News / Africa

Kenyan 'National Dress' a Work in Progress

Kenyan designers are increasingly drawing on their heritage  to create clothing that fuses Kenyan and western styles.
Kenyan designers are increasingly drawing on their heritage to create clothing that fuses Kenyan and western styles.

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +

Is there a distinctive Kenyan "look"?  Perhaps not yet.  A country-wide competition held six years ago to come up with a Kenyan "national dress" failed to take off. But in Kenya's burgeoning fashion industry, designers are increasingly drawing upon their heritage to create clothing that fuses Kenyan and western styles. Some hold out hope that there can yet be a Kenyan "national dress."

The Nigerians have their buba dress, and the Ugandans, their gomesi. But Kenyan designers like Patricia Mbela bemoan the lack of a distinctive outfit in this conservatively-dressed country.

"You have to wear a tie, a nice skirt suit when you go to work. If you go with a tie-dye shirt to the office, you are most likely to get your boss call you in and telling you, 'That is not something you wear to the office unless it is a dress-down Friday.' It is sad - it does not make sense," she said.

Mbela was one of nine designers selected to create a Kenyan "national dress" in a competition six years ago, an idea that did not catch on.

In a country with more than 40 ethnic groups, most having a distinctive dress of their own, designers say it is a challenge to come up with an outfit that everyone will see themselves in.

Olivia Ambani, design and marketing manager with the Kenyan fashion house KikoRomeo, says she thinks a national dress is possible with a bit of flexibility. "I think it will take people being more open to cohesion and accepting that, if it is slightly more Maasai or more Kikuyu or more Luo or more coastal, it is okay because it still is part of the country and it will still represent us," she said.

Kenya does have its distinctive fabrics, most notably the checkered or striped shukas worn by the Maasai, the lessos, or khangas, which originated on the coast, and the kikoy.

But designer Wambui Njogu says these were typically used as shawls or wraps rather than as material to make into garments.

"We did not have fabric traditionally in Kenya, so everything was based in skins and leathers. Our skills are in things like beadwork, the leather handling, and the embellishment, but the actual garment and the stitching culture was never there. All you needed was something to wrap around you to keep the cold out, which is why we had the shuka -- the cloth was always on top of the leather loincloth," she said.

Njogu says a national dress would probably consist of a western-style garment that would be embellished with beadwork, coils and other symbols of Kenyan cultures.

She follows this type of trend in her clothing line, Moo Cow. One of her outfits incorporates a long leather apron similar to that worn by the Turkana people of northern Kenya.

For its part, KikoRomeo's designs draw upon cultures from all over Africa.

Design and marketing manager Olivia Ambani said "For instance, one of the collections that we have is Afro-punk collection. There is a lot of imagery on it, embellishment that is taken from scarification, which is something that is quite big in the continent. We give it the punk style, which is obviously something that is very British and taken from that era."

Ambani says more than 20 designers have come up with their own labels, which are beginning to be recognized locally and internationally, and that more and more designers are entering the industry.

Patricia Mbela also mixes Kenyan and western influences in her designs.

She says she has not given up on the goal of having a distinctive Kenyan national dress..

And to boost the Kenyan fashion industry, designer Wambui Njogu urges female politicians and other women frequently in the public eye to purchase and wear Kenyan-made clothing.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid