An independent storefront in Inglewood, California dressed more than 100 people – including the cast, film crew, family of the cast, and film executives – for Disney/Marvel’s Black Panther premiere and promotional media tour this month.
Kendrick Lamar clothed a great amount of his cast for the “All the Stars” music video of the Black Panther soundtrack. Video extras were styled in original African pieces of traditional motherland hats, jackets, pants and dresses.
The storefront is simply called KUTULA, which means “to step into” or “leap forward” in Lozi, a Bantu language spoken in Zambia, the country where the original owner was born and raised.
It’s no longer just about designers Christian Siriano, Calvin Klein or Stella McCarthy on the red carpet anymore. Some of the most covetable celebrities these days are making a conscience decision to buy from a new generation of black designers who are shaking up the old craft.
“It’s always been about authentically knowing our clients. We put out what we want in return.
That’s always been our brand principle. We take a professional approach with consulting insight and we build relationships.”
In 2013, sisters Kay, 35 and Nyambo “Bo,” 42 were both pursuing careers in public relations and finance (respectively) in New York and Washington, DC when they chose to take over the Inglewood-based business when their mother, Francesca decided to retire. Bringing their own culture and influence to a new brand flavored with Nigerian and Zambian flair, Kutula of Africana was born or reborn. The siblings bring a fresh perspective and new design while keeping the infectious retail space paying homage to their mothers’ original storefront “Africana Imports” which brought African culture to central Los Angeles for over 45 years.
“We were both deep in our careers, but there was a feeling of emptiness that we both shared,” remembers Bo,
“There were a lot of late-night calls between my sister and I. We questioned how to take this small business to the next level but wanted to take that leap. It wasn’t until my mom suggested that we go home to Zambia when it finally clicked. That trip to Africa sealed our fate. It was something that Jay-Z said that I remember about owning something. Building our legacy has been therapeutic. We were born in America but we are the African diaspora. We understand that we are the bridge. We feed that need for our clients to connect and we are a trusted source.”
The family’s story is a story of immigrants. Francesca (from Zambia) and Tony (from Nigeria) started their African Imports, business in 1971 on Slauson and Crenshaw catering initially to a mostly male clientele of largely social workers then amassing loyal customers including Hollywood actors, musicians, politicians, and world dignitaries. In the 70s, African Americans were at the height of consciousness and men, especially wanted to express themselves and their culture.
Now, the beautifully displayed retail space is boasted as being a Los Angeles institution and has clothed majority ‘working’ women largely in the film and television industry. From marketing executives to celebrity themselves and their families, entrepreneurs, clergy and first ladies as well as African dignitaries, Kutula of Africana is the best known secret in the boutique excellence.
“We’ve worked really hard to create a service culture, because ultimately we want to be of service,” says Kay.
“When we dressed Lupita’s family for the Black Panther premiere, it felt like we were dressing a royal wedding. We started from scratch on her mother’s dress. We dressed Micheal B. Jordan’s mom, dad and Angela Bassett’s daughter. And we work on going above and beyond because we are a family business. Most of our business comes from word of mouth.”
From the traditional African textiles on elegant dresses, 2-piece suits or embroidered dashiki in the finest linen with silk accents, Kutula of Africana combines a curated selection of designers with their warm atmosphere to create a place you’ll want to shop over and over. Since the production of Marvel’s Black Panther, Kutula’s phone has rang constantly with more and more clients wanting the whole Black experience. Because African fabrics are for more than African people.
All Images: Kutula by Africana | Instagram