To say that Kenyan designers are finding their voice is an understatement. The burgeoning creative scene in Nairobi is giving birth to one of the most innovative and diverse artisan consciousness in the East African region. Creative Directors like Sunny Dolat of Nest Collective, a Nairobi-based group creative coalition, are helping the world reimagine what African fashion and craftsmanship means on a global stage. In 2017, Nest Collective launched "Not African Enough," a collection of words and images from a selection of emerging Kenyan designers who are contributing to the shifting aesthetic of the country.
The project sought to examine preconceived notions of African style.
"Not African Enough" is a derogatory term routinely lobbed at African designers who step outside the narrow confines of what the world—and Africans—are told it means to dress, talk, think and be like an African. This book asserts our right to be more than enough.
Sunny isn't the only Kenyan designer aiming to shift the narrative in the country.
Diana Opoti recently launched Kenya’s first fashion consultancy and PR firm. 24-year-old fashion designer David Avido, is using his eclectic designs as a leading force for good. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Avido's team shifted gears to produce face masks for free local distribution. Giving back is not an unknown practice of African entrepreneurs. In fact according to Eunice Baguma Ball, founder of the London-based Africa Technology Business Network (ATBN), African female entrepreneurs typically reinvest 90% of their profits back into their communities.
LOVE DOT is particularly energized by brands with a mission as unique as the products they produce. Here are 7 Kenyan brands we think you should know right now. Many of which will be on available on LOVE DOT in the near future.
1. Suave Kenya
Suave Kenya is the brainchild of Mohamed Awale, a young indie-entrepreneur who left the oil industry to pursue his passion. His unique designs of colorful backpacks, satchels and laptop sleeves from recycled fabrics guarantee that no item is alike. Suave’s inspiration lie in Gikomba, the Kenyan open-air flea market said to be the largest in Africa.
Katush, is a modern men’s and women’s fashion wear label, by Katungulu Mwendwa. The Kenyan designer creates transcendent casual wear for as she states, “the Everyday superhero.” As a true Afro futurist, she experiments with modern techniques, innovative fabrics and traditional methods. Sustainability is an important pillar of the brand; the founder seeks to create everlasting pieces, which can be worn through season. The gorgeous silk and cotton materials are sourced from local Kenyan suppliers among others.
3. Ami Doshi Shah
Ami Doshi Shah, is a jewelry brand based in Nairobi, Kenya. Named after the founder, Ami credits the talismanic and symbolic role of adornment as a strong source of inspiration for her collections. Utilizing locally sourced materials, off cuts and remnants of the Kenyan mining industry she creates sculptural pieces and wearable art straddling Kenyan roots and a ‘global’ aesthetic.
Yala is a modern jewelry brand that embodies intricate design, sustainable materials, ethics and transparency. UK based founder Audrey Migot-Adholla, started making jewelry from home as a hobby, in order to maintain her connection to her home country of Kenya.
Solely using reclaimed or recycled materials; the brand employs Kenyan artisans, including a group of Maasai women. Collaborating with Kenyan, photographers, stylists and makers Yala’s ultimate mission is to empower the complete talent funnel and collaborators. The jewelry brand is one of the first Certified B Corporation. which legally adheres to meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
5. Brother Vellies
Luxury accessory brand Brother Vellies was founded in 2013 with the goal of keeping traditional African design practices alive. Creative director and founder Aurora James credits her passion for artisanship, design, and humanitarianism behind creating truly ageless, unique pieces. The brand treats every step of their process with the utmost care for their artisans, customers, and environment. Brother Vellies pieces are produced across the globe – Kenya among those but also South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Mexico and more.
6. Adele Dejak
Adele Dejak is a luxurious African inspired jewelry and accessory brand handcrafted in Kenya. The brand carries contemporary, artistic and wearable bags, jewelry and exclusive home decor items. Adele Dejek draws inspiration from original African tribal designs used to make ornaments and trinkets.
7. Sued Watches (pronounced SUD)
The brainchild of Susan Mueni, SUED watches are the epitome of Kenyan culture. Each watch will warrant conversation, making SUED watches the ultimate statement piece. The handcrafted watches incorporates staples of Kenyan culture including Maasai beading and cow hair on hide, as well as a choice of strap, cuff or removable watch strap - ensuring your ability to tell time and stay fashionable never fades.