Abbé Tossa: Fashion, Identity and Africa

Born in Benin, fashion designer Abbé Tossa came to Brazil through an exchange program to study Biological Sciences at Unifesp. It was in the country that his talent for fashion gained strength and in 2018 he launched his brand, Kuavi. His work obtains much of its influence from African tradition, from choosing fabrics to making the pieces of clothing, which highlights his motivation to spread the culture of the continent.

Promoting Kuavi through Instagram, he says he doesn’t invest in marketing and prefers disclosure by his own clients. The strategy has paid off, as he has gained a diverse clientele, including Brazilian celebrities such as actor Lázaro Ramos and actor and musician Seu Jorge. These icons are representatives of the Brazilian black movement, as he points out, reflecting the growing search in the country for the promotion and empowerment of its African origins.

He tells ATLANTICO how his relationship with Brazil and Brazilians are, how fashion connects with Benin and his projects for the future.

What gives you pleasure in your work with African fashion?

African fashion is not that simple; it is very complex. Some prints are coded messages. Others are pure African art. Certain types of clothing made from certain fabrics have specific messages. And I want people to know these things here in Brazil, I like culture, identity. I see the sparkle in the customer’s eyes when they connect with the fabric, the clothes and the identity. It is not just beauty but history as well. It is a connection between people and ancestors in Africa.

Where do the fabric for making clothes come from?

The fabrics come from various countries in Africa. But the prints have their origin, their ethnicity, and a people or an old ancestor that crafted it! Then it is produced on a large scale in factories. It is very complex to talk about. I give a lecture about how it is produced and talk about the messages that these prints carry.

“It is not just beauty but history as well. It is a connection between people and ancestors in Africa.”

Photo: Kuavi Africa Instagram

What are your inspirations and references?

I draw inspiration from myself (laughs). I observe a lot the looks that people wear here in Brazil. Then, I try to adapt the African looks to the Brazilian looks. I look at the pattern and begin to imagine what I can make with it.

What elements of your work stand out among your clients? Who would you like to use your pieces?

My differential is exclusivity, haute couture, and tailored clothing. I give warranty for all my pieces. But I don’t invest in conventional marketing; my advertisement is word of mouth. The customers themselves recommend my store to friends. I like it when the customer puts on their clothes and says, “Wow, that’s how I wanted it.” I have clients from the United States, Portugal, Italy and Argentina. I have some famous clients – they are public figures representing black people. But I have white clients too, it is fashion! Everyone can use it. My goal is to have a shop window in the mall where anyone can go and buy afro clothes.

Photo: Kuavi Africa Instagram

What is your connection with Africa today, more specifically with Benin?

Benin is my homeland! And your homeland is always the best one way or another. I have a project to take people to visit Benin, we will go in January 2020. Everything is ready, people will love it. Africa is not just war and misery; we have many beautiful things! Benin is one of the countries that has a very strong cultural connection with Brazil. It is a peaceful country in a matter of conflict or war and is a democratic country. Therefore, I prefer to start there.

Do you currently have projects other than the brand or are you dedicated to it?

In addition to clothes, I have a language school: English, French, and mainly Yoruba language – which is a language that the ancestors brought here and is still present in Brazil.

+ In Brazil, Yoruba is used in Afro-Brazilian religious rites (where it is called nagô). In 2018, Yoruba was officialised as an intangible heritage of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

What are your plans for the future? Do you intend to continue living in Brazil?

About staying in Brazil, I don’t know. I like to let things happen.