There’s a saying that “garments don’t make the person.” And whereas it’s true that an individual’s character can’t be judged by their look, it’s additionally simple that what we put on and the way we current ourselves to the world can influence how others understand us. It’s a reality that Dieudonné Brou, founding father of the Oakland-based customized footwear model Koffi Noir, understands effectively.
Brou entered jail at age 18 and served seven years. What made all of the distinction when he re-entered society, he stated, was having somebody ready on the gate to take him dwelling, and the assist of members of the family who needed to see him succeed—a privilege not everybody has. That assist led him to graduate from UCLA and go on to work as a neighborhood advocate and psychological well being counselor with Alameda County.
However the different key to his success? “After spending seven years in jail, the one factor that was the distinction between me reaching all of the stuff that I’ve over the past 10 years—it was the way in which that I styled myself,” stated Brou. “I don’t appear to be somebody that’s been to jail.”
Now, Brou is placing which means behind vogue at Koffi Noir, which he co-founded together with his sister, Veronique Brou. It’s a ardour venture for Brou, who goals to provide Koffi Noir prospects a luxurious expertise—one thing he believes must be accessible to anybody. “All people deserves a top quality pair of footwear,” he stated.
Self-proclaimed “dandy,” poet, and efficiency artist Sir Michael Wayne has offered Koffi Noir’s designers with artistic course. Black dandyism is a method of costume and demeanor utilized by some Black males as each an expression of riot and as a way of distinction, courting again to slavery: The boys costume in formal apparel to tell apart themselves as free and established gents.
“One factor that people is probably not conscious of is Black people contributions to the style house,” stated Brou. ”Relating to Black dandies, they’ve an entire different connotation and dialog due to our experiences with slavery, the transatlantic slave commerce, and colonialism.”
Brou has additionally labored intently with pal and fellow Oakland-based designer Akintunde Ahmad, founding father of Ade Dehye, a vogue model that sources supplies from Africa and particularly from Accra, Ghana, the place Brou’s household is from. The supplies used embody textiles, materials, and leather-based from animals equivalent to pythons, crocodiles, and Ostriches. Analysis is finished to verify their animal and plant-based merchandise come from moral sources.
Brou stated Koffi Noir is at present engaged on non-footwear objects together with wardrobe capsules and crew-neck sweaters, and is planning a method information. He needs to sometime personal a leather-based tanner so he could make supplies accessible to different Black designers and create jobs.
Every Koffi Noir shoe is made-to-order and customised by one-on-one consultations. The footwear take two months to be handmade and are then delivered to the client. The footwear vary from $275 to $500 primarily based on the supplies and customization. “It’s not a lot the worth of the shoe per se,” Brou stated of the associated fee. “It’s actually the expertise and the way they really feel in that course of of buying the shoe.”
Giving again to previously incarcerated males and youth
Brou’s ardour for Koffi Noir is equaled by his dedication to serving to different previously incarcerated individuals obtain their very own success by his work as a youth advocacy and program coordinator at City Peace Motion, an Oakland-based nonprofit.
“I’m doing this work round jail abolition and looking for alternate options to incarceration for younger individuals,” stated Brou.
Starting in 2020, California started granting early releases to 1000’s of incarcerated individuals as a approach to decrease the chance of COVID-19 spreading in state prisons. The transition again into society is commonly difficult for these despatched dwelling with little assist or sources, making the work of Brou and others like him crucial.
On Wednesday nights, Brou co-leads a Black males’s group with Adimu Madyun and Chiedu Ufoegbune referred to as DetermiNation. The group is commonly hosted at Third Eye Soul Kitchen in West Oakland’s Hoover Foster neighborhood and meals are ready for the attendees, a lot of whom are arriving after work.
Individuals who have been incarcerated at a younger age, stated Brou, might discover that upon being launched they nonetheless have the identical behaviors and ideas as after they went in. It takes the assist of individuals in comparable conditions to know find out how to make a brand new life for themselves.
“[DetermiNation] is only a approach to get younger Black males collectively in a secure place and discuss therapeutic and trauma,” stated Brou.
The boys’s group was based in 2012 as a program of City Peace Motion, and Brou joined as a mentor some years later. Many members of the group additionally take part in a social justice committee, which pushes for prison justice reform and ending mass incarceration. It additionally affords management growth alternatives, wellness assist, and stipends for participation.
“[I’m] working with younger Black and brown youngsters who’re principally getting pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline and segregated from the remainder of their friends to some obscure place on [their] campus,” stated Brou, “as a result of not one of the academics wish to cope with them.”
Most individuals are aged 15 to 24, he stated, however males of all ages are welcome to hitch. The oldest particular person at present within the group is 42.
Brou stated he doesn’t wish to let his previous outline him or the youth and males he works with. “You’re meant to stroll, no matter what the circumstances that led you down that path,” he stated.
And it helps in the event you can put on a pleasant pair of footwear alongside the way in which.
“It doesn’t really feel like work to me,” Brou stated of his efforts with each Koffi Noir and City Peace Motion. “I feel that’s what’s allowed me to completely immerse myself in each and do it unapologetically, in my very own method.”
For extra details about City Peace Motion and its applications, name (510) 444-5400, electronic mail [email protected], or mail a letter to PO Field 19339, Oakland, CA 94619.
To order custom-made footwear from Koffi Noir, go to the web site or observe on Twitter and Instagram.