Kinabuti: Daring To Dream Big

In this no holds barred chat, Caterina Bortolussi, co-founder Kinabuti shares the inspiring story of how Kinabuti was born

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From a small village in the Italian countryside on the border with Slovenia to the runways in Lagos, Nigeria, Caterina Bortolussi, co-founder Kinabuti is proof that if you want something hard enough and work hard at it, then its yours for the taking.

"I'm from a small village of 350 people and my family members are farmers. I was there till I was 15, we were surrounded by cows. It was a very simple upbringing but also very nice. We had a strong sense of family and Christian values."

So how did a small town gal go on to became a sought after designer?

"I moved to London to because I wanted to learn how to speak English. So after university in Italy, I got a scholarship and moved to London. While there I worked as an Investment Banker but I didn't like it at all, I was depressed about it. My sister was travelling around the world doing what she liked and my business partner Francesca (co-founder Kinabuti) was working in a Communication agency in Barcelona and I said I want to be like that, I don't want to spend my time in an environment I don't like. So thanks to all these good examples around me, I found the courage to become my dream"

The long road To Lagos, Nigeria

From when she was 6 years old, Caterina knew for sure that she wanted to design clothes. Her favourite game as a child involved a spinning toy which could let one match clothes together. But it would take about 20 years before the International Business graduate would be on the path to realising her childhood dream.

After moving to London, Caterina quickly delved into the social scene, going to the clubs, observing and just generally gathering impressions. In that time, she got a promotion at her job in Investment Banking but it came with a clause - she needed to use a part of her salary to get suits.

"I refused. I had my own style going with my white fury jacket and hat. I wasn't going to be in a place where I had to wear a uniform"

Not one to conform, Caterina started to look outside the finance world settling for Marketing.

"If I wasn't going to be a designer, then at least let me work in a communications environment. Marketing sounds fun" she revealed.

But it wasn't a smooth transition. Several rejections and a stint in a shipping company later, Caterina took a break from it all and took a job in a club as a waitress. This would eventually put her on a direct path to Lagos.

Seizing the moment

"While I was working in the club, an advertising agency had a post-Christmas party and I understood who was the boss and I pitched hard to them and eventually it resulted in a job offer and my first assignment was Nigeria. It was great because it was a time of my life when I wanted to leave London and I wanted a job that would let me travel the world."

...And Kinabuti was born

After some more movement which included a fashion course in Milan, getting fired as an assistant stylist for the Queen Rania of Jordan and setting up her own communication agency in Nigeria, Caterina finally decided to chase her dreams fully, designing the first Kinabuti collection for AFRIFF in 2010; which was a film festival she had pioneered with her colleagues.

Today Kinabuti stands as one of the fashion brands to watch in Nigeria with such loyal customers like Uti Nwachukwu and Dare Art-Alade.

What has it been like co-owning a business with a friend, any issues?

"Absolutely not" Caterina is adamant. "We trust each other completely and we are childhood friends so its been great. Trust is key and there is no jealousy. I never would have made it without Fran"

So what's the most fashionable city in your opinion?

Well if you have to put it like that I would say Tokyo. But fashion is different things to different people. if I go to Paris, there is the influence of the African francophone countries and it blends with the elegance of France and something creative comes out. London is a melting pot of so many different things. America has its style as well so where there is personality, there is creativity. Nigeria is very fashionable, when I came to Nigeria, I pimped myself up. I never wore heels as much as when I moved to Nigeria.

We want to know if there are any similarities between Italians and Nigerians, and sure enough, Caterina lists a few

"We're both loud, happy fun people. We also have a strong sense of family. We are both stylish and like to be blinged out. Nigerians are like the Italians of Africa and Italians are the Africans of Europe"

Colourful, hardworking and resilient, Caterina is a big believer in dreams and she's one to talk, having worked her way to making hers a reality.

"In 2 years, I went from dreaming about working in a marketing firm to owning my own communications firm. With hard work and God, you really can achieve your dreams"  she concludes.


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