John Kaveke is a Kenyan fashion designer. He has established himself as a must watch men's designer in Africa and beyond. His journey in design started when he was in high school.
“I used to draw a lot and draw clothes. I got curious and I started to find out if there exists something called mixing clothes and art. I realised there was fashion,” told Kaveke.
After high school, he got his first order to make dancing clothes for nursery school kids, and that is what started off his designing journey. His brand Kaveke, is now redefining men's wear as a whole.
John Kaveke's designs.
“My work is what we call contemporary, it borders between European style and a touch or a glimpse of African. I was doing women's stuff and it got to a point where I wanted a challenge. I kept going to the streets and different people said men don't know style, men don't wear style,” told John Kaveke – a fashion designer.
"I don't think I have a style. Most of the time people hate the way I dress because I am always experimenting," said Eric Muli.
“So men's wear came about just because of that and I thought, if you want to do men's wear, give them something new, try something different and that's why I use print and color because that has not been there. My philosophy about men's suits or men's jackets; they have to look good worn and hanged. That's why if you see some of my pieces, the lining stand out .There is a life inside the lining, there is a life outside the jacket,” Kaveke explained.
Nairobi people at a fashion event.
Like in many African States, the influences of Nairobi fashion, is based on used clothing which is locally referred to in Kenya as Mitumba. One cannot have a conversation about fashion in Africa without talking about Mitumba. Mitumba is loved by many for its affordability and accessibility but is also blamed for lack of a vibrant local textile and fashion industry.
“I would say pretty much about seventy percent of what you see in Nairobi is second hand stuff,” told Kaveke.
“I love second hand clothes because you can be sure you it's unique you're going to be sure that there will be one in five hundred chance that someone will find the same piece,” said Sylvia Njoki – fashion stylist.
“I love second hand clothes and also fashion doesn't have to be expensive. You can mix expensive with really cheap and we are really lucky some of those second hand clothes are actually designer clothes coming from Europe and America,” told Grace Makosewe.
Perceptions of mitumba are changing in Nairobi. It's no longer just for the poor. Now everyone; the rich, the poor, the famous even foreigners buy mitumba clothing whether or not they would like to admit it.
The biggest second-hand clothing market in East Africa, Gikomba.
But despite the Kenyan populace going for second hand clothing, Kaveke has managed to make a name for his brand, abroad. For his spring/ summer 2012 collection at the London Fashion Week he used the traditional Khanga. He also had influences from the old colonial era fusing culture with history.
“We are known for certain things but not fashion and to be able to be hand-picked amongst the big towns of fashion in Africa, that was special," recalled Kaveke.
While John's designs are famous in international runways, locally, he does not have the popularity he would want and it is not only mitumba that is to blame.
“Local designers need to market themselves more. Secondly, people tend to think it is expensive,” told Sylvia Njoki – fashion stylist.
“An average quote of Kaveke jacket would be at least eight thousand shillings. This is tailor-made, this is not something I have ten pieces of, this is one piece that I have just made you for that price and that's affordable,” told Kaveke.
Kaveke's designs at the London Fashion Show in 2012.
If the problem is indeed that the younger generations crave for the sort of sophistication and modernity promised in the pages of American and European magazines many will continue turning into the culture of used clothing and a quick attempt to fill these fashion desires. Aware of these challenges, John Kaveke realizes his designs have to be a cut above the rest for his survival.
“I think it's for us designers, to offer quality and sustainable items. Why people go to mitumba is purely because; one its affordable, two, you would probably not get a copy of that and three, its easy access. Likewise for us designers, we need to have quality stuff. The construction has to be on top,” told Kaveke.
Kaveke (right) at the London Fashion show.