UZURI: How does your heritage influence your work as a designer?
Physically, I'm pounding keys on my laptop and blackberry, writing emails, making calls. Mentally I'm in the gym, just to get my mind off of the fear.
My mother has been a huge influence on my work with Suno - it is named after her! She introduced me to art and fashion at an early age and helped me to develop an appreciation for all things beautiful and interesting. I'm not sure that there is a direct influence of anything further back in my heritage.
UZURI: SUNO is named after your mother. What are some things within the label that remind you of your mother?
There is a lot in the newest collection that has been influenced by Suno. Silhouettes, design direction, fabrics, references.
UZURI: You were originally a filmmaker, what spearheaded your transition to fashion
I started Suno in 2008 after the post election violence in Kenya. I felt compelled to do something in Kenya that could potentially create lasting social and economic change and to not just write a check to an aid organization. I felt that starting a business that employed, celebrated, and nurtured local talent in a way that could be visible; I could do well locally and also affect the world's (including Kenya’s own) ideas about what could be possible in Kenya. I had been collecting textiles from the area for over a decade and had long promised friends that I would make them skirts or dresses using the textiles. So, starting a fashion brand somehow seemed to make sense.
Although I had absolutely zero experience working in fashion or fashion production before starting this. I did, however, have a lot of friends who worked in fashion, and I saw that the process was not so far from film making that it would feel completely alien. The process could be collaborative, and with the help of experienced people, I did not feel like it would be an impossibility. I was able to produce some wonderful samples New York, I showed them to my friends at Opening Ceremony who said they would love to carry the line, and then I went to Nairobi to go make it — not realizing that the making it was the hard part. I moved forward with the confidence ofnescience.
UZURI: Who are the designers that have inspired you over time?
Martin Mariel, Consuela Castiglioni, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Touitou, Rei Kawakubo, and Dries Van Noten.
UZURI: What do you do to make sure that you continue to respect the traditionalism of the Kangas but still add a modern flair?
The great thing about kangas is that they are always changing and we do not need to stick to one look or one era or one theme. Kangas have been
produced for a couple centuries now and the designs have traditionally changed every two weeks and the factories that have been producing them for the East African market have been all over the world - that gives us a lot of freedom.
UZURI: How would you define SUNO’s signature style?
The women of coastal east Africa are obviously an inspiration from the point of view that they actually wear kangas everyday and I started my line with kangas. Walking down the street, even in some rather poor villages there's always a riot of color that is
immediately optimistic. They wear the kangas as wraps, headdresses, scarves, belts, tops, baby slings, back packs, purses -- in an infinite amount of ways. New York
girls (particularly downtown and in Brooklyn) are equally inventive. They are constantly pushing the envelope, combining pieces in unexpected ways, making the clothes they wear completely their own, or for that matter just making their own clothes. They understand dress construction and are savvy when it comes to the cuts and fits of pieces. New York girls have a wonderful ability to seamlessly mix hip-hop with rock with vintage couture with the newest latest thing. They have no fear of pushing the envelope, mixing high with low, new with old, recognizable with obscure ... and in a way that's a lot of what we're about.