he dropped out of university due to a lack of funds. He was left with no other option but to try and make a living from skills he could teach himself. Papy learnt how to design clothes from scratch and began altering garments. His first creation was a simple T-shirt for a friend and he began selling his clothes outside Market Theatre.

Today, Urban Zulu is world-famous, Afrocentric fashion brand specialising in ready-to-wear clothes with an Pan-African touch. Papy’s creations are now seen on celebrities, musicians, artists, or just about anyone with a flair for African prints and urban styling.

“The inspiration for my design comes from where I come from: Congo”, explains Papy. “Being in Congo, the art of dressing up is what people live by. We always dress up for all occasions – even for no occasion. When you’re young, every day by 6pm you had to be bathed and rocking your best outfit to go outside. I think I grew up dressing up”.

Today, Papy’s exhibition space at Urban Zulu House is the perfect space for dressing up. It’s also a gallery for artists and jewellery designers to display their works. Papy has a strong connection to his friends and fellow creatives – people who’ve become his extended family. For him, it’s important to support them in their hustle as well, just like his family grew to support him.

Papy explains, “For an African child, being in fashion and the arts – or anything that doesn’t seem very ‘academic’ like engineering, sciences or medicine – is almost a disappointment to the family”. But when his family in Congo saw how successful Urban Zulu became, they knew Papy was onto something special and supported and assisted him along his journey.

As for his friends, Papy holds his tight-knit circle close and loves to dress them in his pieces. He laughs while saying, “I still get surprised when my friends come to me and say they bought a piece of mine and really love it. They can see me making it, they can see me talking about it, but next thing I see they’re actually buying it and it’s still very touching for me”.

Fashion Stylist, Itumelang Pilane Kwele speaks to Papy’s startup story saying, “He started making clothes for just friends and over ten years later, everyone is still family. He’s designing for all body shapes and all sizes. It doesn’t matter where you’re from – you can come from the North to the South, you’re still a part of the Urban Zulu family”. Creative Director of Creative Mind Space, Joe Human adds, “It makes me feel like I belong. Finding your tribe is very important because that’s when you start excelling and becoming more creative”.

“Urban Zulu is about celebrating the heritage of Africa and celebrating the arts of Africa”, Papy explains. That’s why his current project is working in collaboration with contemporary visual artist, Dumisani the Artist. The two creatives are coming together to design sneakers that will incorporate Urban Zulu’s new logo.

You can catch Papy and Urban Zulu at the AFI Fashion Week Joburg as one of the featured designers. The virtual experience will be on from 12 – 14 November, with main shows going live on the Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:15pm. You can sign up and watch for free on www.afi.events and witness African designers like Papy reset, reimagine, and reinvent the best in fashion.

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