I met renowned designer Anyango Mpinga in her charming office in Nairobi’s Westlands and one thing that stands out is the peaceful ambience at the small showroom. The walls are immaculate white with a large roof to bottom glass window overlooking a well manicured garden.
We enter into her office, which is a different room from her showroom, and she apologises for having an anxious look on her face, explaining that she is in the middle of production for her next collection. Like most designers, Anyango started out by making her own clothes that captured many and people started commissioning her to make outfits.
Over the years, she says, she has seen how African fashion has evolved and the whole world is now paying attention to the continent’s bold designs and textiles. ‘‘I think it was 2010 or the next year that we saw international designer Louis Vuitton using Maasai blankets on the runway and Burberry that also used Kitenge for its mainstream collection and suddenly the world was looking at Africa,” she says.
The award-winning designer gained popularity in 2016 when she released her first collection ‘Kondo Udo’ that combined strength and beauty to bridge the gap between masculine and feminine design elements. The collection had bold feather prints with strong and oscillating designs.
Her second collection released in 2017 the ‘Proverbial Dreamer’ captured the transition of a girl from childhood to becoming a woman.
This year, she released the ‘Literary Disenthrallment’ collection which has long flowy skirts with frills. “Literary Disenthrallment is a collection about the emancipation of women beyond the social construct of gender inequality. I love it so much because it speaks about our history since I got the inspiration from a voyage to Lamu Island,” she says.
With all these amazing creative designs she started getting international recognition that has earned her a number of awards.
“I just felt really humbled that finally my hard work is paying off. I believe that it was because they saw me not just as an artiste but also a storyteller. They saw my authenticity in every collection,” she says.
Anyango was one of the top finalists in the competition ‘Africa Designers for Tomorrow’ organised by Berlin agency FA 254. In November 2016, she received the ‘She Trades Collective’ award from a Geneva-based United Nations Agency.
She admits that success did not come easy. Some days she wakes up in the morning with no inspiration and feels like doing nothing.
“The funny thing is that the days I do not feel like working is when I get a phone call telling me ‘congratulations you have been nominated for …’ or they need me to participate at a fashion event,” she says.
What has been key for her is to never stop working so as not to miss any opportunity. She always makes sure she has ready-to-wear clothes just in time for the buying season which begins in July to October when store owners from Europe and the US add new stock.
The store owners may or not buy her clothes but that does not matter because the point is that she is ready, she says.
She adds that if a designer wants her piece to be worn by the queen, then it needs to be stitched like royalty; this means adequate time to make perfect cuts and stitching.
“And this is where most designers like taking short-cuts, which makes them lose out in the end,” she says.
Besides designing, she is a social activist. She started the ‘Free as a Human’ campaign that fights sexual exploitation of young girls. And she believes as a fashion artiste, she had a voice that will help pass the human trafficking message across continents.
“It happened when a lot was going on in my life. I was really feeling down and I needed to forget about myself for a minute and do something for someone else,” she says.
First Published by the Nation Media