Bernos is a Washington, DC based t-shirt company founded by a group of friends with African roots and American addresses. Like so many creative souls, they were all enjoying their careers, but had the urge to do something different. Something inspiring, and something to make their lives more artful. One day, the four of them were talking about how it would be great to have t-shirts – that simple, classic, quintessentially American staple – that expressed and reflected the rich culture of the African continent.
They realized of course, that there was nothing of the kind out there, and they would have to take matters into their own hands. And in the Spring of 2006, that’s exactly what they did.
The creative forces behind Bernos came together like a classic comic book superhero team: every member had their specialty, and and a burning desire to fight their common enemy. But in this case, the enemy wasn’t a super-villain, but rather boring, poorly made t-shirts, without any sense of culture or style.
Dawit Kahsai is the entrepreneur. Mekdem Petros is the head of operations. Beshou Gedamu is the model, muse, and spiritual center of the group, as well as an accomplished photographer. And Nolawi Petros is the graphic designer and team blogger. Bernos is a way for all four friends to translate their pride in their African origins into wearable art. It’s also a way for them to express their creativity, not to mention introduce a little culture and style to the general t-shirt wearing public!
The creative process starts with a group brainstorm, with the goal of presenting Africa, its culture, and its people in a simple and creative way. All of the team members have different approaches and concepts on how to best accomplish this, so the evolution of new designs is always an interesting experience. Only Nolawi has formal training in the arts, but they all share a passion for art and fashion, and of course for their diverse cultural backgrounds.
New designs come out about three times a year. Currently, the “Made in Africa” t-shirt is one of the most popular designs, especially after recording artist K’naan wore one in his “T.I.A.” music video. The other most popular design is the “ET Alien” design, which the team knew would be a winner, as soon as it came together during a brainstorm session. The Bernos line has something for everyone, with designs ranging from the abstract and irreverent, to the simple and elegant.
Although all of the Bernos team members have day jobs, expressing themselves creatively is a priority. In addition to collaborating on creating t-shirts inspired by their cultural backgrounds, each enjoys individual creative pursuits as well.
Right now, the team is focused on planning their fourth anniversary celebration, starring the critically acclaimed Ethiopian-American artist Meklit Hadero.
Bernos designs are printed on American-made and sweatshop-free American Apparel t-shirts, and are available online at Bernos.org and at Dekka at 1338 U Street NW, Washington, DC. Stay tuned, as new designs are always in the works!