Kenya has come of age when it comes to fashion and nowadays keeping up with the vast trends that are emerging day by day can be a daunting task even for fashionistas.
Mostly, International celebrities are viewed as the fashion trend setters but locally young creative designers are emerging from all corners of Nairobi and are making visible efforts to cut a niche for themselves in the fast growing fashion industry.
Even though the fashion design industry in Kenya is considered underexposed internationally, a few local designers like Kaveke and Patricia Mbela have not only managed to showcase and sell their designs internationally but have also won awards while at it.
Kaveke has been involved in different projects including the International Smirnoff Fashion Awards, M-Net’s Face of Africa, Big Brother Africa (Kenyan representative garment), National Dress Design Team, Sarajevo Fashion Week and Catwalk Kenya among others while Patricia Mbela, operating her fashion label Poisa, became the first Kenyan to take part in the Nigerian fashion week last year. She was also one of the designers who were involved in the search for a Kenyan National dress and has also designed outfits for Kenya Airways which are still in use today. Mbela also won the Swahili Fashion Week, East African Designer of the Year 2011.
Another young actor and model cum designer, Ephy Muriithi, has introduced another dynamic in Kenya’s fashion by launching Kenya Ndula, a local shoe company that provides comfortable footwear with the touch of culture for the patriotic Kenyan to the fashion savvy individual.
‘Ndula’ is Kenyan sheng for shoe. “The inspiration for Kenya Ndula came from the desire to promote local fashion that can compete on an international level. Taking the everyday loafer while creating a unique edge that is stylish, traditional yet contemporary and proudly Kenyan! “Says Ephy Muriithi
Even with the rapid growth being witnessed in the country’s fashion industry, it still faces a myriad of challenges and top on the list is the lack of funding from the government together with the lack of substantial market for exclusive Kenyan produced designer products as most wealthy/middle-class Kenyans who can afford to be dressed by designers prefer to wear international brands.
Lack of a unifying body that could bring designers together was also a hitch sometimes back however the launch of The Association of Fashion Designers in 2011 helped solve the problem.
AFAD intends to bridge the gap between Kenyan fashion and the wider public with the hope that by forging partnerships with textile manufacturers, government organizations and even fashion groupings overseas, they will be able to revolutionize the local industry.
Fashion design in Kenya is mostly influenced by the Swahili and Maasai cultures and Beauty pageants, while leading fashion magazines and fashion columns are among the top platforms used by local designers to showcase their designs.
Surprisingly, a good number of Kenyan craftswomen and designers are the brains behind the works of popular international brands. Under the title “KENYA ON THE CATWALK”, The Economist, featured an article that showed how products crafted in Kenya were showcased on international catwalks. The article further stated that Africa is still better at craftsmanship than mass production hence the reason international designers capitalize on their skills.
It is evident that with proper support from the government, the fashion industry in Kenya can scale both the local and international heights. There are many countries across the world, which allocate budgets to promote their respective fashion industries and maybe it’s time our government followed suit.