By Edward Henderson
The moment I walked into LK Fashion Design’s storefront on El Cajon Blvd, my eyes were greeted with a kaleidoscope of colors. African prints are some of the most distinct fabrics on the planet. There is something regal about their exuberance. They invoke a sense of pride and curiosity at the same time. For the first 27 years of my life I had no idea what my African origins were. If you asked me where I was from, North Carolina was the only answer I’d ever known. As I greet Lilly Klu, owner and head stylist at LK Fashion Design, she hugs me with a familiarity that feels like a ‘welcome home’. Lilly is sure that her clothing will inspire that same feeling within anyone who’s lucky enough to add them to their collection.
Lilly began to hone her sewing skills in Togo, West Africa. She began studying the trade after struggling with some of her high school courses. In Africa, if you fail a test, you have to do the entire year again. Lilly decided she wanted to learn a trade instead of repeating the year. She eventually received her father’s blessing after enlisting her aunt to help with the heated battle.
Lilly immediately displayed a talent for sewing. She learned the trade and passed her exams after only one year when the course called for three. The young seamstress opened her first store in Togo after receiving her certificate. She and her husband, who was in the Navy, moved to San Diego in 2000. Lilly eventually opened her own shop here as well, excited to bring the culture overseas.
“The Dashiki is a traditional print.” Lilly said. “Kings wore them and do traditional ceremonies in them. Now, thank God everyone knows at least the print. We have something to show that we’re from Africa.”
After moving to the Middle East for a while with her husband due to his Naval responsibly, the family returned to San Diego and Lilly re-opened her store at the El Cajon location where it is today. She built her clientele by going to parties, Black History Month celebrations and churches wearing her custom clothing. People began to take notice and reached out to her for their own personalized clothing and accessories. Depending on the style, Lilly can complete a piece in 30 minutes to an hour. More complicated pieces can take two or three hours. Her passion for the craft is what keeps her going.
“I love myself. When you love yourself, what makes you happy is what you do. Fashion is what makes me happy. Look good every day, no matter what’s going on. If you don’t like what you’re doing then you can’t sew. It takes a lot of patience.”
Lilly receives her fabric from Togo, creating an authentic feel that many consumers are looking for. Unfortunately, many African prints sold in larger outlets are outsourced from Asia and have little to no connection to Africa. This new demand for African prints is a welcomed sight to Lilly for reasons outside of the financial benefits. She recalls a time when relations between African Americans and African Immigrants in the city wasn’t the best.
“Before it wasn’t good, but now, I can testify that it’s much better. People want to know where they come from, wear their culture’s clothes and see how it feels.”
This statement prompts me to share my story of African ancestral discovery with Lilly. I informed her that a few years back, my family did our African ancestry via a DNA test and found out Ethiopia was our country of origin. She responded with a knowing smile and assured me she could tell.
“I can tell where people are from by looking at them,” Lilly informed me. “Some people look exactly how where they’re from. But it doesn’t make you feel good to know you’re from Africa and not having clothes that represent it.”
With the exciting opportunities on the horizon, people in the San Diego area with this desire will not have a problem finding her clothes.
In September, Lilly will be the only African style fashion featured at this year’s Fashion Week San Diego. She e-mailed organizers last year and came to her interview in a vibrant green Dashiki. They loved what she wore and awarded her placement in the competition. The designer who wins will get a store front for free in La Jolla Plaza for a few months.
“I know I’m going to get it. When I go (to the La Jolla location), I’m going to stay. You can’t think negatively. You have to think positive. That’s how God blesses us.”
Lilly’s confidence is backed up by her skill and sincere desire to connect her customers to their roots. She’s even opening a sewing academy to teach others how to sew their own clothes. Visit fashionweeksd.com to see the schedule of events and experience LK Fashion Design’s masterpieces for yourself. Don’t be surprised if you’re propelled on a journey towards self-discovery and ancestral connection. That’s been Lilly’s intent all along. Visit her store at 5285 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego 92105, or online at www.lkfashiondesign.com or call 619-218-9686.