Walking into Anyango Mpinga‘s home-office cum studio in a leafy suburb of Nairobi pre shoot, I felt like I had won the fashion lottery. It had been a magical day already for me, traversing this wild city with stars in my eyes and fingers crossed to discover some quintessential African style in the here and now. Anyango’s clothes can easily cross continents, an eloquent mix of classic lines, sharp tailoring and print tastic that tells a story. The current collection, The Proverbial Dreamer holds a magnitude of hero pieces (just how I like it) that have been designed for strong women who like their clothes chic and cheerful. These are the clothes that I want to wear. Anyango answered some questions for us. Please enjoy. X
Tell us a little about yourself… And why fashion design?
I am an artist, I always have been.. it just took me a while to figure out the best way to channel this desire to create and how to share this part of me with the world. I didn’t grow up dreaming of a fashion career, quite the contrary; I always thought I would be a lawyer or a journalist. I loved telling stories growing up and my siblings’ nickname for me while growing up was CNN, because I wouldn’t stop talking… As I grew older, and after a career in communication, I discovered that fashion was my way of speaking without saying too much. It became a way for me to tell a story that went beyond words and simply tapped into my passion for creating.
Fill us in on the fashion scene in Nairobi right now.
Fashion is growing tremendously in Nairobi. Just 10 years ago we barely had a fashion scene. Don’t get me wrong, we still had some amazing designers, but they were only accessible to a few and wearing something from a local designer meant that you were either attending a wedding or had a serious ceremony. These days you’ve got an emerging class of people who dress up to go to work and don’t necessarily save their designer pieces for special occasions, because it has finally become cool to wear something from a local designer. This in itself is the reason why designers can finally earn a decent living from their craft, because people have become more conscious.
You have used scarification as the inspiration behind the prints of your current collection. Tell us the story behind this fascinating practice and your prints.
My collection The Proverbial Dreamer presents a journey that captures the transition that a girl makes; influenced by her childhood, into becoming a woman who is unashamedly bold and unapologetically authentic. Scarification, which is an old common practice among African tribes, was regarded as a boundary marker of various stages of an individual’s life. In relation to women, it symbolized the transition a girl made from puberty to adulthood. The tribal markings are symbolic of the scars that mark every person’s journey as they go through various stages of self-discovery in their lives. Scarification was used as a symbol of civilization; these scars distinguished the civilized, socialized human body from the body in its natural state and even from animals. It is a long and painful process transmitting complex messages about identity and social status; a mark of pride rather than shame. Imagine carrying the map of your history on your body, most people do not understand this practice, but for those who have practiced it, it has given them a sense of belonging in their society.
The prints from this collection are adapted from actual scarification patterns from various tribes across Africa such as the Akan people of the Congo Basin in West Africa, the Toposa people from South Sudan and the Bodi from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. This collection explores various ways of promoting a positive body image for all women, who at various stages in their lives wear both visible and invisible scars. Rather than hiding them, these scars must be celebrated as a mark of beauty and strength.
What drives you every day?
Hmmmm, everyday? The understanding that this talent I possess is much greater than I am as a human being. The understanding that the divine source of my creativity and inspiration are not by chance and the fact that I want to keep doing better and serve through my work is my driving force.
Where can you buy your collections currently?
I am currently selling in Kenya and take orders through my website. I also sell through my agents Exit 29 who are responsible for my American and Canadian market. I will certainly be expanding to the U.K and other parts of Europe in the coming year and possibly even Australia.
What has been your favourite project to date?
I loved working on my recent Campaign for my collection The Proverbial Dreamer. It was featured on Italian Vogue through an interview that I had with journalist Pervinca Bellini. When I was given the opportunity to be interviewed by the Senior Fashion Editor of Vogue Italia and Head of Vogue Talents, Sara Maino, I realized that the feature would coincide with the launch of my collection. I reached out to Award Winning Master photographer Joseph Manglaviti, an Australian Italian living in Mauritius whom I had met previously while on my production visits in Mauritius. I had admired his work from the moment I was introduced to it so it was only natural that I wanted him to photograph this Campaign. I also got to work with one of my favorite Kenyan Stylists Sunny Dolat and Make-Up Artist Sinitta Akello, whose interpretation of Scarification patterns on the models’ faces was absolutely beautiful.
We shot the Campaign over a period of 3 days all thanks to our wonderful hosts at the Lake Elementaita Serena Camp at the Soysambu Conservancy. It’s also one of my favorite places to go to when I need some quiet time. I love nature, and being around water so this was the perfect place to work from. My wonderful models Laura Anjili, Mauryne Theo and Mary Esther Were (the newly crowned Miss Universe Kenya) were so easy to work with. They braved the constantly changing weather while we were out there, not forgetting the hippos that gave us a run for our money two sunsets in a row while shooting by the lake.
What’s next for your brand?
Dare I say global domination? I want to expand my product range and get into more global retail platforms. I have started working on that show range which I will release in a few years. I want to take time out and do a bit more research in the mean time.
It’s your Sliding Doors moment…What would you be doing if it wasn’t fashion design?
Music. I would definitely be a Jazz/ Funk/ Soul Singer!!!!! I used to be pretty good at playing the piano when I was a teenager…..but I haven’t done that in such a long time.
What makes you happy?
Making other people happy. Music makes me happy. Dancing makes me happy and on the occasional night out, I am almost always on the dance floor. Spending time with my friends and family. I love to travel and just savor new places, cultures and food. I love to surround myself with laughter and will laugh at the silliest things.