By Ogova Ondego
Published July 19, 2004
It was meant to be the biggest fashion event in eastern Africa. And so Satya Paul, a leading Indian fashion label, had to present its collection in Nairobi.
Ajuma Nasenyana, Kenya’s newest international fashion model sensation, was flown in by Kenya Airways aboard its newest Boeing B777-200 ER jet. Also flown in from Mumbai to grace the catwalk as lead model in the Satya Paul show was Tanushree Dutta, the FEMINA Miss India Universe 2004 queen. Also present was Ugandan designer Sylvia Awori and 12 student designers from Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya. OGOVA ONDEGO reviews the event.
During the Gala Dinner/Fashion Show that ushered in the third Kenya Fashion Week, was the Satya Paul Show, creations of the finalists of the student fashion design awards, designs of Kenyans, and the creations of the search for a Kenyan national dress. But despite the anticipated glitz and glamour of what is taken to be eastern Africa’s premier fashion event, the Kenya Fashion Week 2004 appears to have left a sour taste in the mouths of the fledgling fashion sector in the region. Kenya Fashion Week may market itself as helping to develop Kenya’s fashion sector by promoting the work of local designers in a forum where they can mix business with pleasure, but many designers could not help questioning how the presence of Satya Paul could help them.
While some of them complained that they had failed to recoup their investment through sales, others chose to keep away. Unlike previous events that were held at Sarit Centre in Westlands and attracted decent turn out, the 2004 edition (July16-18) appeared low-keyed, perhaps due to the switching of the venue to the not-so-accessible Carnivore grounds in Lang’ata. Even after paying the Sh25000 (about US$315) for their stalls, designers interviewed said they had failed to register any returns from sales. Some designers said their international counterparts who had participated in the Kenya Fashion Week in 2002 and 2003 had registered their protest by not exhibiting in 2004.
“These guys spend lots of money shipping their wares to Nairobi and on hiring stalls but the organisers do not even have the courtesy to invite them to the events of the gala night insisting they must buy tickets to this ‘by-invitation-only’ event,” a Nairobi designer said.
Responding to the issue of Carnivore grounds having worked against the event, Moira Tremaine and Sue Muraya, founding co-directors of the Kenya Fashion Week, said Carnivore was ‘great because of the space, which was ideal for the catwalk.” However Muraya said she felt that Sarit Centre ‘attracted a lot of browsers and not buyers.’
“Instead of thinking of volumes, we should be focusing on quality in order to improve this industry,” Muraya said.
Tanzania may not have formal fashion schools, according to designer Mustapha Hassanali and Tanzania Breweries REDD’S Brand Manager Sauda Simba Kilumanga, but that did not prevent 19-year-old Happiness Chilima from beating a field of 12 Kenyan, Ugandan, Tanzanian and Ethiopian contestants to win the Student Fashion Design Awards. Her dress, that Kilumanga described as perfectly interpreting her brand’s theme of Confidently Crisp Essence, was modelled by Nasenyana.
According to the judges, the winning design captured the sponsor’s theme,’clarity, calmness, confidence, and fun’, aptly.
Lucy Rao with Mustafa Hasanali
The jury ruled that Chilima’s outfit portrayed calmness and a down-to-earth essence: “The use of a soft and flowing fabric brings out aspects of elegance and fun. The back, slightly open but not too revealing, shows confidence and sassiness. The diamond-like straps and chain not only complement the whole garment but also show the essence of sophistication,” they said.
But should Chilima, who in 2003 designed a dress for Miss Tourism Tanzania and participated in the Miss Emoder Fashion Design competition in Italy, have been treated as a professional designer or as a rookie, a student? She appears to have had an undue advantage over the other “student” designers. Her win earned her a return air ticket to South Africa Fashion Week in September 2004.
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Sponsored by Redd’s Premium Cold, the Student Fashion Design Award was incorporated in the Kenya Fashion Week in 2003 “to discover and nurture emerging talent in the fashion industry”.
Designer Lucy Rao, who did not participate in the third Kenya Fashion Week due to what she described as her preparation for an exhibition she will hold in Rome in December 2004, said this is a great forum for fashion designers as it has “ready crowds, advertising is done for you, and is a good avenue for exposure.”
“Kenya Fashion Week,” she said, “is not for selling but just for exposure, marketing and launching new products. Expectation of selling for an event like this is misplaced.”
She said that large buyers are not here. “Even if buyers were there we possibly could not produce the number of items required–say 3000—-in required time due to shortages of material, high rents and labour costs.”
But does Kenya Fashion Week have any shortcomings?
Rao can identify two: “The audience at fashion shows come not to buy but just for entertainment. Perhaps it would be all right to attract buying audiences to the event,” she said. “The organisers should aim at attracting more established designers to the event as the event does not seem to have enough of such professionals.”
Kilumanga was excited at Chilima’s win. She said Tanzanian participants at the Kenya Fashion Week would form an association and network with international counterparts.
“Tanzania may have its own fashion week soon,” she said.
Hasanali, who coordinated Tanzanian participants for the Kenya Fashion Week, said he plans to set up Tanzania Fashion College to promote fashion in Tanzania.
Sylvia Awori led a three-member Ugandan designers at the Kenya Fashion Week. While she introduced her designer label, Ziper, in Nairobi, Kwala Momiba and Winnie Alum Obale competed in the Students Fashion Award competition.