Founded in 2016, Collective Closets is a fresh and exciting Melbourne/Naarm-based fashion label, owned and run by sisters Laurinda and Fatuma Ndenzako.
We first connected with the duo in 2019, when Market Lane and Collective Closets had neighbouring shops on Victoria St at the Queen Vic Market. We were immediately drawn to the sisters’ incredible positive energy, creativity, kindness and authenticity, as well as the gorgeous garments they create with shúkà fabric sourced from Kenya, and their commitment to sharing the stories behind those garments.
Over many cups of coffee, we discovered that we have a shared set of values, as well as a great love for and appreciation of East African coffee, culture and craftsmanship – we’ve been sourcing and sharing beautiful coffees from producers in Kenya and Rwanda since we opened Market Lane. We knew we wanted to collaborate with Collective Closets on a special project and, in 2023, we finally have the opportunity with the creation of a gorgeous Limited Edition Bag!
To celebrate the launch of this beautiful bag, we sat down with Laurinda to chat about the history of the sisters’ business, the ideals that drive their work, their day-to-day schedules, and their plans for the future.
Market Lane: Can you tell us a bit about how Collective Closets and how you got started?
Laurinda Ndenzako: Fatuma and I have dabbled in creative things since we were quite young. Before Collective Closets, we had a little business called ‘Grandma’s Finest’ where we did vintage clothing hauls and markets. A lot of friends and family asked us, ‘why don’t you start your own business with your own clothes and create from start to finish?’ So, we started discussing the possibilities. We knew we wanted to use fabrics that weren’t just everyday fabrics but had a foundation that translated back to our upbringing and heritage.
Around that time, I was getting married. My husband is from Kenya (my own family is from Angola), and he and I flew across to Nairobi to meet the parents. I absolutely fell in love with the place. When I saw fabrics in the markets of Nairobi, it was like a lightbulb moment. It reminded me of stories our mum had told us about growing up in Africa. I especially gravitated towards the shúkà, the cloth of the Maasai.
So, that’s where the concept of Collective Closets came from – it’s a brand that celebrates our dual heritage, of being from Australia with African roots. We wanted to really lean into our upbringing in Melbourne, in Australia, and give the clothes a modern, fashion-forward element that speaks to styles worn here, while celebrating the beautiful things that come out of Africa.
Community is one of our biggest values, and harbouring and nurturing that is a big part of what we do. The women who make up the collective are important to us; we want to empower women and the people who follow our story, and have conversations that connect us all.
Another big value for us is finding ways to be able to give back to community and not just take. We are not Kenyan ourselves – we’re always forthcoming with that – and it’s important to us to shed a light on the different textiles and fabrics we use, and the artisans, maker and creatives we work with in Kenya. Celebrating them and the richness of the continent is central to what we do.
What does an average workday look like for you?
It varies, day to day. For Fatuma, the day definitely begins with a cup of coffee – that has to happen before we even get started! Then we do all our admin – checking emails and orders. We have a tiny team, there’s another woman, Cal, who works with us part-time, so we check in with her, too.
We have a seamstress that comes in every second Monday. That’s really exciting. Customers come in to do fittings, and we also discuss design elements and project what else we’ll bring out over the course of the year.
We’ve just launched our latest collection, Evolve, so we’re still being proactive with the marketing aspect of things – strategising, meeting, talking and working out how we’re going to be innovative in marketing the new collection.
Who or what inspires you?
Our network of friends inspires us, our community inspires us, our customers inspire us. I’m in awe of people’s abilities and the creative passions that set their soul on fire.
Just recently I went to see a play called Is God Is. Seeing that community – a women-led cast of predominantly black actors being centre-stage at the MTC. That was just so inspiring.
Our mum is also an inspiration. She passed away a few years ago, but she left a legacy within Fatuma and myself. She was a very inspiring, hard-working and courageous woman.
What’s it like running a business with a family member?
It’s been a journey with a lot of growth and introspection leading to a greater mutual respect and understanding. We’ve both learnt a lot from each other. We’ve had to be intentional in how we communicate with each other, and understand each other’s communication styles. We’ve had to work on our boundaries and know when to switch off. So, when we have family functions or go on family trips, we know it’s ‘sister time’ now rather than ‘business time’, and we don’t talk about Collective Closets at all.
We prioritise the family relationship before the business. If things get tough, we remind ourselves that first and foremost we’re family and we’re sisters. And it’s nice to check in with each other about our lives before we get down to business, just like we would with any other colleague.
Fatuma and Laurinda from Collective Closets
We're so excited about our forthcoming collaboration! What can you tell us about the shúkà, the cloth with which these bags are made?
The shúkà is predominantly found in the East of Africa, and it’s represented by the Maasai tribe and a few other tribes in the East of Africa. The Maasai people are semi-nomadic warriors and, from my perspective, they use this fabric as a way to wear their traditions. It’s a way for them to show who they are; it speaks loudly and it speaks boldly.
There’s not a lot of documentation about how the Maasai tribe obtained this fabric. There are conversations around whether or not Scottish missionaries brought the fabric to Africa a long time ago, but no one knows for sure.
Fatuma and I have been able to reinterpret the shúkà cloth in a very modern way. The particular company that weaves the fabric we use has been weaving this fabric since 1979. The shúkà is rich in customs, in traditions, and it speaks to the unique way of life of the tribe, which they’re trying to preserve. The shúkà is used for carrying, it’s used to drape the body, and it’s used for warmth and protection from the elements. The fabric is very durable, thick and colourful and, of course, it’s beautiful.
What are you currently most excited about/looking forward to with Collective Closets?
I’m excited for another trip to Kenya in December and January. To connect with new makers and old makers. To see pieces being made in front of us is so special. For this trip, I’m hoping to go for an extended period of time. That would enable me to do one-on-one mentoring with women in Nairobi who have small businesses and are doing amazing things. Because that’s the beauty of life – passing on what you’ve learnt to the next person, and having it come full circle.
And we’re extremely excited for our collaboration with Market Lane to be in the world! We’ve always loved Market Lane; for their delicious coffees and the way they live their values. It was so special to have that relationship when we were based at the Vic Market, and to be able to continue that now is so meaningful.
We’re excited to be able to tell a story from two perspectives and angles, and to celebrate the beautiful things that are coming out of Kenya. To be able to highlight these makers and producers from two different angles is amazing. That’s what we’re inspired by and excited about right now!
Check out the Collective Closets & Market Lane Limited Edition Bag here.