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Q&A: How a book persuaded designer Ulfah Davids to launch U.Be.You

by | Apr 10, 2021

After graduating from Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 2015, U.Be.You founder and designer Ulfah Davids worked for a local streetwear brand. Known as the first lady of TWOBOP, she became the creative director of the brand after just three months. During her time there, she found that most Capetonians don’t support local, sustainable clothes: “People here want cheap fashion! ”

“That really demotivated me and I didn’t think this was for me. I didn’t want to struggle and didn’t think of myself as a risk taker,” she says. She left the brand to study again in the hope of becoming a lecturer.  “After I completed my degree in 2019, my lecturer offered me a position as an assistant lecturer for eight months, and then lockdown happened!” To find out what happened next, we asked Ulfah some questions:

How did your fashion brand come to life?

I bought the book Where’s My F**cking Unicorn: A Guide to Life, Your Unicorn & Everything by Michelle Gordon. I read it in an hour. That book gave me so much motivation to get my ass up and do what I love. Through that night I did the logo, started the Instagram page, did some artwork and followed all my friends. The first letter of my name is “U” and it is a cool play on “YOU” so the brand is directed at everyone. I want the brand to represent everyone and I want people to know that it is okay to be themselves. U Be You came so easily.

I didn’t want to start my own brand. Putting yourself and your work out there is hard. It’s your baby and you don’t want people to judge you: that was my view at the time.That was before I started the brand…. The longer I stayed away from my passion, the more depressed and crazy I felt because I needed to express myself and I didn’t have an outlet.

What design are you most proud of?

I love everything I do to be honest. Each piece represents something to me whether it be love, fun, nostalgia, whatever. It makes me happy to create and to see my creations come to life and have people respond positively to what I do.

What inspires your style?

I love colour so much and I think that the brand represents me. Pink is my favourite colour – you wouldn’t guess that by looking at me. The brand is inspired by the streets, nostalgia, instagram, old men, my friends, my mom and my grandma. My grandmother was a fashion designer. She passed away when I was in grade one, but her style was out of this world and I really admire that about her. She is my main inspiration and my love of fashion started with her!

When are you most creative?

I am most creative when I see something that inspires me, I immediately create in my head and draw it on a card to make the pattern for it.

Why do you focus on gender-neutral clothing?

Everything I design is inspired by menswear silhouettes, I love structured garments.

But besides this, I always thought of uncles and men in general as being pervy and I was paranoid about this as a child. I tried to stay away from that kind of attention by carrying myself in a way that boys carried themselves, acting and dressing like my brothers did. However, I still felt comfortable dressing that way and carrying myself that way so now I own it. Something that came from an insecurity because of men, is now something that represents me and makes me who I am. I don’t necessarily think of myself as dressing like a man, but dressing for comfort and wearing clothes that I won’t be sexually objectified in. I love men’s clothing…. structured, kind of basic and classic. Read more about this subject on my blog.

What textiles and materials do you like to work with?

I love natural fabrics because of sustainability, breathability and structure. I don’t really use patterns but I do love plaid and recently gingham. I don’t usually dye fabric.

From where do you source your materials?

From local suppliers in Cape Town. I would like to start doing more upcycled collections and clothing with deadstock because I love doing limited edition pieces and using cut-offs/waste from older collections.

What is your brand’s environmental impact?

It is extremely important to know what impact you and your business have on the environment. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to measure my carbon footprint. I do know that we use zero waste practicers in the business. We use sustainable fabrics and follow the slow fashion movement by having a made-to-order system and prescribe to quality over quantity.

Do you think influencers can help change consumer behaviour?

Definitely! People are persuaded by whatever influencers are selling even if it is harmful to the environment. I think more education needs to be done in order for us to make sustainable lifestyle choices. Most things that are labeled sustainable are expensive and not everyone can afford to buy these. I think it is very exclusive to be sustainable right now.

What’s your take on mass production of clothing?

Too many clothes are being produced. It’s unnecessary. But fast fashion companies will sell anything to make more money. More clothes, more styles, more sizes – which will be thrown into the trash and end up in landfills.

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