Not every model you meet will have a degree in economics from Royal Holloway, but then every model you meet is not like Violet Gacenia. Now a teacher specialising in maths-related subjects, she visited the Africa Fashion studio for a charity shoot recently – so we took the opportunity to find out more about fashion and culture in her home country of Kenya.
“Nothing beats walking along the beautiful beaches of Mombassa with friends at midnight”, Violet told us. “The country is beautiful and diverse. But it’s also changing”.
“When I left Kenya and came to the UK in 1998, local clothes were still popular in Kenya”, she told us. “I go back regularly and, every year, I see more and more Western clothes. The same with the buildings”.
So how much of a culture shock was her arrival in South London?
“I was 10 years old at the time and had just exchanged the warm surroundings of my home country for the cold streets of Bermondsey”, she said. “It was a real shock. Not only the weather and buildings, but also the people. Being the only Swahili speaker in my school was very difficult. I didn’t really enjoy being here until I went to university”.
What about fashion? What’s cool with Kenyan clothing and accessories?
“I’ve mentioned the beaches of Mombassa, where you can take a camel ride along the beach. At the same time, you can buy in-expensive beaded bracelets”, she told us. “You go on one day, explain the design you like and tell them your name. When you return on the following day, they have created a design just for you – complete with your name written within the beads. It’s inexpensive and pretty cool!”.
“One of Kenya’s most famous fashion exports are Lesso designs. In Kenya, this kind of traditional clothing is simple, but colourful, used as ‘lounge’ clothing around the house. But we’re now seeing more and more of it at major fashion shows”, she told us. “And, of course, we have the Shuka clothing of the Masai”.
Humans connect more on food than almost everything else. If someone wanted to get a feel for Kenyan flavour, then what should they try?
“Well the problem is that everything is so much fresher and tastier in Kenya”, said Violet. “Especially fruits like mangos, they are so much juicier. And the way that the coconuts taste, either as a snack, drink or ingredient”.
“Most of the time, I’m almost a vegetarian”, she explained. “But if I get the chance to each Nyama Choma then I can’t resist. It is the Kenyan way of barbequing red meat and it is amazing. Even talking about it now makes my mouth water!”.
“There are some Kenyan restaurants in London, that I can visit when I’m feeling home sick for family cooking”, she told us. “And I try to fly home to Kenya at least once a year”.
Finally, we asked Violet if she has a message for young people with a strong interest in fashion.
“I was interested in textiles when I was younger, but they removed it from the school curriculum. Now I love modelling. Know WHY you are doing what you are doing. I wasn’t doing it to be famous. I enjoy it”, she said. “Above all, be humble”.
We thanks Violet for taking the time to speak with Africa Fashion and we wish her luck modelling as well as the work she does in teaching the next generation.