As a Lebanese native born in Ivory Coast, with roots in Senegal, Jad Fardon has always had the benefit of living between cultures and traditions, which perhaps informed his love for the art of craftsmanship and storytelling.
Fardon’s creative leanings developed early, “Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by design and every form of art in general. My father is an architect and [when I was younger] I used to always draw, put some colours, add characters and trees on his plans, sections, and project drawings.”
While the signs were always there, Fardon’s father was not initially on board with his son’s desire to follow in his footsteps. “After high-school, when I said that I wanted to study architecture, [my father] tried to push me towards finance because he thought that this field will be easier for me – as a young student leaving his family and hometown – and more sure for my future. But, I made him understand that it was not about him, but me, and that I wanted to follow my dreams.”
Fardon went on to study architecture at the Ècole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris, where he developed a conceptual and artistic eye for design. For his thesis, Fardon returned to Ivory Coast, to the south-east city of Grand Bassam, where he “discovered all the treasures that craftsmanship could bring. So, I began to work on some designs while working on my thesis.”
Fardon soon became absorbed in the immediate and tangible process of product and fashion design, in contrast to the lengthy, abstract and technical process of architecture. Fashion would ultimately become his creative outlet.
Awale was launched in December 2016, followed by an online store in February 2017. In less than a year, Fardon has managed to carve out a brand identity seeped in the stories and traditions of Ivory Coast. “Awale is an African strategic game played with seeds on a handmade wood board, it also means ‘love one another’ in the Dida language, one of the sixty ethnic groups found in Côte d’Ivoire.
“This is the link with craftsmanship and this idea of reunion that attracted me to the name of the brand. The idea of bringing different craftsmanship together for my creations and designs.” He adds, “As I am the third generation born in Africa, I would say that my culture is more African, even if I’m Lebanese in origin.”
Fardon operates between the cities of Korhogo, Grand-Bassam and Abidjan in Ivory Coast, and the French capital, Paris. In the former cities, he oversees a guild of artisans who help him realize his collections. “There is a real exchange between me and the craftsmen I work with. We work together on their traditional techniques, bringing some structure to it and developing new tools to improve the processes we use for the label.” He goes on to say, “The most difficult thing was to find good sewers for the atelier in Abidjan, but after struggling for months, I met some passionate men with [some] experience that were expecting to learn more and improve their work.
So, I invested in a formation for them, and today we can say that Awale quality is the same one we find on the international market.” It is this dedication that has seen Fardon showcase his wares in the Parisian showrooms of Menswear Fashion Week in June, and Womenswear Fashion Week this past September.
“As I am the third generation born in Africa, I would say that my culture is more African, even if I’m Lebanese in origin.”
While Fardon does not ascribe to the conventions of season and gender-specific collections, his designs are at once traditional and contemporary, in that each garment is developed through age-old techniques to produce transitional, and seamless ready-to-wear pieces that make reference to the stories of his country of birth. “My collections are telling stories. Stories that inspired me, most coming from what I observed growing [up] in Côte d’Ivoire during the 90’s.” He adds, “I consider my designs as costumes for the characters of the stories I tell.”
“I consider my designs as costumes for the characters of the stories I tell.”
Though just two seasons in, Fardon has already experienced the impenitent nature of the fashion industry. Recently, on Instagram, Fardon came across a spring/summer ‘18 collection by renowned British designer, JW Anderson, that bore a stark resemblance to pieces from Fardon’s latest Fall/Winter 17 line.
The ongoing controversial issue of appropriation has long plagued the fashion industry, though rather than point an accusatory finger, Fardon applies a refreshingly sympathetic stance, eschewing blame for logic. The designer points to large fashion houses beset by issues of brain drain owing to the constant pressure of producing new seasonal collections in an often fickle industry. “We all know that luxury houses have enormous budgets to hire young designers, and I think the millennial era we live in makes these ‘armies’ more dedicated to source pictures from the internet, rather than work on their creativity.”
“I believe challenges and limits help you to be more creative for the solutions you put in place.”
While a cultural exchange is inevitable in an industry that has always looked outwards for inspiration, Fardon is buoyed by the recent traction his brand has gained, and expects many such challenges that come with establishing an African-based fashion brand. “I believe challenges and limits help you to be more creative for the solutions you put in place.” Going forward, Fardon is optimistic, and expects new challenges to arise from “exportation and worldwide distribution … but we’re working on it.”
In the long run, Fardon hopes to shed a bright light on the creativity, skill and quality that exist on the continent, with the ambitious and not-impossible goal of turning Awale into an International brand, firmly rooted in Africa.
In the meantime, as the atelier prepares for its upcoming Fall Winter 18/19 collection, Awale will continue to tell stories of its own.