For nearly six hours, Kibera Fashion Week collections follow each other in front of the eyes of several hundred spectators, including concerts by the famous Kenyan rapper Octopizzo.
Overlooking the rusty tin roofs of the Kibera slum, models parade three meters high on a stage mounted on matatus, the colorful minibuses iconic to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Kibera Fashion Week collections follow each other for about six hours, including concerts by the famous Kenyan rapper Octopizzo, under the gaze of several hundred spectators living in the neighborhood or coming from different parts of the city.
“Kibera is full of style. (…) People don’t have a chance to see this because Kibera’s image consists of post-election violence, prostitution, drugs… We want to show that here. We also have style and creativity.” Explains the founder of this event, David Ochieng, known as Avido. This 27-year-old fashion designer, “born and raised” Operating out of Kibera and collaborating with global stars such as Beyoncé or Bruno Mars, the artist aims to uncover the hidden talents of Kenya’s main slum, which is also one of the most populated areas on the continent (250,000 inhabitants, according to a UN estimate in 2020). “What’s missing here are opportunities.” sums it up.
A wide variety of styles
With several partners (Goethe Institute, EU, Nairobi Design Institute, Masai Mbili collective etc.), they financed and supported eleven projects working on a wide range of materials such as cotton, in a wide range of styles, selected from 376 applications. burlap, wool, beads and even metal. Among them, post-apocalyptic style, “Mad Max”Pius Ochieng (no relation to Avido) won the favor of the organisers. For two months, the 26-year-old collected computer motherboards, spark plugs, LED garlands, chains, springs and other metal parts from the streets and dumps. He then reworked them and sewed them onto clothes in his home, a blind room of about fifteen square meters lit by three pink, green and blue neon lights, located in one of the alleys of the Kibera maze.
The idea germinated at that time “mad” This apprentice, who is used to odd jobs like being a waiter or waitress, explains the effects of the Covid pandemic. “fundi” (artisan): “But I could never put it into practice.” Originally from the working-class neighborhood of Kawangware in Nairobi, Helen Wanjiru adorned her clothes with large pockets on her torso, legs and back… “These pockets are big but empty. It’s an analogy: A lot of young people in Kenya have degrees, they have ideas, but they can’t find a job because there are no opportunities and ‘they get a job, they can’t live with it’, The 26-year-old young woman, who turned to fashion this year, describes her passion after working in the IT sector as follows:
“Not just Paris or Milan”
Far from the quiet, sometimes stifling style of Western haute couture shows, the mostly young crowd cheers as models pass by and noisily salutes the designers presenting themselves at the end of the collection show. The event is also an opportunity for the audience. “fashionistas” to show off his eccentric outfits: here glasses covered with gold chains, there patchwork-trimmed and flared trousers…
In a country dominated by second-hand clothing and foreign brands, the world of fashion and creation remains distant. “Many people only watched fashion shows on television” explains Avido: “We want to show them what fashion is. (…) People like our parents thought that if you were into fashion or design, you were just a tailor, and if you were a model, they might see you as a prostitute.”
Violet Omulo, project manager in Nairobi, came to Fashion Week “relax, have fun and discover new creators. “African fashion is special and on the rise. We need to promote it through events like this so that people know that we can be creative, we can have new ideas, it is nothing more than Paris or Milan”, he narrates: “There are talented creatives in Kenya and Africa in general.”