- The fest aims at showcasing and promoting African attires.
- It was started by three strategists after seeing a gap.
- This year’s event had over 2500 participants.
The beauty and versatility of the African fabric, “Kitenge,” has inspired many to change their mode of dressing from the popular Western brands to designs closer home by local brands.
The need to celebrate the local designs pushed a trio in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, to come up with an event that provides a platform for creatives and entrepreneurs to showcase their art.
In its 6th edition, the annual Kitenge Fashion Fest and Gala Awards has become an umbrella for not only Eldoret but fashion lovers across the country while providing opportunities for young people.
“Through Kitenge festival in 2021, I have come a long way, built a life, career and identity for myself,” says Irene Akinyi, a model who got a breakthrough through the festival.
The theme of this year’s event was Promoting and Empowering SMEs, in the spirit of Buy Kenya, Build Kenya.
The perfect trio
Nelson Kiptoo, well known as Maxivan, Nerbert Shiveka, and Nicholas Karanja alias MC Nick the Trend, a corporate MC in the North Rift region, were the brains and presently the directors of the now biggest fashion event in East Africa.
The three, a finance guru, marketing specialist, and sales expert, respectively, say that the idea was in response to an alarm of the surge in foreign brands in the country while there are alternatives for local designs.
They noted that local ceremonies have always embraced cultural attires; however, the contemporary man does not want to walk in traditional apparel.
“I have graced many koitos (traditional pre-wedding ceremonies) and seen attendees in traditional clothing but it seems outdated to walk around in the same old-style outfits. Therefore we needed to come up with a way to show that we can celebrate the African culture and still be fashionable,” MC Nick explained.
He went on to say that the trio was perfect as they had their different areas of specialization, which in sync have brought about a productive working system, making the event a success.
Shiveka, the marketing expert and General Manager at the Rupaz Fitness Centre, is in charge of coordinating and reaching out to partners and says his highlight in the six-year journey was bringing the giant telco Safaricom on board.
“The journey has been a sticky patch but full of rich experiences and the biggest moment for me was last year’s edition when Safaricom held our hand,” Shiveka highlighted, saying that it was an honor to see their efforts in the limelight.
The three directors recall the first edition on April 4, 2015, and urge the starting talents to be consistent in what they set their minds to do.
“Edition one of the Kitenge Festival was at Boma Inn Eldoret and we had an audience of 500 people. We were shocked because that was beyond our expectation but what warmed our hearts is how people embraced the event and it has kept us going up to date,” MC Nick memorializes.
Over 2,500 guests graced this year’s event.
Not a one-night-job
Kiptoo, the finance guru in the director trio, explains that the planning process of the one-day event is not an overnight job but an extensive collection of efforts.
“The Gala happens every April; however, planning for the event starts in January when we send out model and designer calls through posters on social media,” Kiptoo discloses the start of the process.
He continues to say that auditions are implemented through their website, where individuals in different categories, such as models, designers, photographers, and make-up artists, among others, are nominated.
“Most of our publicity tactics are online as it is convenient to reach a greater audience. We have influencers around the country such as Eldoret plus and brand ambassadors who go to campuses to do activations,” Kiptoo explains the efforts they put in to ensure they exhaust all avenues when it comes to marketing.
The last week is the most hectic as the event planners have to organize for a three-day roadshow for the eleventh-hour publicity, and double-check for venue and sponsors ahead of the much-anticipated day.
Sustaining fashion industry
Kitenge Fashion Gala 2023 stands out as the County Government of Uasin Gishu collaborates in the event’s leitmotif of Buying Kenya to Build Kenya.
On Wednesday, the governor of Uasin Gishu County, Hon. Jonathan Chelilim, commissioned this event and guaranteed the fashion industry support from the county government.
This comes at a time when the current Uasin Gishu administration has embarked on implementing its “Nguzo Kumi” policy which seeks to transform livelihoods by making the county friendly for job creation, entrepreneurship and investment.
“We are aware that a vibrant SME sector is key to stimulating growth and development. Therefore we have trained 212 SMEs on business growth strategies and disbursed KSh7.5 million for interest-free loans to them,” the governor addressed sustainable SME growth in the county.
Shiveka describes how pre-meditated this year’s theme is seeing that most youth-managed businesses have been affected by last year’s general elections.
“After elections you realize most businesses are struggling in terms of finances and revenue streams so we approached the county government for collaboration with youth ran businesses by giving them licenses and other by-laws required to run a business,” said the director.
Eldoret stands to be sustainable through fashion and design as it is the home of Rivatex, the leading textile factory in the East African region, that produces quality fabrics and apparel.
Last edition’s theme was dubbed Peace and Cohesion through Fashion, seeing that it was the election period.
“Every time we hold this annual event, we try to get a theme that resonates with the current events, the themes build into each other over time,” Shiveka explicates.
Infotainment, inspiration, appreciation
Kitenge Fest 2023 was an exquisite show from the set-up, kitenge outfits and entertainment.
It kicked off in the morning when vendors from across the country showcased their different designs of fabric and accessories and ran all the way to the wee hours of the night when the awards were presented.
“Kitenge Fashion fest and awards has been amazing; it has built me and my brand by giving me a platform to publicize my business. I am glad to be associated with the kitenge business,” commented a vendor and partner from BreeAfrique collections.
While a huge pool of activities happened during the day, the main event was at night. Radio personality Oga Obinna and actress Catherine Kamau alias Kate Actress graced the awards gala.
Thousands of fashion fans flocked into the Rupas Mall to witness the great occasion.
“I have travelled from Nairobi to Eldoret to attend all 5 previous editions of the Kitenge Festival. I’m in love with the town’s creatives and their love for the fabric,” Sharon Jepchirchir, a fashion enthusiast from Nairobi, commented.
The Senator, Jackson Mandago, well represented the county government of Uasin Gishu.
The models, who had spent a week at a boot camp in Matunda City Resort, a high-end facility in Kisumu to refine their modelling and photography skills, took the stage by storm while showcasing their rich art and taste of the Kitenge fashion.
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Cash awards were awarded to different categories, such as the best photographer of the year, best-dressed man and woman in the event, and best designer, among other categories.