Anna Trzebinski – African Fashion Designer

The luxury industry has its eye on Africa, and for good reason. Wealth and the middle-class are growing steadily, countries are becoming more developed, and the world is looking to Africa as one of the next hubs of economic growth.

While travelling abroad was once the only way for wealthy Africans to purchase luxury goods, this is no longer the case. As the middle-class and the number of millionaires has grown – Bain & Company estimates that Africa has over 120,000 dollar millionaires, greater that the approximately 95,000 located in Russia, a number which rose an impressive 3.9 percent in 2011 – luxury leaders such as Zegna, Porsche, and Quintessentially have begun to enter. The situation has also fostered the growth of homegrown talent, enabling brands with defined African roots to blossom.

A strong example of such homegrown talent is luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski. Hailing from Kenya, Trzebinski employs a staff of local artisans who bring her rich, African-inspired designs to life. With intricate beading, feathers, bright colours, and raw materials, each piece is a true work of art. As a pioneer in the African luxury industry, we reached out to Anna who shared with us her experience and her unique perspective on the luxury industry in Africa:

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

1. I understand that art has played a very important role in your life; what led you to become a fashion designer?

Yes, art has been central in my adult life. I studied history of art at Sotheby’s and I was married to a hugely talented painter. Though I grew up in Africa and at this time I would say that was an incredible childhood though entirely impoverished of fine art but full of artist of life!

I became a maker of all sorts of things such as homes, sofas, lamps, furniture, gardens, tents

As well as embellished items. Then it grew, changed and metamorphosed. When I lost my husband overnight, I needed to keep food on the table. At that moment in time, pashminas were what I had in front of me and it grew out of that. Even though I have been creating for over 20 years, the fashion aspect really started in 2001.

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

2. Your clothes prominently feature African fabrics and influences. How would you describe your style? Has it evolved over time?

I actually don’t use African fabric just the most African raw material and hides.I use fine goat skin, an assortment of sheep and of course calf and cattle. I use mainly suede leather and cashmere which are all imported to Kenya form Germany where I do all my tanning. The Maa people do use leather for ceremonial attire but I then took off from there.

My style is a very classical, with a tribal ethnic element translated into it. Women of all ages wear my creations and they raise eyebrows on avenue George V Bond Street and Madison Avenue. It’s not boho at all! I would say it’s more like an African Hermes. Ralph Lauren calls me the authentic he of Africa. That surely is my greatest compliment!

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

3. Would you say that you have a muse? Who are your biggest influencers?

My muses are my amazing customers who are mostly women who recognize the beauty and importance of what I do. They walk in to a show and pick the piece that somehow always feels like it was destined just for them. I truly respect the collectors of my work, all of them. I have some that are more connected to Africa and I would call them my little tribe: Peter and Nejma beard, Derek and Beverly Joubert, Carol Beckwith and Angela fisher as well as any more extraordinary Africans.

I am amazed and obsessed with anything made by the human hand. Any traditional style, from Concho belts to Maori tattoos, Spanish embroidery and Irish lace to Maasai beading, It’s endless!

My greatest influence and hero is Ralph Lauren. I also love Hermes leather goods, etro, BRUNELLO cucinelli but mostly authentic creators of things like the amazing mignot family who make the pearls on leather thong in St Barth . Purchases that feel like real finds since they allow you a moment in someone else’s very magical story and love affair with a place or a moment in their dream.

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

4. What is your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur in Africa?

The infrastructure, power cuts, water shortages, no or slow Internet, good management, useless accountants, corrupt customs officials and a system really not rigged to encourage entrepreneurship in its most proper honest cookie cutter Harvard business school way.

Every bit of my knowledge is a hard earned experience with a price attached to it and every time you think you know the system it changes on you.

5. How difficult has it been to hire and retain skilled artisans?

This has been easy. I started this 20 years ago. My entire workshop has been with me on a permanent basis for 15 years or more.

All the Taylor’s are men and all the women do the beadwork and embellishments.Everyone is doing what they know and love and they all make a fantastic living.We have all learned every step of the way. I expect to keep my atelier as is in the future.

This is where we will make our one of kind pieces as well as create our prototypes. I intend to expand production through grass roots women’s groups through a UN project called ethical fashion. Keeping the high standard will be of utmost importance to me and that I somehow stay involved in each piece.

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

6. How have you seen the luxury industry as a whole change in Africa over the past 5 years?

Africa is a huge continent and it’s impossible to answer this as an all-encompassing question. I think that global luxury brands have found a new market place in all corners of Africa and that these brands have really raised the bar in terms of standards of excellence.

7. Years ago you were one of the first African designers to get mainstream press in the US, now I understand that you are opening a store in Soho. What led to this decision and how have you seen your clientele change in the past 5 years?

I am opening a store on Madison Avenue. The decision really came through the generous nudge and mentorship if that is a word, of Ralph Lauren who has been incredibly supportive and generous in his time help and advice.

I have focused on the American market for 12 years now so it’s a natural progression. My clientele has not changed it has simply grown and I would hope to keep it that way. People have come to expect of me an ethos, a moral compass, a work ethic, an esthetic, a quality and of course the beautiful end result.

I rigorously and uncompromisingly deliver the best that I can. So what I have found really is that the 6 degrees of separation have been whittled down to 0.5 and that I have a linked network of clients and really patrons of my work. Is a bit more like collecting wearable art than shopping

and it goes beyond fashion trend or season so purchases become favorite collectables.

luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

8. Many industry leaders believe that Africa will be the next frontier in luxury. In fact, the 2012 IHT Luxury Conference focused on this topic. What do you predict for the African luxury industry in the next few years and how do you think this will benefit the continent?

Well I saw this from a different angle. I don’t think that the focus is on Africa as the source of luxury. I think the focus at the conference and in general is as Africa as an emerging market for the moguls of the luxury labels. Obviously the markets are still somewhat limited probably to South Africa and certain West African countries but in general this will up the stage and bring new influences across the board.

9. Where do you hope to take your brand in the next 5 years?

My entire focus is on bringing my brand to the USA in a more major way and to launch e commerce as well as a store in New York.

10. Luxury can be a rather subjective concept. How would you define “luxury”?

Yes, luxury does mean different things to different people. I see it in Africa all the time.

I suppose mostly it means being able to have things or access to things that are scarce, rare and unusual. To most rural Africans this would mean access to water in extreme cases, shelter or food. For many an education is the ultimate privilege.

Sometimes I feel this does not translate so well, when you look at some of the luxury lodges, the obsession to take wifi and all sorts of modern conveniences to remote places sometimes actually removes one from the experience.

In my case I think the greatest luxuries of our time are the things that are running out or that we only have a finite amount of. Time, experiences with loved ones, moments that change your perception of things, insights, nature, clean air and water, peace and tranquility. My work is luxurious because we use the finest raw materials and mostly because we invest a huge amount of time in it.

Training, the actual hand making of everything, the attention each piece gets from the design to then ordering of the raw materials to the delivery at trunk show. More so there is such a global push for mass production that many traditional artisanal skills are dying out. These are closely linked with traditions, ceremonies, rites of passage, and hence all linked to the human spirit. The world and humans will be truly impoverished should we lose these magical abilities and this somehow is the ultimate luxury of my creations: access to age old traditions.

To View More of Anna’s Collection, Please visit: http://issuu.com/annatrzebinskistudio/docs/anna_trzebinski_brochure_2013_0674751b524f6e

´luxury fashion designer Anna Trzebinski

Interview By Sabrina Tessier

Maxine Genier

Maxine Genier

Maxine is an adept of design, photography and online marketing. She lives in Gothenburg, Sweden with her husband and two beautiful daughters. She spends her leisure time exploring Europe with her family to perfect her skills as a travel photographer. She can be found in her spare time, strumming her guitar.
Maxine Genier