It all began with the fascination of the feather that brought Kapoeta into existence in 2010. After having travelled in India, studying in Spain, and living in Europe, Ambica Shah was introduced to fashion and trends especially the movement with feathers. In India, she visited markets in Goa selling art and handicrafts and started picking up on feather earrings which caught her eye. She noted how standardized they were overall, paying attention to the colors, the feathers, how they looked.
When she came back to Kenya, Ambica began experimenting with molted feathers piecing them together to create the earrings she had seen in India. Using antique beads she experimented more and more to create something unique. She explained that when people began to seek out her designs she decided to participate in her first craft fair in Nairobi called Soko Soko. She also included in the craft fair other belt and dresses that she had made in India but shifted more to the feathers because it was something she personally crafted.
Following that, people started demanding the earrings, which pushed her to improve on the skill and the artistry and the designs. Her first show was in the Festival for African Fashion and Arts (FAFA) in 2010 accessorizing for Deepa Dosoja whom she described as very “flamboyant, hippie, boho chic” line. This pushed Ambica to create some bright dynamic bold pieces that took her out of her comfort zone such as using hot colors. “That helped me to build my line and my brand.”
So what does Kapoeta mean? The name Kapoeta derives from a small town in South Sudan. She wanted to have a name that was very neutral and African sounding and Kapoeta fit the mark including having a beautiful ring to it. Noting that it sounds easy to say, she laughs about the way the name has been mispronounced severally over the years, “some people say Capoeira, cup of tea..”
Kapoeta, as a brand, is an “eco brand that recycles feathers into very alternative accessories that accentuate a persons look. It also wants to break boundaries and incorporate different angles, styles from very organic, punk, bohemian chic combination.” Her ear cuffs are her favorite pieces from her new collection. She explains that the ear cuffs are incredibly hip and unordinary. With her ear cuffs “you look like an ethereal creature.” She is presently working on wrist cuffs but the ear cuffs are definitely popular, see below.
Photos courtesy of Kapoeta by Ambica Shah
Describing her experience in the industry, she recognized her good fortune, when she started in June 2010 with FAFA accessorizing for Deepa Dosaja, which instigated interviews and photo shoots in magazines such as True Love in Kenya. That is the essence of her success. “It was just by chance that it became a business, somewhat sustainable. People really appreciated the art and the uniqueness.” Together with Rohini Das, she built her portfolio in various photo shoots. [See pictures below]
“Its one thing to be the artist and being the marketer and PR of your business.” This has been one of her challenges. One needs to hire someone to open them to other markets but the ones here are not doing their jobs and are getting stuck. “As the artist, you cannot manage all those fronts because you need to create. There is huge competition and quite challenging in the industry.”
“A lot of the use of materials has been done, Kikoy, Ankara, Kitenge, Masaii print, it has been done, move on. There is clashing of materials and a loss in the simplicity that makes up the piece. There definitely needs to be a reinvention of the industry.”
When the question was asked about the industry, she sat back and sighed. She explained that she personally does not have a fashion background only travelled quite a bit picking up on styles so she is not one to follow trends. However, she has friends in the fashion industry and they are really trying to raise the issue of mediocrity in the fashion industry in Kenya. There is such passion, she explains, however “those who have been given the skill to capture it in its full essence are lacking something.” For example, she cited photo-shoots in magazine that have been improving over time except some elements are missing in the styling, posing, the combination of clothes, or the photographer is not drawing out the right image and post editing. She does admit that there are some talented people out there but the top designers might be the ones who can create the shift such as Deepa Dosaja and Penny Winters who unfortunately are too segregated.
There is no bridging of these worlds. “A lot of the use of materials has been done, Kikoy, Ankara, Kitenge, Masaii print, it has been done, move on. There is clashing of materials and a loss in the simplicity that makes up the piece. There definitely needs to be a reinvention of the industry.” It appears that the fashion industry has reached a plateau. Designers, she continues, are doing the same thing in their designs, shapes and cuts. There needs to be a challenge to instigate change in the industry. “A lot of people are in the industry because its cool but are not asking the rights questions.” Designers need to return to simplicity.
In her opinion, La Lesso, a Kenyan brand, is truly matching up in the international market and is clearly setting the benchmark. She cited a a recurring statement she has heard that “the really successful designers do not do runways locally.” The reason she provided for that was that the fashion market in Kenya is too stagnant, not progressive enough and not supportive enough.
“I think we are all capable of doing a lot of things, we just need to apply ourselves.”
Being honest, she has always had one foot in the door and one out. “Its sustainable but I need to combine it with something else.” She explains how she has seen it grow but has somewhat reached a threshold. Every year she has been travelling to the United States doing trunk shows and festivals, meeting other people. “I think we are all capable of doing a lot of things, we just need to apply ourselves.”
She has reached that point in her life where she is seeking to step into other things, creating and working on Kapoeta but not limiting herself to it. She expressed joy and peace with her decision and is happy to explore more that the world has to offer. “It has been an interesting journey. You learn a lot about yourself and meeting people and how to do business.” Wishing her all the best and will be looking out for more, especially the wrist cuffs.
The New Kapoeta Lookbook for 2014 is a representation of the infinite possibilities of creating feather earrings, with a dynamic fusion of carved horn, recycled aluminum, semi-precious stones, Ethiopian & Indonesian Silver and lastly Solveras brass from Cote d’Ivoire. Check out snippets from her collection below.