Tuesday, 22 October 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 22 October 2019)

Deepa Dosaja has defied the odds against a Kenyan fashion designer making headway not just in the local fashion world, but on the global fashion scene as well.
Having just gotten back to Nairobi from a whirlwind fashion tour that took her first to Paris, then to Addis Ababa, Deepa again showed her new Spring/ Summer 2020 Collection last Thursday night at Fairmont Norfolk Hotel.
“Deepa was just at the Paris Fashion Week and then at the Hub of Africa Fashion Week in Addis Ababa,” says Lisa Christophersen who collaborated with the Norfolk management to create an improvised catwalk for five Kenyan beauties to model several outfits from Deepa’s new ‘Diversity’ collection.
“I showed 600 original designs in Paris, but I’m only showing fifteen tonight,” says the diminutive Deepa who’s wearing her own chic but simple black stretch-silk cocktail dress.
With Lisa’s assistance, she’s also curated several displays of her one-of-a-kind hand-embroidered and hand-painted dresses, coats, capes and pants. They are hanging on racks so we can easily see why Deepa’s fans don’t mind spending several hundred dollars on one of her original designs.
“They are dresses you can wear either to the beach or to the boardroom,” says the former fashion model and media personality, Pinky Ghelani as she moderates the Fashion Show. She’s wearing one of Deepa’s originals, this one a cream-colored silk cocktail dress which is branded ‘Conscious Fashion’. As it turns out, that is Deepa’s mantra, meant to signal her concern to not just create elegant fashions but also to make garments that do no damage to the environment.
“It also means that Deepa’s fashions are only made with organic materials, like cotton, wool, silk, linen and even bamboo,” says her sister Anuja who is also wearing an original Deepa design. “She only uses non-toxic dyes and never touches synthetics which invariably release micro-fibers and micro-plastics into the air we breathe,” adds Anuja who is clearly proud of her younger sister.
Having started designing her own clothes when she was only 13, Anuja recalls that after their father got Deepa a sewing machine, she began sewing non-stop. She’s been stitching and designing clothes ever since.
“I started by creating dresses for my sisters,” says Deepa who took sewing classes all through school, up until she went away to get a degree in fashion design from the LaSalle College of Fashion and Design in Montreal, Canada.
“I was actually born in Kenya, but when I was six, our family moved to Canada,” she recalls. But then after her first degree, she was on her way for further studies, but stopped off in Kenya to see relatives. She’s been here ever since.
“First I got a job offer that I just couldn’t turn down. It was as a merchandise manager for Tinga Tinga clothing company. After that I met my husband,” she adds.
After Tinga Tinga closed down, Deepa went to work for another design company. But then, six years ago she took the leap of faith and opened her own boutique. “That is when I finally began branding my collections with my own name,” she says.
Right next to the boutique, Deepa has set up her own manufacturing unit where she’s got tailors and young women who she’s trained to both embroider and paint so they can reproduce her signature flowers on her clothing lines.
“The women come from around the neighborhood, from Kangemi and Kibera. Most of them didn’t have skilled jobs before Deepa’s training,” says Stella Muthoni, Deepa’s production manager.
Because there are subtle differences in each of the women’s style of embroidery and painting, Stella adds that each garment is essentially one of a kind.
Meanwhile, Deepa often has fashion design students come to her boutique where she speaks to them about careers and gives them advise. “I often go out to fashion schools and speak,” she says.
One thing about her participation in the Paris Fashion Week was that she had been advised to create garments that were all size zero. But Deepa says that when she speaks to students, she tells them they must be prepared to create clothing that can fit any size from size six to twenty-six!
The other one who’s wearing a Deepa original is Lisa. “She designed it especially for me since I was participating in the Blue Economy Conference. The applique on the dress is made of fish scales!” says Lisa whose dress comes with a cute jacket with sleeves handmade in lace from India.  

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