M+K Nairobi: Fashion’s New Guard in the local scene

K: [Collection wise] there’s the series with the ochre skirt, the series with the beaded crop top and then there is the series with full-circle blue skirt.
M: We usually do triptychs which is an art history term for anything that has three images that are interrelated.
From left: Keith Macharia and Muqaddam Latif [Image: Courtesy of M+K Nairobi]

Learnt something new today… This is clearly from your time in fashion school?

K: I didn’t go to fashion school
M: But I did … at Mcensal School of Fashion Design. Art has always been a part of my education journey since elementary school but it was my A-levels that really pushed me into the arts. They helped me to decide that I was going to be an absolute artist. I used to work with designers as an interning photographer and I think through that it really influenced me to go into fashion. My mum is also a seamstress so when I said I was going into fashion they were very happy. I think they were expecting it very much.

So you both knew you wanted to do fashion from the beginning?

M: Definitely
K: I didn’t. My path was a little different. I did a lot of studio art in high school, so I was in advanced placement studio art. I did a lot of painting and drawing so I always knew that art was going to be a part of my life. I just didn’t know how. I got into NYU (New York University) and graduated with a BA in Art History. And then I took some time off and moved back to Kenya for six months, where I lived in old town in Mombasa with a Swahili family and did a small course in Swahili culture. I did this because at the time Nairobi wasn’t inspiring me and I had just come back from New York, trying to find my way again. In that time, I decided that I wanted to go to drama school.
Therefore, I started drama school in January 2010 and finished that program in 18 months. However, I didn’t get the artist visa to stay in the States and I knew I didn’t want to work a regular job. Instead, I moved to Hong Kong, where I worked in the food and beverages industry for a year. The pay was really good, the benefits were great and living in the dynamic city of Hong Kong gave me the best of both worlds; rich urban life and 30 minutes later you’re on the beach. After that, I decided it was time for me to come home because my creative life was not being fed in Hong Kong. It was a demanding job, so when you lose interest in it you have to find another path. My aunts were like “are you sure you want to leave? If you work there for five more years you’ll be set.” But it’s not about the money.

Huh?

K: No, I believe this. You see, when you’re young you have time to make it. And I thought two things would have happened. I could have stayed in Hong Kong and I’d have become this corporate restaurant person but I’d always wonder why I let go of my creative passions. I was only three years from thirty and if I did that job until thirty I would get so used to the life of great benefits, big pay cheques and rising up the corporate ladder. But if you start your own thing, you have time to build and nurture it. That appealed to me more.
It’s a mixture of fluidity and looseness, as well as directness and execution. As creatives, you need that. If everything gets too heavy your left brain just won’t work and it shut downs.

It seems that none of you were given the’ why do you want to be a tailor?’ speech.

M: That’s what it seems like [fashion] is thought of here… tailoring.
K: And the thing is, it’s not just tailoring. You’re thinking about concepts and ideas, there’s critical thinking involved. It’s also a science. Fashion and design is really a multidisciplinary field. And there’s the business and marketing aspect and without that the business will never grow. You’re literally using so many parts of your brain. I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. It is the business of fashion.

So how did you two meet?

K: Back on home ground, I knew I needed get involved either in food, fashion or something creative and that’s when I met Muqaddam.
M: We actually met at the Alexandre Chocolatier Ltd , the French patisserie at Yaya in October 2015. I had this interesting tote bag with the Austrian Queen on it and he noticed it. From there we started talking.

The collaborative project began in January 2016 and the launch happened at the end of June 2016. That’s pretty fast!

M: I think we were both in a tunnel from the moment we started.
K: When I made up my mind that I’m going to do this, and we got the investment money we needed in order to take us to the fruition of the collection, there was no looking back. We decided that no matter what happens, we just had to get to the collection, to that June 25th deadline. And we did.
You mentioned funding… was this through international organisations? Local programs?
M: No, it’s all personal finances. Donations from friends and family, people who care about you and want to see you succeed.
K: We decided to avoid the loans routes because a lot of start-ups get into trouble due to the fact that they take these big loans and you can’t pay them back. So this was the safer route when we’re starting out and once you’ve built up a name you can take those financial risks because now you have a foundation and have certain structures in place.

How do two creatives get along?

M: I definitely think we fed off each other’s energy. Energy is really important to us as it’s a driver in our brand. How we work is almost like a dance. We have to keep it fun, light and direct. I think a lot of work dynamics suffer when we get so heavy about everything.
K: When you chose to collaborate you have to understand that you are one organism. If someone has a problem it becomes your problem too and vice versa. If one understands this and is consistently touching base then even if you have creative differences, you can meet in the middle and compromise.
M: But the moment communication falls apart – like in any business or relationship – it becomes poison. It becomes the death of the business. We’ve had differences but we always come to a middle ground; thank God.
When you chose to collaborate you have to understand that you are one organism. If someone has a problem it becomes your problem too and vice versa. If one understands this and is consistently touching base then even if you have creative differences, you can meet in the middle and compromise.
K: It’s not easy, but if you ask any top collaborator in the world. It’s not a question of easy, it’s a question of love for the craft. We get a long and we want to make it work.
M: I think that’s where being our bosses comes in. Where we don’t want to be somewhere that really oppresses you. We have our tasks written out, as long as we keep knocking them off the list, we don’t have to follow a certain pattern. We’re not so rigid, so long as the work is done by the end of the day.
K: It’s a mixture of fluidity and looseness, as well as directness and execution. As creatives, you need that. If everything gets too heavy your left brain just won’t work and it shut downs. So when we feel stressed, we work on something a little more fluid and then come back to the task when we’re a little more relaxed.
M: One thing we don’t play around with is deadlines. If we say by four o’clock, it has to be done by four o’clock.
*We get the backstage pass to how this dynamic duo bring their mixture of fluidity and execution to life, as well as, their thoughts on the local industry in part II of the post running tomorrow.

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M+K Nairobi

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M+K Nairobi
Contemporary Luxe Fashion Design