The power of co-creation from the Cradle of Humanity: the Kara people, Belgian designers and barefoot shoemakers

Images of the Kara tribe by Philippe Vertriest & Michaël Marson, Copyright AKASO

The Kara tribe is one of Africa’s most authentic tribes known for their abstract body painting, a fascinating act of transformation using the skin as a canvas and the earth as a palette. From co-creation workshops between six young male and female Kara body painting artists and two Belgian-based brand Akaso designers Ababa collection returns back fusing one of Africa’s oldest art forms with an urban contemporary spirit.

Akaso was founded by Philippe Vertriest father of two Ethiopian born daughters and great believer in Africa's creative talent. Every single print in the Akaso collection is the exact reproduction of a body painting motif created by a Kara tribe artist on their face and body.  Akaso pays each artist as a Western freelance designer, who in return invest these proceeds in sustainable projects improving the livelihood of the entire Kara community.

Akaso comes from the Italian 'a caso' meaning 'by coincidence', reflecting the many coincidences that Philippe encountered on his route that brought him to the Akaso co-creation vision.  'There is no coincidence in this life - just follow your intuition, however bold the path may be'.

As Phlippe recollects the journey: “March 2014.  My first encounter with the Kara people in Duz, one of only three Kara villages.  I came here with Ethiopian anthropologist Desta.  Seated under a tree by the Omo river bank, we shared my vision with the Kara community inviting them to give a new dimension to the Kara body painting art.  Right there, intuitively, we connected.  Next, the Kara needed only one night to select six young Kara body painting artists. The Kara Six.”

“December 2014.  Homecoming at the Kara.  Seven days.  8am, Class room session.  Belgian fashion designers Sandrina and Michaël discuss with Wucho – the Kara’s design team front man – the theme of the day. Afternoon body painting sessions by the river.  Other than that: let intuition rule.”

Vivobarefoot and Akaso launched the collaboration back in 2018 at the newly established production line in Addis Ababa. At that time, as we had just started our journey in setting up a shoemaking manufacturing unit, we got too excited and made more canvas material then we needed for that season. Instead of throwing away and being worried about repeating the same patterns, we stored the materials and remade the shoes this year for adults adding a range for kids too.

As the rest of Ababa collection, the outsole features the oldest human footprints that are 3.7 million years old calling to reconnect with Africa, the birthplace of human race. 

All the shoes are Proudly Made in Africa certified, meaning their quality is assured, the shoes are ethically sourced, fully manufactured in Africa using locally sourced materials and socially beneficial.

Enjoy the craftsmanship from design to making – get inspired by the power of co-creation! 

£3 from every pair in adults shoes and £1.5 from each kids shoes contribute to Soul of Africa social enterprise that is currently being evolved into Livebarefoot Foundation, watch this space!


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