Sowing education and empowerment with needle and thread – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Posted: July 30, 2017 at 2:31 pm

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As a girl growing up in a city in northern Togo near the Burkina Faso border in West Africa, Lili Klu figured out that a conventional education really wasnt for her. At 15, she decided to learn a trade: sewing. She turned out to be such a natural that she was able to complete the three-year program in one year. When she moved to San Diego with her husband in 2000, she opened L.K. Fashion Boutique on El Cajon Boulevard and has recently started a non-profit program, Lilis Fashion Academy, to teach sewing and the business of fashion design to women.

I love the creativity (of sewing and fashion), the appreciation on a clients face and that I could educate and empower women, she says. Fashion is always about risk, and one of the biggest aspects of creativity is risk. You need it if you want to be successful in the fashion industry. Risk will set you apart from all the designers, and for me to become a designer speaks to my love for fashion and sewing.

Klu, 41, lives in the Grantville neighborhood with her husband and two sons. She took some time to talk about her new non-profit program, her favorite African fashion designers and her inspiration when creating clothes.

Q: Tell us about Lilis Fashion Academy.

A: Its an educational sewing institute that focuses on teaching the skills needed to master sewing with a variety of techniques needed for a successful career in sewing. Sewing machines helped to emancipate women as it gave them a commercially marketable skill. We believe that as our students learn how to sew for themselves and others, they will obtain these marketable skills that will encourage them to become entrepreneurs and financially support themselves, their families, and supply jobs for people in their community.

The program will develop each participants employment readiness because sewing is a window into history, sociology and economics. This class is designed to get students to complete the program knowing the basics of threading the machine, working the controls, selecting stitches, sewing straight lines and curves, and sewing basic seams while pushing them to specific sewing techniques.

Q: How does the academy work?

A: New students will register and pay a $100 registration fee and get an introduction to the program. Then, theyll start lessons that I teach. To successfully complete the year-long program (which requires no other payments beyond the registration fee), students are required to complete an eight-week capstone project. The project consists of students designing their own fashion concept to fit a specific model. This will be a platform where students take what they learned throughout the course of the program and apply it to examine a specific idea around a model. Each student must make five outfits for five models for their graduation fashion show. On graduation day, the students receive a certificate of completion, and owners of fashion businesses in San Diego will be invited to attend the fashion show to see the skills of our students and to offer them future employment.

This is the first year of the program and we currently have eight students who will graduate next March.

Q: How would you describe LK Fashion Boutique?

A: Our mission is to provide men and women with an upscale selection of African clothes and exists to not only attract and maintain customers, but to spread sophisticated fashion and instill confidence with folks in the West. I moved to San Diego in 2000 and started working as an independent designer for the African community in San Diego.

Its a good place to live and raise a family.

Q: Are there meanings or traditions behind different prints?

A: Yes, theres a lot of meaning and tradition behind African prints, lots of hidden meanings. For example, the kente come from west Africa, specifically Ghana. The kente is a vibrant fabric and the pattern and design represent common African motifs, like religious beliefs. The colors on all African prints have a meaning. For example, red symbolizes death, green means fertility, white expresses purity, and blue signifies love.

Q: Whats your opinion of the fashion scene here in San Diego? How would you describe it?

A: San Diego fashion is very laid back, but the casual sweatpants and sandals every day and for every occasion is not cutting it. We need to spice it up little bit.

Q: What do you get the most requests for?

A: Dashiki prints and actual dashikis are the most popular.

Q: How would you describe your personal style?

A: Simple but still elegant.

Q: Who are some African fashion designers youre a fan of?

A: Kofi Ansah, whos from Ghana but based in London. I think Kofi is really one of the first African designers who brought modern African style and design to another level. He gave the fashion industry a new type of style with graphics and new shapes. Theyre not just clothes that you wear; theyre more than that. Theyre visual, theyre art and each pattern has a story. When you think about modern African style, you think about Kofi first. Hes a pioneer.

Deola Sagoe is an African designer whose work I find to be so creative, and who put Africa before fashion success. I admire Deola because shes an African woman who made it in an industry first ruled by men, and because shes African. Lets be real, female fashion designers are still in the minority. Can you believe that out of the 50 major fashion brands only 14 percent are run by women? Daola is an entrepreneur. When it comes to her work, I respect the fact that she could transform traditional Nigerian designs into contemporary designs. Today, shes well-known for her unique style and most of her creations are made with Komole Kandids motifs. Theyre gorgeous and elegant. I want to have my own signature and be well-known in the industry just like her.

Q: What inspires you when youre creating your clothes?

A: African culture. African wax is a unique textile. The simplest dress can be made with African wax and it will look 100 times better than a regular, plain dress. The pattern is what makes the difference. To create an outfit with this type of fabric is an art because of the bright colors and patterns. You need to find the right balance. Its always difficult for me to work with other types of fabric. I love using African wax because it shows who I am, its my identity. Each pattern has a story and each represents a part of Africa.

Q: Whats been challenging about your work with your fashion business and with your new non-profit academy?

A: It hasnt really been challenging at this point. I love what I do and I love empowering women to become fashion designers.

Q: Whats been rewarding about it?

A: Helping and empowering women.

Q: What has it taught you about yourself?

A: Leadership, teamwork and humility.

Q: What is the best advice youve ever received?

A: Love yourself first and make sure you learn something that you really love.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I would love to work with Versace or Calvin Klein one day.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: Opening the boutique on Saturday and then spending Sunday at church and then at home with my family.


Twitter: @lisadeaderick

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Sowing education and empowerment with needle and thread - The San Diego Union-Tribune

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July 30th, 2017 at 2:31 pm