Wonderland takes a trip to West Africa with Yevu’s Anna Robertson, an Australian designer with a socially sustainable vision
Move over China. West Africa is taking back the textile industry and their garments are made to last. No one knows this better than Yevu’s Anna Robertson. On a year long trip to Ghana, the label founder fell head over sandals for the prints of the people. Against a backdrop of arid, sandy landscape, the vibrancy of bright hues and eye-popping prints, not surprisingly, wooed the Australian-native. So in December 2012, Yevu, the socially sustainable brand was born. Championing local industry, a small workshop of Ghanaian seamstresses work with Anna, to create the ethical range of printed bombers, co–ord sets and patterned shirts synonymous with her label. From Sydney to Ghana and now London, the girl with the kaleidoscope eyes has garnered quite a following.
We spoke to Yevu designer, Anna Robertson, as she launched her newest collection at her Shoreditch pop-up store.
With no formal training you started a fashion label. Describe your process when creating your debut 2012 collection.
For the first collection, I found a group of seamstresses whose quality was really high so I decided to do a men and women’s range of about 300 or 400 pieces. I thought I might as well do it properly if I‘m going to do it at all. We did a small photo-shoot in the city of Accra and that was in August 2013. It sold out in two days and two weeks later I was back in Ghana. I did another range and then set up my online store.
Your earlier collections champion the African wax prints. What are some of the fabrics you’ve used in the third and most recent?
We used a lot of different fabrics including silk and Kente. Kente is a traditional Ghanaian cloth that takes the men days and days to weave. It’s usually worn by chefs and royalty at weddings and important events.
Describe the aesthetic of the brand?
It’s the Australian lifestyle with the vibrancy of West Africa. It’s always been a unisex brand with an urban edge. Though in this range there are heavier fabrics and trans-seasonal pieces.
Tell us about the prints used in the third collection
There is one jacket that has a large motif of someone drowning next to a giraffe that is also drowning. Then there’s one of a mouth that reads: “I’m smiling at you here but in my heart I hate you”. They’re hilarious. Africans are God-fearing people. They all serve as warnings of trust.
How has the label grown since 2012?
For the third collection, which was launched October ‘14, I had my best-friend, who is also a designer, join me on my last trip to Ghana. We did a lot of pre-production before, which is impossible in Ghana.
Why is that?
African seamstresses are amazing at what they do but they’re not trained like most designers so there are inconsistencies with pattern-making. Everything is manually done: they cut one fabric at a time with a pair of scissors. It’s a much slower process.
How did you overcome that?
The last time we went we took electric cutters to help speed it up! Also Anna taught them new sewing techniques to make the quality better and the process faster. That was the third collection and because I had more resources and money to bring people on board it was a lot smoother. This time we knew exactly what we were producing whereas before it was just trial and error, which is confusing for everyone.
Finally, what’s been the most positive outcome of Yevu?
To be honest, the product was a positive outcome. The motivation, given my background in development, was working with small businesses in Ghana. Being there and seeing the potential that country has has been incredible. There are so many highly skilled people and not a lot of ways for them to make an income. With Yevu, I’m able to employ 15 people at a time and provide a stable income three times a year, and create good relationships. It’s not hard to produce things in a socially responsible way but still come out with a quality product. I want Yevu to be a label with substance.
Words: Jasmine Phull