MORE THAN AFRICAN ‘ENOUGH’
BOOK REVIEW of “Not African Enough”
By The Nest Art Collective 2017
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20 March 2017)
Just the title “Not African Enough’ challenges one to open this 366 page book to find out how a culturally innovative team like The Next Collective is involved with production of ‘A Fashion Book’ with a title as curious and cryptic as this one is.
And once the book gets opened, it’s impossible not to start flipping through the pages. After that, one can hardly put the book down or close the cover until one’s examined all these enticing and incredibly original fashion photographs.
Thereafter, it’s must easier to understand the title: ‘Not African Enough’. What does it mean? Well, first and foremost, it’s clearly the comment Sunny Dolat and other members of the Nest must’ve heard often along the way as they journeyed into the uncharted terrain now called the Kenyan Fashion industry.
But the text, starting with the Preface by Sunny Dolat, makes it plain that the whole process of producing a book is something that came long after a multitude of issues cropped up and got answered through trial and error, and a range of innovative artistic experiments. Dolat manages to make the process sound like a delectable journey which began in Gikomba.
Mitumba was the fashion mode that intrigued him at the outset of an exploration that led Dolat to enlist his friend Jim Chuchu in their first fashion project called Stingo. It began as a rollick, getting friends together and having them dress up for ‘photo shoots’ in Nairobi streets.
The fruits of those shoots got posted on Facebook and a Stingo website and presto! Mitumba morphed into Kenyan creations, locally designed and produced garments that attracted those who were (and still are) bold enough to experiment and design alongside the Stingo line.
But as one thing led to another, Stingo became an online retail experiment that morphed again, this time into something Sunny Dolat named Chico Leco.
And early on, Chico Leco stocked, displayed and sold edgy designer items by Kenyans who’ve become ‘household names’ like Kepha Maina, Anyango Mpinga and Wambui Mukenyi, all of whom feature prominently in the book.
In fact, after giving that historical background, including Chico Leco’s becoming a projects of The Nest, up to 14 Kenyan fashion designers are given whole chapters in the book. And in those pages, each one speaks about his or her perspective on what they do, what materials they use and why. Most importantly, a sampling of their original designs appear, some in striking black and white, others in sepia and quite a few in glorious colors.
But in the course of gaining appreciation for this courageous lot of young creatives, one has to reckon with the issue (as Dolat and Nest members do) of identity? Who do these fashion concepts represent? More precisely, what aesthetic are they expressing in their art?
There’s little doubt these designers are all artists working in what could easily become a multi-million shilling fashion industry, although in Kenya it hasn’t gotten there yet.
Nonetheless, with artists like Dolat advancing the industry through the creation of fashion videos and films that are already winning awards overseas (even at the Berlin International Film Festival), the future is looking brighter by the hour.
So once one’s finished flipping through the pages and admiring all the stylish artistry of Kenyan fashion designers (including the lovely models and amazing photography), one can see the question: is this fashion “African enough?” is really a moot point. What’s important is that this creativity transcends national, regional and especially ethnic stereotypes. Call it Kenyan if you like. The point is it’s exquisitely fashionable.