by Rosemary Okello
The majority of designs in the shop are the latest in trendy African fashion, made to appeal to the younger generations.
Walking through Mefa Creations, a local organization specializing in African designs and located along Ngong Road in Nairobi, you are greeted with bold African colors, local jewelry and clothing made from African fabrics.
Unlike before, when young people used to shun traditional African dress in favor of the latest western fashions, Kenyan youth are now embracing African design and culture with a renewed passion.
As she talks about her work and why she chose to focus on the African designs, Evelyn Odongo, who is the designer and the proprietor, says; “My designs appeal to the younger generation because they are blended with the latest trendy designs from the west. This makes the youth feel like they are still current with fashion and I find my designs also have an impact on their lifestyles too.”
From music to food and even fashion, young Kenyans are now concerned with looking like “real” Africans. Odongo says the younger generations now prefer natural hair, and at times in dreadlocks, with their African attire. They also accent their appearances with African beads, locally made slippers and bags. These young people seem to be experiencing a cultural renaissance sparked by fashion. They have even created their own langauge, called “sheng” – a combination of English, a bit of slang and Kiswahili.
Odongo observes, “It speaks volumes to the changing lifestyles of the majority of younger generations.”
Her organization has made a mark in Kenyan fashions by using traditional clothing and African prints paired with the latest designs and styles. They also produce a versatile range of quality products that stand distinguished in the fashion market. Trained at the Evelyn College of Designs in Kenya, Odongo, 30, said, “our design range includes ladies’ wear, men’s wear, fashion jewelry, handicrafts and we also do interior designs for our customers.”
Odongo uses the famous "kanga" fabric in her unique designs. "Kanga" is an East African print made locally and normally worn as a wrap in the coastal regions of East Africa.
“The elegance of an African outfit stands out when it is adorned with African jewelry. That is why you see young people also going for local jewelry made from glass beads by Kitengele glass and Maasai beads made by the Maasai women.”
These developments in fashion are slowly changing the perceptions of young people when it comes to styles and lifestyles, because as Odongo puts it, “ Many designers like me who are focusing on African designs are trying to give their work a local touch, therefore the youth are slowly starting to appreciate local products through designs.”
About the Author
Rosemary Okello-Orlale is the Executive Director of African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWC) in Kenya, a media NGO focused on communication development in Africa. She is also a trustee of the Media Council of Kenya, Secretary to the Kenya Editor’s Guild and a Treasurer for the African Editor’s Forum. She holds post-graduate diplomas in research methodology from the Population Studies and Research Institute at Nairobi University and in Journalism from the London School of Journalism. Rosemary was awarded Best Female Reporter on ICT in 2004 from the African Information Society Initiative.