Get Your flowers with Yay Abe x H&M

When Russel Abrahams got the call from H&M South Africa to collaborate on a collection, the Cape Town-based illustrator — also known as Yay Abe — did not know that it would turn into a collection full of gratitude. 

Set to hit clothing racks on 2 June, Abrahams joins Palesa Mokubung’s Matsho and Balmain (under the creative direction of Olivier Rousteing), as some of the brands’ collaborative alumni. 

After getting a laptop in grade 9, Abrahams’ first exposure to the world of creating art digitally, was playing around on Photoshop. Abrahams knew this is what he would do for the rest of his life. This took him from studying graphic design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), to starting his own illustration studio, Yay Abe in 2017.

At Yay Abe, Abrahams injects hope and positivity into his colourful and vibrant designs. 

H&M_YAY_ABE_Shot02_0097: Russel Abrahams wears his Yay Abe x H&M collaboration. (supplied: Yay Abe x H&M South Africa)

A shout out to everyone

What started as a casual, fun chat with the team at H&M, Yay Abe x H&M evolved into a celebration of all things flowers, optimism and gratitude.

“Coming off the back of Covid-19, everyone was so stressed and trying to figure where their lives were going, I wanted to make the collection focus on flowers and illustrations of giving people their flowers,” explains Abrahams. 

“It’s an ode to all of us who have been surviving and doing their thing over the past two years. There’s something for everyone. They’re basics that will adorn its wearer,” says the illustrator. 

“There are zip-up and pullover hoodies; sweatshirts; short-sleeve and long sleeve T-shirts; and bucket hats. These types of garments went from classic basics we turn to for comfort, to go-to staples in the era of work-from-home stylish comfort. With bright and bold motifs of flowers, the collection literally hands its wearer flowers while wearing the pieces.

“The first round of designs for the collections were completely different. It wasn’t until two days before the first meeting about concepts that Abrahams wanted to make a connection with people that focused on flowers, recalls Abrahams. 

“It’s like gifting people their flowers. It’s all about gratitude. We want to show people that everything is okay. Whatever you’ve done or achieved during this time, here are your flowers. We all deserve it,” explains the Capetonian illustrator. 

Pieces include playful, Keith Haring-esque illustrations of friends together, embracing and celebrating each other’s company together in the spaces between the city and nature, a reference to Abrahams’ home in Cape Town. Another piece adorns a person with flowers behind his ear, a nod to being at peace and enjoying life. 

Incorporating other small businesses was an integral part of bringing the collection to life. Yay Abe worked with a Cape Town-based company, with craftsmen who are skilled in bringing digital designs to life.  

H&M_YAY_ABE_Shot06_1333: Basics galore: Yay Abe x H&M South Africa are basics made for everyone. The illustrations do the talking. (supplied: Yay Abe x H&M South Africa)

Persistence and Patients

Throughout living in the pandemic era, Abrahams mentioned the influx of people sharing affirmations and positive messages online, particularly on Instagram. He found that this collection would be another platform to bring these messages forward with streetwear as the platform. 

“Clothing or streetwear, paired with illustration is a perfect way to say something that can be a bit more serious, yet in a more lighthearted and visually pleasing way,” Abrahams continues.

 “The phrase, “persistence and patiences”, is something I always try to shout at the top of my lungs. I’ve seen these two words play out so much in my life, even when things get tough,” said Abrahams. “Through all of the self-realisation and heartache, at the end of the day, things have always worked out”. 

“I think patience is a big part of it. While I was studying, I was named an Emerging Creative by Design Indaba, which really helped me make connections,” says Abrahams.

The past two years had both highs and lows for Abrahams himself. He lost his mother to Corona virus in 2021, and so the collection has deep meaning for the illustrator. Yay Abe’s collection gives flowers especially to his friends, his father and partner. 

This was just one of Yay Abe’s many projects that came as a therapeutic relief for himself, where he jumped full force into creating and making things for his studio. 

“I was a lot more proactive during 2020/2021. I think that was because it was evident that work was more scarce. But this translated into getting to work with Adidas on their Impossible is Nothing campaign, where we wrapped the FNB towers in Soweto” he says. 

Abrahams credits the collaborations with Adidas and H&M as the highlights of his career thus far. “That’s why, this project [with H&M], is about giving flowers. It’s a gentle reminder to myself that says “you’re so lucky” and to my family. It’s a gentle reminder to all of us to trust what happens when you’re patient and persistent.

“It’s when brands really trust artists and creatives to make the work they want to make. That’s where the magic lies,” concludes Abrahams. 

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Kimberley Schoeman
Kimberley Schoeman is a sophisticated and eccentric wordsmith at the Mail & Guardian. A tastemaker in the making, she is in pursuit of the best in culture, fashion, and style.

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