As Obama prepares for his last 500 days in office, so America’s agenda has moved toward peace and relationship building – looking outward to try and create a positive legacy for Barak. Part of this new stance, sees the President flying to what many Africans consider his spiritual home – Kenya. Africa Fashion asked Miss Ecclectic Mix herself, Becca Kungu, for an insider’s view of fashion and culture in this East African nation of 45 million people.
Kenya in general – and Nairobi in particular – is for fashionistas and trend setters.
Of that I have no doubt.
Yet when most people hear Kenya, they immediately picture lions, giraffes and the kind of exotic wildlife that you find on the ultimate safari. They might also picture Masaai warriors: the tall, dark skinned men – adorned with colourful jewellery.
But the Kenya I love and cherish is very different – and it centres on the capital Nairobi.
When you go into town, what strikes you most is the hustle and bustle of the place. The never ending hooting of car horns, a place full of activity and fast moving people – especially the hawkers selling biscuits, sweets and icy bottles of water to travellers.
There are always Matatus (buses) on the go, Makangas (bus conductors) shouting out for customers and traders with mobile hot dog stands (or, as we like to call them, smokies).
Personally, I relish taking a small Matatus, which Kenyans refer to as Ma3, Nganya or Manyanga – because of the loud music they play. Some Matatus play music 24/7 and, for that reason, they tend to be more expensive. Many Kenyans love reggae music. In fact every Monday, Thursday and Sunday they have reggae nights in most of the clubs.
I love the fact that by 3pm, the city is winding down. Most office people are making their way to the bars. Builders and manual labourers can also be found under trees, seeking shade or laying on the lawn for a nap in the sun.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Kenyans, as a people, is their creativity and innovation. No where is this ingenuity more obvious than when we look at irrigation and water recycling. The way locals use old jerrycans is impressive. A series of holes and sticks gives running water when needed – and buckets underneath mean that waste water is instantly recycled for plants and flowers.
One of the most popular local artists is Muthoni the Drummer Queen (MDQ). One of her top singles was ‘Nai Ni Ya Nani?’ (which asks, ‘Nairobi is who’s?’). In it, she states clearly, ‘Nai Ni Ku Think’ – ‘Nairobi is to think’ – celebrating the innovation of the people in all things.
This notion applies to fashion as well.
For me, the most creative idea I have seen recently is Afro Shoes – called Afros. Designed by model and actor Emo Rugene (@emorugene, instagram).
Emo says, ”All the materials used on the shoes are sourced locally. This is because Afros is a Kenyan brand geared towards helping the Kenyan market, hence we support the local textile industry.
“The new design in line is called The Hessian Collection where shoes will be made out of recycled Gunia, which is Swahili for sisal sacks”, says Emo. “This is our most ingenious design yet. There are so many people who see the ‘Gunia’ and think that it is just for making sacks, but this collection is going to blow all of them away. The material is durable and comes in a wide array of colours so the new collection will still maintain the Afros identity of standing out”.
In recent times, the fashion scene in Nairobi has expanded and grown at a phenomenal rate. There is literally nothing you can’t get (in terms of products and designs that are trending globally) from the local market scene. What makes Kenya different is how economical it is to stay fashionable – something that Emo Rugene and his contemporaries adhere to. One look at the Kenya Top Models Facebook page and you will see more than 70,000 followers. This is huge business.
Even if you only have 150 Kenyan shillings (£1.50) in your pocket, you can get your hands on the best and newest in fashion. Nai ni ya (Nairobi is for) fashionistas and trend setters. Of that I have no doubt!
In the USA, Obamacare is a new health insurance system, but here in Kenya it refers to the $500,000 that the government has spent in making the journey from the airport to the city centre look as impressive as possible.
Obama will be in Kenya for the 6th Global Entrepreneurship summit, co-hosted by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. It will happen on 26th and 27th July – bringing together 1,500 business leaders from across the world.
The timing of the US President’s visit could not be better and we’re sure that Kenyans will be pushing their best fashions forward, because the people KNOW, “Kenya Ni ya Mine”.
Here’s a reminder of how his trip to visit family in 1988 went.