Creative industries can be a tool for increased sustainability and local growth. Local creatives In Kenya, and especially in the Kibera settlement in Nairobi, however face several challenges in areas such as market access, sourcing, sharing skills and international reach. The Kibera Fashion Week will become a platform for the community to redefine fashion, share new methods for sustainability and bring together stakeholders from around the world to challenge unethical and exploitative consumption.
The Kibera Fashion Week is not your typical fashion week, but comprises a year-long programme to fundamentally change the power dynamics and narratives in the fashion industry, labelling itself a fashion week with the ambition to reinvent the format.
Showcasing the talent of creatives from Kibera and sharing their insights with audiences in Kenya and the EU, the project wants to build a new ethical and sustainable fashion industry. Rooting this project in Kibera confronts the neo-colonial realities of the fashion industry by learning from a community that is faced with the abundance of textile waste exported by European countries and creating a new dialogue around the consequences of unsustainable consumption. Through this dialogue a movement can start of change, impacting both consumers and designers in Kenya and abroad by respecting the skills and insights of local communities.
While Kibera is often portrayed as a place of hopelessness in need of help and so-called “development aid”, it is in fact a diverse metropolis, booming with creativity and constantly evolving and innovating. The project firmly believes that the world can learn a lot from the people of Kibera and that they possess the skills to become pioneers in a sustainable and ethical creative industry. Kibera Fashion Week will become a platform for the community to redefine fashion, share new methods for sustainability and bring together stakeholders from around the world to challenge unethical and exploitative consumption.
People back here normally see glamour on TV, but they don´t see it in their own streets. Not knowing that we have it back here. It´s just that we have not been able to acknowledge it in our own selves. The kids seeing a model walk in the streets, they are like ‘I want to be a model too’. Because they don´t just see that on TV now, but they can also relate with it in their own community.David Avido, Founder of Looks Like Avido and project initiator
Changing the narrative
Instead of presenting Kibera as an area in need of aid, the project aims to show Kibera as a diverse and creative community. Also, Instead of inviting international experts "to teach", the project want to harness the skills and knowledge of the community. Kibera has brilliant creatives, we will create a space for them to share their knowledge. Instead of a hierarchical exchange, we want to have an exchange that goes both ways and encourages co-learning. Therefore, for every person the project invites from Europe, somebody will be sent back. Kibera is full of European experts – Europe also needs experts from Kibera.
Instead of defining sustainability as upcycling European second-hand clothes that are barely wearable, local perspectives need to be taken into account: combining local, sustainably sourced production with upcycling and a culture of repairing establishes a slow fashion approach that benefits the community and can be implemented worldwide, without exploitation. This elevates European collaboration by creating co-ownership of projects with local communities, utilising and respecting local talent and assets and considering collaboration as an opportunity for both sides. It also uses cultural collaboration as a powerful tool for societal change and economic growth, having impacts far beyond a traditional cultural project and creates a model that can be adapted for other communities.
Trialing the fashion showcase in Kibera
In November 2022 (still during the design phase of the project) the project team organised a trial for the fashion showcase in Kibera. Several local designers were invited to show their work on a catwalk on the East African railway line. The showcase, organised in the shortest span of time, reached wide participation with 30 creatives, designers and craftspeople directly involved and an audience of more than 500 present and got a strong media resonance, including mentions by BBC and other international news outlets.
Trialing the showcase proved the concept both regarding community ownership and logistics and security. It also led to direct increased visibility of Kibera designers and economic impact for the community through involvement in the production. For the project team, organising the showcase already at this stage of project development, helped develop a better understanding of target groups and audience impact, which further shaped the plan for 2023.
After several months of preparation including a screening of their own film, panel talks and a kids workshop, the Kibera Fashion Week, a community-driven initiative, took place from 9 to 14 October 2023 to showcase the vibrant fashion scene in Kibera and leave a lasting impact on the city's fashion landscape.
Activities in 2023
Kibera Fashion @Nairobi Design Week (March)
A launch including an onsite presentation, but also design tours within Kibera to showcase the creativity of the community and support local artists and craftspeople.
Kibera Fashion Tour (April-May)
KFW produced a pop-up market stand that participated in the most popular markets around Nairobi, offering products at different price levels and solutions like onsite upcycling and sharing the stories of the creatives and work behind them.
Local Heroes (June-August)
In bi-weekly workshops, local experts shared their skills with the community and trained the next generation of innovators. This included practical vocational training and sharing entrepreneurial strategies. Based on the needs, the project also offer focused professional workshops, including building digital retail platforms, creating an infrastructure to make locally sourced fabrics more widely available and exploring innovative technical solutions for sustainable production.
Equal Exchange (June-August)
Collaborating with European universities and fashion programmes, the project sends designers from Kibera to share their perspectives with the next generation and reach audiences abroad. During the fashion week, partners from the EU are invited to work with the community.
Kibera Fashion Week (October)
A grand showcase of local creativity and a think tank for sustainability involving and open to the entire community and reaching a global audience. The Week included runway shows, the Local Heroes showcase and market, sustainability workshops, and much more. The event was a great success and was covered in the media such as in The Guardian or TV5 monde.
It's like a new vibe for Kibera, that is breaking boundaries within this vast community. It's providing hope and rethinking creativity beyond fashion, amplifying one's capabilites.Kelvin Juma, videographer and photographer running the project Daily Life Kibera