Today is World Water Day. While the United Nations is busy taking stock of the global water-themed initiatives that began in early nineties and formulating programmes for the future years, in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighbourhood, designer Junichi Nakane is quietly working towards his goal of helping needy African villages gain access to fresh water.
In 2011, on a friendship trip to Mali and Burkina Faso, Nakane came face-to-face with the harsh reality of life in Tirelli: lack of access to quality water and the high costs involved in building water sources. Writing a cheque was the easiest answer, but he had a long-term plan that would not only alleviate the problem facing the village, but also symbolically represent the West African culture to the rest of the world.
Inspired by Ralph Lauren’s Polo Teddy Bear series, the Japanese creative decided to make and sell teddy bears and use the proceeds to build a water well for the central plateau region. After collaborating with a friend for sewing purposes, he created 15 designs out of Malian wax-print fabrics. The bears, endearingly called Kumanokoido (from the Japanese words kuma no ko, or cubs, and ido, or water well), were a sell out at a local flea market, providing a much needed impetus to the designer’s fund-raising endeavour.
He then concretised his plans, setting his target at USD 15,000 and assembling a team of five to handcraft the bears. In addition to the African fabric line, an exclusive collection of Camo bears, depicting world unity, is also available. Teddy bears in the range are made using a variety of camouflage uniform patterns worn by armed forces from different countries.
Whether the bears foster cultural exchange between nations is a question for tomorrow. Perhaps a more pertinent one to ask today, is how you can contribute to Nakane’s creative fund-raising efforts and give yourself the satisfaction of bringing a brighter future to Africa?