Report by Wanda O’Brien.
Liz Ogumbo is seated at a booth, surrounded by her clothing line, modelling team and prospective customers. When she stands, it’s easy to imagine the five-foot-eleven Kenyan strutting down a runway. But at the Friday fashion show of the The Fashionist, Kenya’s First International Fashion Fair, Ogumbo’s designs led the way down the catwalk.
Designers, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, buyers and sellers transformed the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi into a fashion playground this past weekend. The fair brought over 30 exhibitors from Kenya, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to showcase their goods and create partnerships in the country’s central business district. Men and women’s clothing, lingerie and underwear, bags, footwear and cosmetics caught the attention of visitors looking to window-shop and buy.
Turkel Fair Organization, a company based in Turkey, was the mastermind of the event. CEO Bulent Erten said the four-day fair was not only an opportunity to buy, but a chance to forge relationships for designers and textile manufacturers.
“The response is fantastic. We are so happy,” Erten said, nearing the close of the third day. As he made his rounds to the different exhibitors, comments that the fair should become an annual event were commonplace.
The other local exhibitor was Evelyn College of Design, a pioneer design school in East Africa, which took to the runway on Saturday afternoon. The school’s fashion show highlighted the styles of students and alumni, also on display at its booth throughout the fair.
College’s founder and director Evelyn Mungai says the fashion industry is growing quickly in Kenya. “We’ve been here since 1976, and now it’s wonderful to see people coming from all over the world and recognizing there is an industry for fashion here,” said Mungai, while settling in to watch her students rock the runway.
Although the majority of exhibitors were from Turkey, Erten says this will change in the future. “There is a big interest and demand for the show, and we believe that next year we will do this same show and this same exhibition again, with more international participation, plus more local participation.”
This is Ogumbo’s first fair as a fashion designer, and she is making the most of the opportunity. As opposed to the intense fast-paced nature of a fashion show, Ogumbo is able to talk with manufacturers from abroad and encourage local shoppers to check out her threads.
“There’s been a lot of traffic and I think one of the biggest things is that people come here and say, ‘Are you Kenyan?’” Ogumbo says over the soundtrack of her CD playing in the background. “And it’s funny because I am Kenyan. It doesn’t get more Kenyan than this, but it’s a pleasant surprise because people’s eyes light up and they get excited.”
Wanda O’Brien is a freelance reporter based in Nairobi, Kenya. http://www.wandaswords.wordpress.com/