Q&A with fashion pioneer Annabel Onyango29/06/2016
“They’re always elevating the entertainment game locally and pushing boundaries all the time; for a creative person like me, that’s exactly where you want to be.” Annabel Onyango on Sauti Sol
Annabel Onyango is one of the sartorial brains behind award-winning East African super group and fashion icons Sauti Sol. She’s a Kenyan fashion stylist, television personality, and social influencer whose styling portfolio includes advertising campaigns for Guinness, Smirnoff, Ariel, and Safaricom. She’s a panelist on The Fashion Watch on Citizen TV, a magazine columnist for Wine Chic and Yummy Magazine, has a store called REPUBLI.KE, and represented East Africa as a judge on Africa’s Next Top Model.
Why fashion? What got you hooked?
Fashion chose me. I have no formal training nor did I ever want to work in fashion as a kid. I have a degree in Environmental Studies and was a junior writer when I fell into editorial styling. That was nine years ago and I haven’t stopped since.
You’re one of the stylistic brains behind Sauti Sol, what about them inspires you and what role do you think they’ve played in fashion in East Africa?
Although I don’t style them as much any more, Sauti Sol continue to be one of my favourite clients. I feel their artistry and where they want to go with their brand. I respect their bold attitude towards image and how they’re confident enough to dress outside the box. Some of my best work has been in collaboration with the boys. They’re always elevating the entertainment game locally and pushing boundaries all the time; for a creative person like me, that’s exactly where you want to be.
What inspiration do you draw from Nairobi? What makes the city and the people who call it home unique?
Nairobi is a tough town. You love and hate it in equal measure. Fashion-wise, it remains very conservative and stuck in its ways. But that’s also what makes it the kind of place where its easy to develop and refine a distinctive fashion brand. Kenyans are proud, and that’s inspiring. Playing on this fierceness about self has propelled the #MadeInKenya movement in Kenyan fashion that is currently catching fire. Being able to source clothes, shoes, and accessories locally, watching the emergence of new design talent, collaborating with creative people across different sectors in very inspiring.
How do you see African fashion shaping or affecting global fashion?
Of course, it’s been happening for years already. How often do you see African culture appropriated by international fashion runways? How often do Western designers and performing artists use African references in their work? The “Africa is now” ideology is not a myth, its a reality. As brands start to view the African consumer market (especially the luxury market) as the last frontier, more and more interest and eyes are on us to define global trends and shape the zeitgeist of the day.
What do you want the world to know about your work and your field?
To be honest, nothing. When I was younger I used to think that success in Kenya was a stepping stone to work in other regions, but not anymore. I’ve been plugging away at this fashion game in Nairobi for years. It has sustained my pocket and spirit, and I see no need to export myself elsewhere. As Kenya slowly but surely develops into a fashion powerhouse in East Africa and beyond, I’m happy to stick around and be a part of that story.