We’re going to be honest with you. After speaking to Steve Thairu we weren’t sure how we would write this article on the House of Thairu. The 22 year old designer is a dreamer with a whimsical outlook on life. On the other hand, the more we spoke, the more we realised that there exists concatenation and cynosure to Thairu’s moves. He may have recently graduated from the University Of Nairobi (UON) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design; print and textile but the House of Thairu has been operational since 2015. Thairu was one of the four designers selected for the Bata Designers Apprentice competition in 2017. He was also one of the five young designers shortlisted by the Designing Africa collective team. As well as, a Finalist in the Heineken African Inspired Fashion Challenge. He’s a designer that wants his brand to tackle global issues through clothes that ooze contemporary edginess. So we went with…
Who is Nylon?
I was introducing myself to one of my co-workers, they heard Nylon instead of Thairu and it stuck. It comes in handy. One day someone asked me why I’m so plastic and my retort was ‘because I’m nylon’.
What made you gravitate towards fashion?
The ugly things on the street.
Since I was younger, I’ve always been into fashion. I liked how my mother and my friends dressed… how I tried to dress. I look at those old photos and ask myself why did I do that? Why did I make those choices? In some of those pictures I like Titus Andromedon from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’m not throwing shade on him.
Between the competitions and the internships, when do you actually get time to design for House of Thairu?
I’m currently on a hiatus to find inspiration. I’m trying to figure out if my initial vision is still what I want to achieve. That’s why both my personal and business social media activity has slowed down for a duration of time. I’m trying to see who I am as a person and as a brand.
What made you think that you needed to restrategize?
Have you ever talked to someone and they tell you they are in fashion but they don’t have a website or a social media footprint? You then meet two years down the line and they have switched careers entirely. I don’t want to be one of those people. Or to open a shop only to have a closing down sale a few months later. I believe that you can never have too much experience and that’s why I’m currently the technical and design assistant at Vivo Activewear. It’s a Kenyan brand that has a footing in the Kenyan Market and a defined clientele. I decided to give this experience my all and learn all that I can from it. Eventually, my end goal is to have a ready to wear (RTW) brand.
Didn’t you originally want to go Avant Garde?
In the beginning I was very interested to go in that direction and it’s still a dream of mine to work with Maison Margiela. Their Avant Garde is so detailed that it’s breath-taking. I may be heading towards RTW, but I still want to discover what is out there before I settle for my ‘thing’. Because once you’re known for a specific ‘thing’, they will expect you to deliver along those lines.
How did the Bata competition play into your RTW vision?
When you look at companies such as H&M, they offer both clothes and accessories. My studies mostly focused on apparels and textiles, so I decided to join the Bata Apprentice competition because I wanted some know-how on the accessories end. It was my first time designing shoes. I’ve previously interned at Lulea and Wazawazi to learn more about bag craftsmanship. So the Bata experience was to cater to another side of accessories that would build the brand.
The young designer’s objective?
I wanted to learn more about printing, as well as, make the right connections on achieving that on textiles. The issue was that, in Kenya, we don’t have digital machines with the capability of printing at world standards. It’s more along the lines of screen printing which is a tedious process that can make the garment even more expensive. In this economy, we can’t create price points that will make the garments unaffordable. I feel that a RTW brand should aim to make their product accessible to everyone.Lessons from the Heineken challenge?
What I learnt is everyone loves clothes; even alcohol. (laughs) I feel like the arts shape everything and Heineken being a well-recognised brand, I decided to jump at the opportunity and they didn’t disappoint. I can also say that I managed to make friends from the project and I still work with some of them.
Will the androgyny element remain at the House of Thairu?
Androgyny is definitely an aspect I want to keep moving forward. And then have a women’s line as well. Someone once told me that I looked like Tilda Swinton, ‘you’re so androgynous I wouldn’t know if you’re a chameleon or an alien’.
Why is it an important factor for your brand?
When I was younger, before the facial hair started, people in the transport industry would refer to me as madam or sister. I came to a place where I decided not to let things affect me and instead use it as inspiration.
Everyone has their own particular style and the way they want to express themselves.
I feel like that there are more people who want unisex clothes. A basic t-shirt, jeans and boots ensemble can be from the same rack and still be worn by a lady or a guy. You wouldn’t spot the difference. I think people are becoming more aware of themselves. Everyone has their own particular style and the way they want to express themselves. I feel that there are more people now who don’t want to be defined.
How would you define your personal style?
Can I use the word eccentric? It’s hard to define. Because I could wake up on Monday dressed in the 20s and wearing 90s garb on Tuesday. I don’t think that there’s something that I specifically wear that people could say is me. My wardrobe is bulging and I find myself wearing them all.
I feel that there are more people now who don’t want to be defined.
Your last collection under House Of Thairu was Jumbo…
It’s inspired by the elephant; an animal that could go extinct in our lifetime. The name of the collection came from a world famous elephant, Jumbo, which was taken from Sudan to London and eventually ended up in the circus. Jumbo met a tragic end in the 19th century and when you fast forward to the tusks burnings of the 21st century, the situation around elephant treatment is still dire. So I decided to raise awareness on the unending poaching through the collection. I created this abstract print and only made four pieces. However, I will revisit the collection because it really spoke to me and I feel like we should do more.Who is your muse when creating?
Would it be so conceited to say I’m my own muse? It’s a fine line between being your own biggest supporter and narcissism. (Laughs) I’d have to say it’s my experiences. Because if I hadn’t gone through certain things, I don’t think they would resonate with me and I wouldn’t be able to communicate that feeling or vision authentically to someone else.
What do you envision at the end of the RTW tunnel?
Light, bright light! All I can say is that it will be for a market who is ready to express themselves in a RTW manner. You don’t need to be edgy to look nice. You can be dressed simply and at an affordable price point. The goal is to get back to the House of Thairu by the end of the year.
Any controversial piece that you’d love to make?
I am, it’s for men and you’ll be surprised when I do it. Although there’s a possibility that women will want to buy it more. I can’t give you any spoilers but when I do come back I’ll do so with a bang.
If your work was a song it would be?
‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ by Stevie Wonder.
What message do you hope people get from your work?
Love. I’m being serious. We can never have enough love and clothes are one way of feeling love. If you look nice wearing something – be it a belt, scarf shoes – you feel good.