Home-grown talent

Wanjiku Nyoike-Mugo is passionate about Kenyan design. In October 2013 she founded The Designers Studio to celebrate the country’s most exciting designers. Her mantra Buy Kenya – Build Kenya underpins her work…

HomeGrownWith a first degree in law, a masters degree in human rights, business exposure from an early age and a love of art, Wanjiku Nyoike-Mugo fused different fields of study and practice to found The Designers Studio in October 2013. With this business Wanjiku aims to contribute to the Kenyan economy and help to put Kenyan and African fashion and art on the map.

“The unfortunate circumstance over a long period of time is that, as Africans and Kenyans, we have been scarred by our past challenges to the point that they have become our identity,” says Wanjiku.

“The late Komla Afeke Dumor, in his TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk, stated that ‘the narrative will always glorify the hunter until the lion itself learns how to write. It’s not so much about what the international media does but what you write about yourself.’ As Kenyans, we need to tell our own story to the world – our Africa, our country’s stories and life experiences from our point of view.”

This is Wanjiku’s motivation behind setting up The Designers Studio. “I saw a gap and a wrong that needed to be corrected and conceptualised a solution. How can we as Kenyans be proud to wear foreign brands but not our own? I realised that there must be designers locally who can stand up against the saturation of mass-market overseas products and most importantly can be part of the opportunity to build an industry to its highest potential.

“This is why TDS exists, this is why I wake up every morning, and this is why I quit my job at the UN because I believe in this country, in its people and in this opportunity. This is the fight I have chosen.”

The Designers Studio is a lifestyle premium brand that connects its followers to the world of fashion and design in Kenya, shedding light on a new African reality through content and commerce. The website creates accessibility and knowledge of the Kenyan fashion brands and exists to tell the designers’ stories and bring them closer to the consumer.

“We sell a lifestyle, a story and shift in mentality. We strive to redefine the African story by choosing to invest in what we believe – Africa is cool!

In short: Buy Kenya – Build Kenya,” enthuses Wanjiku.

Perception change
The Designers Studio has already featured some extraordinary designers and speaks fervently about the importance of buying local and therefore supporting the local industry.

“Not only have they (the designers) shared their work with us but also their journeys into doing what they love most and the challenges they have faced. One of these challenges, as discussed, is the evident perception change that needs to take place whereby most Kenyans do not believe that our fashion designers have much to offer and that foreign products are better. We beg to differ.”

Wanjiku explains that there are many more undiscovered designers that TDS aims to find. Here are ten extracts featuring designers from the TDS site.

Ami Doshi Shah is a jolly, creative spirit who brings you into her work fusing it with creativity, skill, craftsmanship and excellence. Ami Doshi Shah’s work is an embodiment of artistic expression, creativity and a clever use and mélange of materials and texture turning them into wearable pieces of art. “These pieces are not for the faint of heart,” she states. When you look at one of her pieces, it both excites you, shows a dearth of complexity and
yet a simple elegance.
Extract from: “The Devil is in the Detail: Ami Doshi Shah’s Jewellery Exploration”  | www.tdsblog.com

The Kooroo Fashion Brand’s living mantra is ‘be proud of your heritage and of who you are’. Kooroo is the brainchild of Hebret Lakew from Ethiopia and Enid Lanez from Uganda, whose work ethic and creativity is evident. “We have always to bring something new. From a creative point of view, you want to change and try something different,” they told us.
Extract from: “An Inside look into the Kooroo Fashion Brand”
| www.tdsblog.com

Want to know who else is on the mission to change the perception of Africa? Enzi Footwear combines high-quality materials sourced in East Africa with a commitment to expert design, craftsmanship and responsible labour practices. For those sneaker heads who may have grown up with Adidas or Converse and still want to relate to the sneaker culture, Enzi is for you. Enzi Footwear is proving able to change people’s perception on fashion in Africa as a reflection of culture.
Extract from: “Enzi Footwear – Changing the Perception of Africa Through Well Designed Footwear”  | www.tdsblog.com

Going into our bag designers, we can only begin this journey with Rift Valley Leather whose products just make you want to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as you get to use it. Rift Valley Leather provides quality leather products. “Growth of the middle class and expats moving to the diaspora have brought different experiences, expectations and desires to the marketplace – quality being one of them,” says Robert Topping, one of the founders. If you want to know more about the leather industry in Kenya, Robert shares his insight and first hand experience.
Extract from: “Rift Valley Leather: Changing Societal Expectation of Leather Products in Kenya, One Bag at a Time.” |  www.tdsblog.com

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed premium leather and accessories designer, Edmond Chesneau is the founder of Lulea. Lulea is an enterprise for social impact, which specialises in training Kenyans as master leather craftsmen, to create luxury leather goods of outstanding quality for the global market. ‘Do good, feel good’ is what Lulea is all about and when you get your hands on one of them, that is all you will be thinking about.
Extract from: “Luxury leather Africa – Lulea Fashion Enterprise for Social Impact”
| www.tdsblog.com

Ethiopian- and Eritrean-born-and-raised fashion designers, yet lovers of Kenya, Yonathan and his wife Merry are the founders of Zeebaan Designs. “Africa is rich in colour… we always like to work with a combination of colours and prints and textures,” Yonathan told us.  Kenyans are still buying from abroad believing that Kenyan designers are the bottom end, Yonathan says, and that perception needs to change.
Extract from: “Zeebaan Designs  Accessorise Yourself with Living Beauty.”  | www.tdsblog.com

The Pink Savannah is a vibrant, affordable and fun handcrafted jewellery brand with “a touch of wild”. Glena and Glaiza De Guzman are the founders and designers behind the brand. They fell in love with Kenya from day one and translated their love for the outdoors into jewellery that represents the rough edge with a touch of glamour and femininity.  They are a sister duo who work not only in synch but complement each other. Their passion results in a fast growing accessory brand in Kenya.
Extract from: “The Pink Savannah Vibrant, Affordable and Fun Handcrafted Jewellery with a Touch of Wild.” | www.tdsblog.com

Lamu is home to accessory designers Ali Lamu. Ali Lamu, together with his wife Daniela Bateleur, began creating art in June 2008 and their bag designs are filled with nothing but life and love. Using old dhow sails, their paintings and bags are one-of-a-kind. Hand cut, designed, stitched and washed by the fishermen, it takes one whole day to make and create a bag.
Extract from: “What you see is what you feel – Ali Lamu – Life and Love”
| www.tdsblog.com

For one of our longstanding fashion designers, whose experience and creativity has stood the test of time, we have to take you to the one and only jewellery designer who turns silverware into silver wear. Having done this for over 20 years, Njee told us: “I am into art. An art is so difficult. You will have to sacrifice everything. It’s not about fame.” Njee Muturi is the designer of wearable art from forks, knives and spoons with each piece unique, masterfully crafted and personally signed by him.
Extract from: “Zanji Art with Njee Muturi – Wearable Art Pieces from Forks and Knives?”
| www.tdsblog.com

Speaking of wearable art, let’s take you now to our funky Afro urban street wear whose mantra is to change the stereotype of Kenyan-made goods. Chilli Mango, whose collections are inspired by the sights and sounds of Kenya, translates that into Kenyan iconic images and sayings merged with hip hop culture. The craziness and loudness of Kenya is what inspires Njeri Gikera, founder and designer, to create her design in an attempt to capture and communicate that beauty.
Extract from: “Chilli Mango: Changing the Stereotype on Kenyan Made Goods” | www.tdsblog.com