“Africa is the future for sure,” Annabel remarks. In the way international brands are scrambling for visibility in Africa and big name Western designers appropriate African culture in crafting their own (successful) collection, its no wonder Africa is at the forefront of change, she explains. Furthermore, she adds, international labels manufacture their fashion goods here, sellers are angling towards the African middle class and there is almost always an African component to Fashion Weeks around the world including New York and London. “People out there love what Africa has to offer. Getting Africans themselves to love it too, is for me, the ultimate goal,” states Annabel.
When it comes to Kenyans appreciating the art in fashion and styling, Annabel takes note of the fact that Kenya is a relatively new economy and Kenyans have many survival issues they deal with on a daily basis, least of which is fashion. She notes that the youth make up most of the fashion designers and aspiring fashion professionals. They are also a great catalyst to spread the respect for fashion and dressing.
“People out there love what Africa has to offer. Getting Africans themselves to love it too, is for me, the ultimate goal.”
Annabel recalls that when she started styling, it wasn’t considered a legitimate profession in Kenya. “No one wanted to actually pay for it. People tend to think it’s a hobby or that it’s easy or ‘fun’,” states Annabel. Although she does admit that it is an exciting profession to work in, it still remains a real job and as challenging as other mainstream careers. When she began in this industry, Connie Aluoch and Carol Wahome were the only stylists at the time and were, as Annabel observes, the pioneers creating magazine editorials and making people see the value of fashion as a creative art. “I was just happy to be able to be working alongside them,” she says.
As a fashion stylist, there comes a point when working with advertising agencies and magazines is a road eventually travelled. For Annabel, she learnt that magazine work in Kenya does not pay well. She cites adversiting agencies marking up stylist fees to clients and paying them a fraction of it. Other problem areas involve the lack of collaboration between fashion professionals. She believes that more brands, designers and retailers should be making their products available for stylists to use for their work.
Video caption: Behind the scenes of the fashion shoot for UP Magazine at Ngong House, Nairobi, Kenya. Photographs: Touko Sipilainen, Styling: Annabel Onyango, Makeup: Suzie Wokabi, Videographer: Jakub Zahradnicek, Fashion designer: Penny Winter, Shoot assistant: Carl Odera.]
There are few things Annabel would want people to know about the Kenyan fashion stylist scene. Firstly, everyone is underpaid and whilst lacking a formal structure to be able to form unions, there is no protection against contractors, agencies and production companies who don’t pay for services rendered. Secondly, she states that the “creative potential in Kenya is huge, but will only be realized once systems are put in place to promote fashion as a legitimate, mainstream industry.”
“If you’re going to do something halfway, don’t bother at all.”
Unlike when Annabel started, right now, fashion stylists are on the rise and doing great work. For Annabel, she disputes the perception that the local fashion scene is closed off and cliquey stating thus “we’re very inclusive and happy to see emerging talent elevating the industry as a whole.” With fashion stylists on the rise come the fashion designers and for Annabel, these make up most of her friends and colleagues having mostly only positive things to say about the strides Kenya design is making. “Ultimately, I look forward to a day when Kenyan designers produce practical, affordable clothes for the masses. My store REPUBLI.KE aims to supply exactly that, she says.”
“People see the success and don’t realize that it’s the result of many years of working like a dog”
When it comes to fashion designers in Kenya matching up to international standards, Annabel acknowledges fervently the potential, the rise of creative fashion minds and the fact that they could be just as good as international designers. What impedes the industry from reaching that height, Annabel remarks, is the lack of support for the industry and a host of supply and demand issues.
All in all, hard work is what has contributed to Annabel’s success as a fashion stylist. “I’ve never wanted more than just to please every single client I’ve ever had and be proud of my work. People see the success and don’t realize that it’s the result of many years of working like a dog,” she explains. The pitfalls and mistakes Annabel has seen people make is firstly that many aspiring fashion lovers “just wake up in the morning and decide to be a stylist, a designer or a makeup artist. Just because you like something doesn’t mean you’re good at it.” In her opinion, there is the danger of being a ‘jack of all trades’ advising aspiring fashion professionals to pick one thing, do it well and to always work hard.
As a parting shot, Annabel advises aspiring fashion stylists the importance of professionalism, hard work and doing it for the love of the work not for fame or riches. “Education is probably the best gift you can give yourself, so go to school and learn the proper way. If you’re going to do something halfway, don’t bother at all.”
*Images courtesy and copyrighted to ©AnnabelOnyango
Check out her previous styling work in the fashion film below: “You Are It”