Cutting Edge: Since you co-founded Hub of Africa Fashion Week in 2010, what changes have you noticed in Africa’s fashion industry?
Murithi: I remember talking with my co-founder Mahlet Teklemariam and deciding that if we do a fashion week, it has to be something very different. There was a lot happening in South Africa and Nigeria, but what were designers really gaining? When we started Fashion Week, the experience showed me that buyers want top-tier finishings, and designers have to understand production and the back-end of production. Since then, I’ve been doing workshops to bring people together - stylists, garment producers, writers - to help designers really understand the story of their brand. Now we’re working on curated, bespoke, smaller classrooms to follow through on the results with designers. It has been so worth the while, to empower the industry.
Cutting Edge: How have businesses responded to changes in the industry in the last 10 years or so, becoming part of a much more global village?
Murithi: Becoming part of a global village has made a lot more people pay attention to fashion in Africa. It’s no longer so problematic that our goods may be far away. Businesses have sprung up, because everybody wants to be part of the glamorous part of the fashion world, but I’ve noticed small niche designers paying attention to holistic production processes. Two brands that stand out for me are CRAFTED and what Wana is doing with street ware in Nairobi, taking her look, her feel, and translating it into pieces for every age group. And Itikadi designer Ongweny Ochieng, who makes a woman feel feminine and who is hands-on about the production process.
Cutting Edge: Last year was supposed to be the 10 year anniversary of Africa Fashion Week but it was postponed due to the pandemic. How do you think the health crisis has prompted people to think about fashion in a more sustainable and responsible way?
Murithi: It’s really about understanding where we’re producing, how the pieces people are making affect our environment, and how sustainable are they going to be in the future? We can learn something from going back to our roots and looking at the materials our forefathers would use to make those beautiful, colorful fabrics and natural dyes, using banana leaves, different types of leather, fewer chemicals and pollutants. I feel designers need to think more about making timeless pieces that are more sustainable; recycling outfits and up-cycling materials.
Cutting Edge: What’s a trend you think will follow through into 2021?
Murithi: Telling your story. Now designers and brands want you to understand who they are, why they are doing the work they are doing, it’s no longer just about producing, stocking, selling, business as usual. Now everyone has become a storyteller: we want to understand where every piece has come from. We want to be affiliated with love, humanity and peace, and to help. I think we’ve become more conscious, of who the people behind our products are and how they are made. The clothes we buy as consumers do affect our environment. We can tell those stories – buying a scarf that helps children go to school because the brand supports education for example – to our children. Those are the important stories.