Larissa Muthoni is the founder and designer of the brand, Zamoyo. Conceived in 2002, legally registered in Tanzania in 2011 and registered in Kenya in 2012, Larissa started this brand out of a need to add more color to her wardrobe with more than the singular tone of gold and silver. Starting off with elastic beaded bracelets and waist beads (“not knowing the cultural connotation from the coastal cultures,” she says). From one friend to a relative, her creations were having a ripple effect and orders were coming in.
What spurred Larissa into design? Metamorphosis. The transformation of her creations is what convinced her. She says that it “was enlightening looking through pictures of her first designs and three years on,” seeing how her taste evolved. Not only the transformation but also the sheer delight and satisfaction experienced in designing is what showed Larissa that she was on the right path.
Larissa studied psychology in university and was part of the Craft Afrika Incubation Program with one of the modules being an intensive product design course. “I am self-taught designer and anything else I learn is from intense research and keeping up with global trends,” she says. Her design aesthetic and eye can be attributed from an artistic mother. Although Larissa has always wanted to be in the arts, the greatest mental block she had to overcome was breaking away from social and cultural conventions. “Being African, first born and female, my life had to be ‘stable’ and those expectations rested on the pretext that business and corporate careers put food on the table, and not art,” she explains. For Larissa, this still remains the greatest challenge in arts being recognized as an economic contributor to the country preventing many from taking the leap.
Thankfully, Larissa took the leap but it came with its own set of challenges. For one, finding good quality supplies. With beads mostly coming from India, Larissa found that few were supplying authentic cultural beads from Kenya and the rest of Africa. Although the status quo has changed, Larissa still advises to have a keen eye and knowledge of the beads bought, as there are many imitations in the market.
“This is the best part of the design process, seeing your ideas come to life.”
Zamoyo, the brand, tells a “Kenyan story one accessory at a time” catering to the need of every Kenyan’s desire of a lifestyle that is recognized and impactful. Zamoyo accessories are an extension one’s identity rooting you to a heritage of your own curation. With Zamoyo, what Kenyan means to you is what you wear.
Zamoyo’s first collection was introducing the brand in 2011 where prior to that, Larissa designed one off pieces on order. The collection was conceptualized after a long hiatus and represented a rediscovery. “I was excited and hopeful about the business. I rebranded, changed the logo and the company colors designing each and every piece on my own. It was incredibly fun!” she recalls. Larissa enjoys the slow creative process from working on the mood boards and sketches to the sampling stage where the final collection is ready in the third quarter.
Once Larissa is done with her mood boards and sketches, she is a better place to know exactly what colors, textures and shapes she is looking for sourcing from River Road, Kibera, Limiru and even Ngong Town. “Some are finished and ready to buy, and some need to be made from scratch e.g. the metal, bone and glass beads. I have an extensive directory of artisans who are good at different aspects of each material. This is the best part of the design process, seeing your ideas come to life,” she tells us.
Inspired by nature and people, the first Zamoyo collection was personal and captured her stifled creativity. Her second collection, though, was inspired by the colors and textures she experienced whilst deep see diving. The animal skeletons in the wild inspired her third collection after visiting the Nairobi National Park reflecting in her prints on the canvas bags.
Like any artist, a designer seeks to pass on a message thought their work. For Larissa, she wants her brand to “trigger a feeling of nostalgia while enabling people to create their own identity in an evolving world.” This, she hopes, comes through from her utilizing traditional techniques or using trade beads in her design.
The distinguishing element of the Zamoyo brand is the design aesthetic. Aside from the holiday collection in 2013, Larissa creates her own prints for the canvas bags with the handmade jewelry having elements that are unique to the brand. She however explains “there are some aspects that will always be similar because we have of lot of influences from other cultures around us and they remain ingrained in us. I believe that my interpretation is unique to everyone else just as other designers will be unique to mine,” she says.
Speaking of other designers, Larissa’s favorite designers locally are, amongst many, Njee Muturi, Katchy Kollections, Kihuruta and Zambarau. Internationally, Doreen Mashika from Zanzibar and Nyorh Agwe from Cameroon whose designs blow her away. Other international designers in her watchlist are the simplicity of Moxham, the edgy designs of Ken Samudio from the Philippines and Jennifer Meyer, an American jewelry designer.
Larissa Muthoni has had a 10-year experience in the media management industry, which has aided in analyzing consumer values, attitude and their media consumption habits. These have been integral to her work and borrowing from this experience helps her to stay abreast of what motivates her consumer when it comes to their buying decision. Designing is not only about creating a beautiful piece, it is also about staying true to one’s brand, mission and understanding your consumer. Larissa does this exceptionally well and through the years, her brand has grown and continues to evolve.
Take a look at her unique pieces.
In part II, we get into the mind of Larissa some more and delve in the fashion industry in Kenya and her experience and views.
*Images copyrighted to ©Zamoyo