In Summary

  • Emerging designers were a watered down version of the joy of creation students carted off to the runway.
  • For the 277th time I wondered about the future of Kenyan  fashion. The pyramid always starts heavy at the bottom.
  • Teeming with bodies writhing in a dance of sheer potential.

Last weekend, I was on a panel judging the Next Gen Fashion Designers competition, Kenya Fashion Awards at the Michael Joseph Centre. The two day event had emerging designers bring on their funk and student designers across the country bring out the noise.

Watching the runway, it occurred to me how fecund, juicy and potent student’s creativity was. With only three outfits a piece perhaps they stood a better chance of consolidating their inner fire.

The spirit of innovation was pure. In that state of rawness they felt as ease inviting mum and dad. Parents were simultaneously proud and befuddled, the latter with the awareness of finally coming face to face with the untapped imaginative recesses of their offspring’ minds.

Emerging designers were a watered down version of the joy of creation students carted off to the runway. For the 277th time I wondered about the future of Kenyan  fashion. The pyramid always starts heavy at the bottom. Teeming with bodies writhing in a dance of sheer potential.

In the middle, numbers are shaved off. They quit and got day jobs. It tapers into a needlepoint where veteran designers with over 15 years experience are barely a handful. Why? Jamil Walji, founder of Jamil Walji Couture and fellow judge says, “It’s because they go commercial. They start to get a taste of money and stop creating and start making clothes for money.”

Young designers say they have no mentors. Veterans say they do not trust up and coming designers who are half baked and keener on whisking away client database that have taken a lifetime to build. Schools say they are doing the best they can with what they have, admitting syllabi may not be cutting edge but institutions are trying. To put it mildly, it is a hot mess.

Designers like John Kaveke, who took a sabbatical once he realised he was exceptionally famous yet decidedly un-wealthy, and Ann McCreath who shrunk down her Yaya Centre retail outlet, leasing out the other half to Sandstorm Kenya, after realising her location was not strategic, have been quite open about their challenges.

Forums where the industry can speak out are minimal. Not because they cannot be arranged. But because there is more of a vested interest in looking good and cultivating the appearance of success than there is in collectively growing the industry.

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