“Not your ordinary… never will be ordinary,” words , Chepkemboi Mang’ira better known as Miss Vavavum, uses to describe herself and her style on her fashion blog. From her glorious mane of natural fro to the intricate and ever changing cultural necklaces she always adorns, you can easily spot her in a room. She recently took time out from updating her blog to give us insight into the world of fashion blogging as she sees it.
Why did you choose ‘Miss Vavavum’?
This was actually a code name we’d use with my girlfriends to specify the dress code when we were heading out. It means extra fabulous in the fashion context- it’s used to describe an outfit so fabulous there are no befitting words for it. I felt that this describes my style.
How did you get into blogging?
I began blogging in mid university some 4 years ago. I have always had a passion for fashion from a young age. I spent all the money I could get on fashion magazines and I eagerly waited to be older so that I could read ‘big-girl’ fashion magazines (17, Vogue, Cosmo etc.). I loved seeing fashionable people in movies too- to date I rarely watch anything with blandly dressed people!
When I turned 18, I tried modelling as my first foray into fashion. This however never went well as I wasn’t ‘light-skinned’. I chose modelling because it looked glamorous- it embodied what I thought fashion was. I tried a hand at fashion designing but at the time I had so many fashion side hustles it was hard to manage that, a fashion business as well as school. And quite frankly at the time I (wrongly) thought it was more important to be young (YOLO was the motto) than manage a business.
While in University I tried a hand at every aspect of fashion, from freelance styling and writing for campus magazines, sourcing and styling for photographers, styling for TV productions, even all my school work revolved around fashion. I always told anyone who would care to listen about my fashion passion.
In early 2012 I got a chance to work at a women’s NGO and being me, I made sure to get myself involved in some fashion work there- whatever it would be. In mid-April, I co-ordinated their fashion show- to date that was the most perfect day, and from there I knew for sure my purpose was fashion. The following month, I got into media (for school purposes, I have a degree in media studies) so at this point there wasn’t much fashion work I could do. At the media house, all I wanted to do was fashion and not stand in the burning sun, recording a political rally. At that point I decided to look for something I could do in fashion. I discovered blogs around this time and I was mesmerised! Then 3 months later I began my fashion blog as my key to the fashion industry. My blog was also a way for me to discover my exact calling in fashion and to enter the fashion world.
How would you describe your blogging style?
Pan- African, culture-oriented, original, just mine!
Are you a full-time blogger?
Yes and no since I have created businesses from my blog. In fact all the success I have achieved to date has been through my blog.
You also sell fashion products on your site?
We sell traditional pieces that I collect from my travels as well as unique designs that we create but inspired by the traditional pieces.
Now, THE BIG QUESTION that everybody’s wondering, is it possible to make money from a fashion blog?
Yes. The common ways are through advertising and just recently (in Kenya) affiliate marketing. But with these methods, you have to have grown a loyal following that will actually act (click/purchase) on whatever you are advertising. As a blogger, you are in charge of dictating the ways you want to position your brand- you can make yourself employable through the kind of posts you write or you can position your blog as a brand whereby you will be paid to promote products or you can position your blog as a business person or consultant- that’s what I did. From here, I have consulted for various companies, I have also been a director. Blogs are very valuable, it all depends on how you position yourself
It all appears glamorous– is that the case?
Not always, it’s actually the opposite. For my shoots I like artsy backgrounds and many of them are in private spaces. So we always do a location scouting first, and then plan the shoot in advance. We shoot outdoors with natural light so when it rains, it’s a nightmare, everything is ruined. Most times the locations are far. When taking photos, sometimes we sit on insect-infested places, on the damp ground, sometimes there’re leaves in my hair! It’s very uncomfortable sometimes. Also we take 100s of photos (for about 2-4 hours) and use only three.
Speaking of appearance, do you feel the pressure to maintain a certain look?
Not really, I enjoy dressing up even when I am doing bland errands like going to the bank, I still dress up. It’s in me. I love it, I enjoy it! I even have lists all over my room, phone and laptop on outfit pairing, so that I am never indecisive! As for the traditional jewellery, It’s all for my #OwnYourCulture movement, I want us to reach into our traditional jewellery and wear it with pride. And I believe in being the change you want to see. I have realised that people accept this movement better when they see the cool ways the jewellery is worn. I consider myself my own walking advertisement poster for this movement. (I am very passionate about it)
Congratulations on the new website. How did OwnYourCulture movement start?
#OwnYourCulture stemmed from a lot of things actually. When I first had the idea, I had been working in the fashion industry for about four years. I had just quit formal employment and was working on our startup (an online shop for local artists and designers) as well as taking on consultations through my blog. At the time, there was great talk about the need to support local fashion across the board. With my blog, I felt there was need to be part of the solution to buy Kenyan, promote Kenyan.
For the 2014 FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) event, I was inspired by a South African to try wearing the traditional Maasai necklace as a fashion statement-with my ordinary clothes. I went on the internet searching for ideas on what I can wear it with and only South Africans style mavens came up. I was shocked at first; I mean these pieces are easy available all over Kenya but there weren’t that many fashionistas styling any traditional necklaces, with the easy availability of these pieces around Kenya. At the event and subsequent days, I held various discussions with various local industry experts on their thoughts about our traditional jewelry and their place in modern day fashion– many felt that it was difficult to see the fashion/cool/beauty of these pieces- they were ‘too traditional’ I took this research further to the artisans and sellers of these pieces. Many informed me that their biggest customers are foreigners or Kenyans living abroad. I found this absurd (and I was guilty of it too) – how Kenyans complain about our lack of original fashion styles yet we have over 42 different types of intricately designed traditional jewelry that are still relevant today.
From here I went around Museums and culture centers researching on the different pieces from all the Kenyan tribes, very few artisans still make them today and some don’t even exist anymore save for very old photos. However I now have different artisans across East Africa that I am working with to bring back these pieces. It is from all this that I created the #OwnYourCulture movement to discover, preserve and promote traditional jewelry.
The idea was to do this in a fun way that will appeal to the youth-I believe the future of our continent lies in us young people. I opened this movement to everyone to share how they would style their ‘traditional’ jewelry from their community. The reason behind this is that we have such great diversity in Kenya, and with different people from different age groups knowing a thing or two from their grandparents about traditional accessories, there is an endless world of opportunity that we can tap into. This campaign runs on Instagram as it targets the youth mainly as well as it’s a highly visual platform. I also believe with this movement, there is hope and positive growth in our creative economy.
You call it global/African movement …
Initially, I began it as just an experiment. Nine months ago I decided to open it up to everyone to showcase the cool ways we can style African traditional jewellery as well as a story behind it. Soon after, individuals from as far as South Africa began taking part in this; in fact they were the biggest enthusiasts. It was only right to welcome them as well. We also have collaborators in USA, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. With all this diversity in participation it’s only fit to label it global- it’s our goal.
Right now it has a heavy Maasai influence – reason for this and will other cultures feature on the blog?
I wear pieces from various communities in East and South Africa. It’s easy to confuse them because they are all similar. The difference in community jewellery comes in terms of colours and patterns used to make the pieces. For example the large circular necklaces were worn by almost every community, the difference came in beading and material used (papyrus, leather or copper)
What are some of the gaps you’ve noticed in the fashion industry – from the designers to the bloggers?
Lack of co-operation between the two, I feel there’s a lot more collaboration and communication that can be done there.
Designers that have caught your eye that we should know about?
- Ola’s fashion house
- Taibo Bacar from Angola
- Toju Foyeh from West Africa
- Pichulik(my fave) from South Africa
- Afri Garde from South Africa
What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from that?
Failed businesses. I learnt it’s important to follow your heart, do that which is true to you (your purpose) just believe in my dreams and that it will all work out- I can do anything!