In a BBC series Letters from African Journalists, Ismail Einashe visits two designers who are interpreting contemporary Kenyan fashion in different ways.
On a cloudy afternoon in Kenya’s capital, two seamstresses sew and hem a bag on a sewing machine to create a gorgeously patterned bag. A tote bag made from old jeans hangs on the wall of the workshop.
Bustling with tailoring activity in downtown Nairobi, Suave Studios is located on the second floor of a lovely white and blue building.
Suave Studios, a company founded by Mohamed Awale in 2013, has become recognized as one of the most interesting names in the city’s burgeoning fashion industry.
Surplus fabrics are used to create accessories such as wallets, passport holders, messenger bags and other backpacks and backpacks.
Awale is inspired by Nairobi’s huge and sprawling Gikomba. Gikomba is the largest market of its kind in East Africa and is open to the public.
He claims that the more bags we sell, the more trash we eliminate.
For Nairobi’s trendy students and young professionals, tailors turn discarded jeans, leather jackets, suits and other used clothing purchased from the US and Europe into affordable products.
According to the designer, his company started with one room on the current property and has since grown.
Awale attracts business from industry giants like Google and sells his goods abroad.
Earlier this year, he received a loan from the Ethical Fashion Initiative to participate in a two-month fashion program in Florence, Italy, focusing on bags and accessories.
Acquire knowledge of bag design, fashion history, business development, etc.
Awale’s vision was heightened by this experience and he decided to relaunch his label as Rummage Studios in September with a new brand identity centered around international growth.
Designer and creative consultant Kepha Maina’s high-end ready-to-wear fashion label is on the other end of Nairobi’s fashion spectrum.
In 2013 he started his own label and now runs his home/workshop in the heart of Nairobi.
Human form, architecture, and self-expression are all sources of inspiration for Mina.
A key factor was the thin jeans trend in the mid-2000s, popularized by British and American indie bands such as The Libertines and The Strokes.
Kenya didn’t have this popular style, so he adopted a DIY strategy, remaking jeans from old clothes.
His simple designs are inspired by Japanese pioneers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and enduring names such as Azzedine Alaia and Jil Sander.
The groundbreaking British designer Alexander McQueen, whom Maina claims to have “sublimated into art,” was a great inspiration for him.
Mina was heavily influenced by the late McQueen’s artistic dark dress sense and high-concept performances, and captivated the audience.
“McQueen opened my eyes to how fashion can be used to send a message,” claims Maina.
In addition, he finds inspiration in East African visual artists such as the famous Sudanese painter and influential modernist Ibrahim El Salahi.
Unlike the fashion mecca of Paris or Milan, Nairobi doesn’t follow the seasons because the fashion department is too small.
Maina has exhibited four collections so far, with a fifth debuting in September.
He argues that Nairobi’s aesthetic is sleek, angular and modernist, setting it apart from other African fashion hubs like Lagos.
The challenge for designers is that the majority of wealthy Kenyans are far more likely to buy Hermès purses and Gucci jackets than to buy luxury clothing from Kenyan designers.
Despite these obstacles, Mina claims there has been a noticeable increase in the number of designers, stylists and creatives working in Nairobi over the past few years.
Many of them have garnered international attention, such as designer and creative director Sunny Dorat, who had a show at London’s Somerset House and helped shape the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition on African fashion.
A talented generation seems to be at the helm, and Nairobi’s vibrant fashion sector is just getting started. Whether you’re looking for recycled his fashion items like Awale or Maina’s more high fashion pieces.