Most fashion designers do not hold a PhD in human molecular genetics. For Italy-born, Nigerian designer Ify Ubby, who is in her late 30s, overachieving comes naturally.
The founder of four-year-old Singapore-based slow fashion label OliveAnkara, known for its apparel made from traditional African wax prints called ankara, launched her first sustainable collection featuring original digital prints in October.
Ajo Aye is OliveAnkara’s first sustainable, Afro-Asian fusion collection and its name translates to “colourful journey” in Yoruba.
The 22-piece collection called Ajo Aye takes her zero-waste brand a step further. Digital printing reduces water waste during production “because the fabric doesn’t need as many rinse cycles”, says Ubby. “Instead of forcing garment pieces to fit into a print, we can adjust a print to fit our garment pieces, reducing our overall fabric use.”
Sustainability and transparency have been important to the spirited designer since day one. Leftover fabrics are turned into head wraps, earrings, kids’ clothing and now, masks. She works with a small team of local seamstresses who sew from their homes.
The peacock – which serves as a reminder that nothing should be taken too seriously in West African culture – inspired this Ewa Naibu print. The pattern also draws from ‘seigaiha’ a Japanese motif used to illustrate water bodies, signifying the incarnation of the purity and simplicity of life.
But the lack of transparency in the origin of ankara always bothered her, says Ubby, whose cousin in Nigeria helped her source fabrics from the local markets. “I don’t have any certification about the prints or the fabrics, where and how it’s produced, what types of dyes are used. When I asked my cousin to go directly to the factories, it was difficult to go in.”
Shipping them here from Africa also had “a huge carbon footprint” that made her uneasy. It drove her to look into creating digital prints of her own, which would allow her to control the supply chain. Made in Indonesia from 100 per cent Tencel lyocell, the new collection is biodegradable, says Ubby.
Reversible designs such as kimonos, halter jumpsuits and hats encourage multi-wear.
While she aims to achieve complete waste neutrality by next year, phasing out ankara fabrics is not on the table yet. She adds: “I felt I had a mission to bring in these vibrant prints and joy into people’s lives, and make them feel the boldest versions of themselves.
“Right now, I still feel like I have this mission to bring the vibrancy of African culture into Singapore. The job is not done yet.”
Ahead, we learn more about Ubby’s sustainable practice.