Obus designer Kylie Zerbst has been designing garments in bold, bright, saturated colour palettes for more than 20 years, and has always nailed fun prints. Over the years, the Melbourne label has teamed up with a number of local creatives and collaborators including accessories label Crumpler, sustainable sanitary company Tsuno and furniture store West Elm.
Now, Zerbst is working with Ethiopia-born, Melbourne-based artist Olana Janfa to create a vibrant collection that includes shift dresses, wrap dresses, boilersuits, tops, skirts, blouses, jackets and pants in four of Janfa’s bold prints.
The Imayē print is dedicated to Janfa’s mother and captures the closeness of the mother-child connection through a series of illustrations printed on fuchsia-pink ramie viscose (an eco-friendly fabric made from flax). A set of gold-and-black Lenchaa earrings are inspired by traditional Ethiopian drawings of lions. Janfa says you’ll often see this style of artwork painted directly onto the walls of people’s homes in the countryside in Ethiopia.
One hundred per cent cotton, linen, ramie and viscose fabrics are used across the collection. Buttons are made from polished Corozo, a tree nut, which is said to be stronger than plastic and biodegradable.
Janfa only began painting in 2018, after a holiday in Byron Bay. On the trip, an artwork in a hotel lobby appealed to him in a way he’d never experienced before.
“Later that same day I was surprised to meet the artist – a French guy living in Queensland,” Janfa says. “I remember wanting to show him the traditional Ethiopian-Orthodox art that I grew up with during my childhood. It’s a very particular style of art that I really love.”
On returning to Melbourne he began drawing and painting, initially replicating images from the bible.
“Most of my early work was about recreating scenes and images from my childhood in Africa – animals, people. Then I started to develop characters and found myself drawn to the image of a mother and child.”
Zerbst says she first discovered Janfa’s work 12 months ago. “When I learned more about him and his foray into the art world, I felt a connection to my own story in fashion – that is, being largely self-taught and wanting to make clothing that brought joy to people in their everyday lives,” she says.
“When she got in touch it was pretty amazing,” Janfa adds. “Her clothes feel happy and bright.”
The duo is hosting an art auction raising funds for Create Impact, a non-government organisation dedicated to improving the lives of children and their communities in Ethiopia through education, health and community projects. The auction will launch in late February with other local artists including Jasmine Mansbridge, Casey Burrill, Emma Gale, Stan Piechaczek and Zan Wimberley.
“The support I’ve received from people here has really encouraged me and pushed me to do more,” Janfa says. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to be creative in some way, and my experience shows that anything is possible if you find what you love and put your time into it.”