The Slums Of Nigeria Become A Fashion Haven


The Niger Delta has served a major purpose in Africa’s most populous country and that is to keep the oil flowing so the companies that export this resource can consistently thrive even at the expense of the inhabitants of this richly blessed region.

But Caterina Bortolussi, an Italian fashion designer who launched her label, Kinabuti in 2011 was drawn to the slums of Port Harcourt for very different reasons. She was always inspired by the vibrant designs of Nigeria and the traditions that propelled the visions behind them so she decided to use her love for fashion to escalate positive change in the downtrodden region.

Kinabuti became a vehicle that would ultimately entice the locals and convince them to embrace the possibilities they never dared to consider. Bortolussi scheduled casting sessions for young girls from ages 16-25 and ended up selecting 21 lucky ingénues out of the bunch. They were branded the “Kinabuti Girls” and put through extensive training, a sort of “beauty and fashion camp” to empower them with skills and the knowledge needed to pursue legitimate work in the fashion world which in turn could allow them to enrich their communities.

The incredible journey these girls undertake, has also been captured by Swedish filmmaker, Marcus Werner whose documentary “In Our Ghetto”, brilliantly highlights the enlightening experiences of these girl during a three week period as they prepare for the launch of the Kinabuti label. Werner was drawn to the project because of the obvious effect Bortolussi has on these young girls who previously lived  directionless lives and now have been transformed in a way that will change them forever and allow them to do the same for upcoming generations.

In the end, the goal is to encourage Nigerians to proudly support their labels instead of soliciting foreign markets. The talent is limitless but the ability to flourish and nurture that talent is limited by a failing infrastructure that can make electricity non existent for a number of days a week. All that and more greatly affects production capabilities, which can hamper the efficiency of any business.

But Bortolussi is confident that she can make all the elements work to her benefit and create an industry that will empower a community in desperate need of a revival.

Her next endeavor is to help train local tailors by elevating their skills beyond their redundancies by exposing them to more sophisticated and worldly forms of dressmaking using luxurious fabrics.

Her mission is not going to be an easy one considering the challenges but where there is a will there is a way and this very capable, determined, designer and budding entrepreneur is armed and prepared for battle.