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The Shopper Bag that started it all – Meet Canvas and Kangas ™

The Original, One of a kind bags made with love and carrying the essence of the Kenyan Coast.

When you think of the coast, you imagine palm trees, wind, warmth, sun, sounds of the ocean and beach. How about the perfect coastal bag that carries that spirit of coast? Denise Noordermeer, the founder of Canvas and Kangas , was raised in Kenya, settled back in Kenya with her family in 2013 with the life, colors and people inspiring her to share her love in a more tangible way. Canvas and Kangas  was founded and is based in Mombasa and Amsterdam in 2014 with their factory in Ukunda.

 

Although not trained as a fashion designer, Denise designs from the heart and started of by designing one bag at a time which gave her satisfaction and inspiration to pursue her brand. Her late mother had tried to teach her tailoring as part of her upbringing but it never stuck with her. Right now, Denise believes that her late mother would be proud to see her delving into it and working with talented craftsmen.

 

Canvas and Kangas  is a brand that ensures the use of natural and local Kenyan materials to ensure the best quality for their lifestyle products. For Denise, the brand is more than the product, it is meant to “give people a smile with [their] love for Kenya in creating sustainable employment with a fair wage.”

“Every product is one of a kind. We never make the same bag twice so we need to stay creative and deliver continuity.”

Canvas and Kangas  are not all about bags but have extended their product base of lifestyle products to home and garden adding cushions to the mix. “To bring our brand into the Home & Garden, our customers can distinguish their atmosphere, relax and spend quality time in a one of a kind way,” explains Denise. An entrepreneur at heart, Denise has worked in different fields of industries mainly from tourism to marketing. With over 15 years of experience in marketing, Denise has learnt how to develop a business and a brand. Fashion, however, still remains quite new to her. Her upbringing in Kenya and her strong marketing experience have been key to the success of the brand. “I am able to translate the true Kenyan taste into the brand and also know how to build a brand,” she says.

 

With designs made from the heart, reflecting the beauty and vibe of Kenya, designed in the coast with select materials sourced locally, what is not love about Canvas and Kangas?

Starting out, the greatest challenge she had to face was maintaining high quality with every product. The designs are made step-by-step testing and improving the first samples to make them better. Essentially, “It is the craftsmanship and by training and good understanding that we are able to give our uniqueness and high standard in every product. Every product is one of a kind. We never make the same bag twice so we need to stay creative and deliver continuity,” Denise tells us.

 

Canvas and Kangas  started off with the shopper/beach bag, which Denise still uses and produces. The evolution of the bags are primarily in the color variations, color combinations and designs remaining true to the essence of the brand and the shopper/beach bag that started it all. Now the full collection (for him & her) consists of envelopes, tote bags, document cases, business bags and gorgeous travel bags. Their kanga designs rotate on a weekly basis so as to give the brand new and inexhaustible inspiration. This also entails one on one communication with the customer to create for them a bag that will meet their needs. Finding inspiration in the small things in life and nature, the Canvas and Kangas bags are sure to remind you of the beautiful beaches, the colors, wildlife and safari of Kenya.

The positive vibes the fashion industries in Africa send out in the world is showing Africa, as a continent, in a different light,” remarks Denise. With the reception and growth of the Kenyan fashion brands and Africa in general, Africa is certainly being picked up by global fashion houses. We have seen this with the adoption of the kanga, kitgenge, Maasai blanket and kikoy in runways and collections globally. This, Denise believes, gives African based designers a new stage to show the world what they are capable of. Denise further comments that where global fashion houses were the primary sources of inspiration, people are turning to the true inspiration sources they relied on; the African designers themselves. For Denise, her inspiration from local to international designers range from Vlisco, Lalesso, Doreen Mashika from Zanzibar, the late Oscar de la Renta, Jean Paul Gautier (2005 Hommage à Afrique), Kooroo, Yefiker from Ethiopia to Asissa Dione from Senegal.

“African fashion is changing from local to global in a rapid way.”

There is no doubt that many are aware of the technological advances taking place in Africa. Experiencing the new and innovative fashion ideas first hand gives outsiders a completely different view on Africa, says Denise. “It shows the rest of the world that creative change from within the continent is a true force and a positive one,” she observes. With fashion admired worldwide, she further adds, promoting the African fashion brands will definitely change the views on how Africa and its people are moving forward. Being part of this circle of new and developing fashion brands with passionate designers is truly inspirational for Denise.

 

Denise Noordemeer, having traveled around Africa for many years, already knew that the African fashion industry was developing fast parallel to swift economic developments in some African countries. “What is truly amazing,” she says, “is that it brings out a new way of expressing creativity in fashion designing.” One of the things that she noticed was that the development of fashion industries was mainly local or on a national level but not on a bigger scale. However, the tides are changing, she notes, with the Internet and economic development and breaking down of trade barriers, African fashion is moving into the global sphere.

Distinguishing the countries and their respective fashion industries, Denise notes that “its not about creativity but how to channel all that creativity into making beautiful fashion.” Furthermore, she adds, setting up efficient businesses in the fashion industry, which can handle growth in an expanding African economy and market, is vital.

 

Fashion education for Denise is also key to taking the Kenyan fashion industry one level higher. Having opportunities to develop fashion skills such as setting up fashion hubs where designers can teach and learn from each other will make the difference. She makes the example of the Internet iHub and the technological advances made in the country as a result of such discourse, sharing centric hubs. “it will attract creativity and investment,” she concludes.

With the globalization and knowledge of local brands, the common issue faced by all designers is copying. For Denise, she was fully aware of this reality. “Protecting your designs and brand by registering them and setting up a trademark is one step,” she explains. Denise is also convinced that, although they will attempt to copy, the original Canvas & Kangas bags  differ in design, creation, use of materials and quality standards. Denise further mentions, “it will be very difficult to copy that, because those elements combined, is the essence of our bags and pillows. We believe we put a little bit of our soul into each of our bags. They cannot copy that.”

 

What does the future hold for Canvas and Kangas ? Establishing themselves as one of the leading truly Kenyan brands is their focus, she states. “We believe in the African market as being our main market and so we are first focusing on Kenya, East Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and major African growth economies,” she explains. Expansion of Canvas and Kangas  in terms of product offering is also in the pipeline but for now, bags and pillows are the focus. “We strongly believe in internet as a way of promoting and selling our products worldwide but also aware that ‘feeling’ the bag is important,” Denise notes.

“Approach it like a business based on passion but still treat it like a business.”

In all these years of experience and delving into fashion, Denise is full of wisdom and knowledge. One of the things she would advise is to never stop building your brand and to keep innovating. “It’s constantly evolving so you need to keep up with your competitors but also with your own evolution,” she adds. Staying true to your brand and values and what you believe in will keep you going and aid in building your brand in an authentic way. Denise also encourages up-coming fashion designers to build a solid foundation for the company and brand by investing time to set things up in a good and efficient manner. “Approach it like a business based on passion but still treat it like a business. We truly feel blessed that we are able to do this on a daily basis and that people are happy with their Canvas and Kangas bag. This should be your essence, enjoy making people happy with your designs,” concludes Denise.

 

Canvas and Kangas is truly a fun brand and one that will stand the test of time. With a visionary founder and marketer such as Denise and the mind to keep every bag unique and made with love, Canvas and Kangas is definitely a brand to watch out for.