Caterina Bortolussi and Francesca Rosset founded Kinabuti, a leading fashion brand established in Nigeria seven years ago. The Italian duo who have found a second home in Nigeria own the afrocentric fashion label, Kinabuti. They have also extended the frontiers of their business through a non-profit social enterprise called Kinabuti Fashion Initiative (KFI) which primary objective is to develop the fashion industry in Nigeria by offering the youths, opportunities to learn skills and gain professional experience. Caterina Bortolussi and Francesca Rosset spoke with Effects recently about their project, their sojourn in Nigeria, lifestyle and the forthcoming event tagged Dare to Dream.

Caterina speaks:

Did you envisage a your stay in Nigeria when you arrived?

I did not think I would make Nigeria my home. However, I’m grateful that God had a plan for me here and I love to be Italo-Nigerian)

What do you like and dislike about Nigeria?

I love the attitude of Nigerians toward life; the endless talents we see and discover. The smiles on the faces of the people; the warm personalities you can encounter everywhere give me joy.

What we dislike is the lack of infrastructure: incessant power cut; bad roads, poor education and health system.

What is your take about Nigeria’s fashion industry?

Nigeria has incredible and creative talents in the fashion industry and some of them like Jewel by Lisa, Maki-oh and Lanre Da silva have made names internationally.

I respect Mai Atafo a lot whom I met when he was still working in marketing and it is such a pleasure to see him becoming the super celebrity designer that he is today.

Fashion is a thriving business sector and we look forward to seeing more people thriving and become successful micro-small entrepreneurs.

Can you tell us more about yourself and growing up?

I was born and raised in a small village of 400 people. My parents are farmers, likewise my grand parents and they raised us with genuine and strong values.

I had the dream of becoming a fashion designer but it appears just impossible for a girl born in the country. I overlooked my dream and thought I should do what people expected of me and what seemed to be the way. But that didn’t make me happy and when I moved here nine years ago. I realised that this could be the place where I would realise my dreams. I discovered that following my dream was the way and that was how my experience in fashion started. 

What is Dare To Dream all about?

Dare to Dream is Kinabuti’s most innovative empowerment project. It is an online platform and reality-series set to promote youth talents in fashion and entertainment. The show was crafted, thanks to the support from FCMB and PZ with the objective to unleash the creative and entrepreneurial potential of young people while opening doors to build their careers. Over the past 4 years, Dare2Dream has provided outcome-driven trainings and freelance jobs for young people.

Dare2Dream celebrates the upcoming generation of Africans between 18 and 25 years from urban areas by connecting them with established industry players. This inclusive business model embraces the digital economy and redefines the future of sustainable business.

Next week Sunday is the Grand Finale of Dare2Dream at the Federal Palace Hotel and Casino. It is the most sought after stage where the final selection of the multi-talented models who would join the boot camp with the performing talents and designers scouted during the Dare2Dream Campus Tour would get the once in a lifetime opportunity to be on stage in front of corporate Nigeria and Lagos creme de la creme. It promises to be all shades of entertainment and fun. It will be a night of fresh entertainment.

What inspired the project?

I want to use the words of one of our scouted talents, Teejay the Veejay: “I love the fact that Dare2Dream is giving the youths a voice; telling us that we are not only the leaders of Tomorrow but leaders of today because today is here. Dare2Dream has proven that once you have the talent, be determined and DARE TO DREAM. It all means doing the needful and the sky will be your starting point. The initiative has also proven that as a youth, there is no limit to what you can achieve. We rarely come across brands that seek out the youths without an ulterior motive but this platform has shown that it’s sincerely interested in the growth and progress of the youths.”

13 million young Africans swell the labour market each year. Fashion, entertainment and technology are sectors that African youths are passionate about but a lot of young. self-taught creative minds tend to downplay the importance of formal education. Meanwhile, Dare to dream master classes and trainings open their minds to the broad spectrum of opportunities that lies in these sectors, channeling their innate talents into value and income generation.

What has life taught you as a person?

Nigeria has inspired me to realise my dream; trust God and always remember him because with God, all things are possible. Nigeria has taught us to be grateful and see the brighter side of things.

Do you eat Nigerian food? 

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I love ugwu and yam! But my favourite is coconut.

What do you miss about your country while here?

I miss my family and the mountains around my village.

 How do you unwind?

I go surfing in Tarwa Bay. I ride my bicycle or cook.

Who is Caterina Bortolussi?

Caterina Bortolussi is the Creative Director of Kinabuti; a project she kick-started in 2010.

Kinabuti was inspired by a long-term vision for the Fashion industry in Nigeria and Africa at large. Its iconic Afro-urban style make cultures interact even as the fashion house combines the creativity of exquisite African textile with Italian designs.Its ethical business efforts are focused on inclusive development empowering women and young people and by that result in positive and meaningful social change. Kinabuti showcases talents and celebrate diversity through partnerships within and outside Nigeria.

Francesca Speaks:

Tell us more about Francesca?

My name is Francesca. With Caterina, I manage the brand, Kinabuti; the producer of Dare2Dream. I graduated in Marketing and specialised in event management and production. That’s why Dare2Dream remains my baby among all projects. I love traveling; meeting people, learning languages… I speak four languages fluently and I fit speak small pidgin and greet in Youruba. I like to read Nigerian novels, they help me overcome cultural barriers. My favourites are The Secret lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and I do not come to you by chance.

Where would you say is the most fascinating place you’ve visited in Nigeria?

I’ve visited many places from the North to the South; East and West. Nigeria is very diverse and everywhere I go there is something different and fascinating.

Obudu, Abraka, Asaba, Oshogbo, Kano and the farms and waterfalls in Kaduna are some of my favourite spots. Lagos is my city, I’m a Lagotian and I would not trade it for any other city in the world. 

Right now we are in Calabar for the auditioning of young talents for Dare2Dream… And I love it here. The people, the nature, the city that is so relaxed but yet vibrant. The students in UniCal welcomed us with so much love… Not only here, all over the country. The most fascinating thing about Nigeria is its people, especially the kids and the youths. Their hearts are full of love and hope and I believe working with them and giving them a platform, we can all make Nigeria a better place.

Any regret coming here?

I have no regrets but gratitude. This place has taught me so much. Although there have been difficult times and tough situations, Nigeria has always rewarded our efforts with love and great friendship. I’m happy to be here.

In spite of the negative stories about Africa, what actually inspired you to come to Nigeria to start Kinabuti?

I was already in Nigeria before we started Kinabuti. When I arrived here, I knew nothing about Nigeria. Sure, some people tried to scare me; my family at home was worried but as soon as I arrived I loved it. At the beginning, it was not easy. Things were so different from what obtained back home or from any other place I’ve been to. At first, I was advised not to move around alone, nor go out without a driver… And that was so hard for me; I’m such a free spirit and I like to walk around to meet locals and visit local spots… otherwise, why the travel? Five star hotels are the same everywhere in the world! 

After few months I was on top of okadas, taking drops and jumping up and down on danfos (commercial buses)..the people were so nice and they wanted to snap pictures with me! Everytime I was asking for directions or advise, people would fight over helping me? 

But we need to work hard to make the image of this country positive. We need to create development and empower more people. That’s the only way crime will stop. Fanatics won’t exist if they live quality life.

What’s your favourite Nigerian food?

I’m a vegetarian. I love yam chips, roasted corn with ube; akara and moin moin.

While in traffic, I eat a lot of plantain chips!