Fashion designers from Ethiopia and Kenya held “The Narrative Designers Showroom” in Nairobi (30th November – 1st December 2019) at the house of co-working space Ikigai Westlands, with the main room being transformed with racks and mannequins, into a space where the public and buyers could touch and feel their collections.
The keynote speaker, Ms Anne Mutahi, SME Advisor to his Excellency the President, highlighted the emotional connection humans have with cloth, from the moment they are born throughout life. She challenged Kenyan designers to address the needs of the mass market as clothing imports to Kenya currently stand in KES billions per year. In support Ms Akinyi Odongo, Chair of the newly formed Kenyan Fashion Council, outlined what the council is now doing to organize and harness the power of the 75,000* designers and tailors around Kenya, and encouraged the young designers to become members. Madam Kavita Chhabra, wife of the High Commissioner of India to Kenya, spoke about the power of fashion in entrepreneurship in transforming lives. In attendance were the High Commissioner of India to Kenya, His Excellency Mr. Rahul Chhabra, Ms Julie Deb of Midori India designers and Chimano of Sauti Sol with other well-known personalities.
The showroom format was new to Nairobi with the audience responding well as it allowed designers the opportunity to interact and explain their collections. The designers were all beneficiaries of the Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Program organized by Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for India (SITA), which is an International Trade Centre (ITC) program, funded by the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development, which builds trade and investment linkages between India and East Africa. The program spaced over 10 months in Kenya and 6 months in Ethiopia, was a part-time business and design course focused on the reality of doing business in the 2 countries.
The course was initially designed by Nairobi design veteran Ann McCreath of KikoRomeo and modified by Hebret Lakew of Kooroo for Ethiopia. Both played a key role in teaching and mentoring the designers throughout the program. The main focus of the course was on finding yourself as a designer and defining your unique Brand DNA to be able to better compete in local and international markets. Designers also learned how to do Lookbooks, Linesheets, write a Press Release and other essential things for presenting their work to buyers and the public.
Designers from Kenya exhibiting included: AAchera, Akinyi Wamboi, Chuak Clothing (S Sudan), Cinched by Mia Mara, Frika Designs (Embu), Hisi Studio, Nikech Amor, Ogato, Otsieno Otieno, Pure Maiden, Sonoek, Tafari Designs, Wanderi Culture and Elsie Netia Management. Others who went through the course were: Esperanza Fashion & Design (former refugee in Kakuma, now resettled in Canada), Kiumbe Kulture, Mrembo Clothing, Queens & Kings, Ranks Leather and Shake the Tree. Designers from Ethiopia included: Etsub, Fozia Endrias, Kunjina, Loza Designs, Lua Mua, Mela, Menena, MimiSho, Shamrock Addis and Ma’Ebel.
Speaking about the Showroom, beneficiary of the course Ms Elsie Achieng said “I joined this program thinking the only way I could participate in fashion was by being a fashion designer. It is only when we were exposed to the moving parts of this sector that I realized it’s more than just design. I discovered I need to be in fashion marketing”. Elsie PR is now handling marketing for several of her fellow participants.