Label Love: Katungulu Mwendwa

By Kara Murphy

Hot off the heels of a successful showing at the GenArt Fresh Faces in Fashion show during New York Fashion Week, Nairobi-based Katungulu Mwendwa is definitely an up-and-comer to watch. The captivating and supremely talented designer’s eponymous collection was met with tremendous praise, and it’s easy to see why. Mwendwa’s designs are modern and edgy, with an almost ethereal quality, yet they’re distinctly grounded in her rich Kenyan heritage.

She grew up entertaining a fabulously vivid imagination, and to date, Mwendwa says that ability to dream remains a driving force in her life. After graduating from Britain’s University for the Creative Arts in July of last year, she went on to launch her own label in February of 2012.

Earlier this year she was also selected to show at Tribal Chic 2012, a highly-anticipated annual charity fashion show held at Tribe Hotel in Nairobi in partnership with GenArt Global. The event, which benefitted FilmAid International and the newly-launched GenArt Global, was attended by Entourage star Emmanuelle Chriqui. Now a fan of the young designer, the actress even owns some of Mwendwa’s pieces.

We asked Mwendwa to share with us her inspirations, where her love of fashion is rooted, and how her upbringing in Nairobi has influenced her designs.

How has growing up in Nairobi influenced your designs?
Katungulu Mwendwa: Growing up in Nairobi, a rapidly developing city like others on the continent, was very similar to that of my experiences in other Western cities. This, despite its many positive characteristics, has resulted in me feeling somewhat detached from my traditional culture. There is not so much of a unified Nairobi culture that I can say varies ridiculously so from any other city. So in a sense, I am now driven to want to find out more about what it was/is like in traditional settings and how this can be applied to our more developed/developing society people can buy into, and that I can identify with.

When did you start designing?
I honestly can’t remember when I was not designing or doing something creative. It has always just been in me. However, even though I knew I was always going to go into design, I began to lose confidence right after high school. I noticed many of my peers were going into more standard careers like law and business, and there I was, driven solely by my love for music and fashion. That was hard when deep down I knew they are both very difficult fields to break into.

So I took a gap year to think things through and started working in advertising. I did that for a short time, then a design show (Catwalk Kenya) similar to Project Runway began, which I entered and won! And then weirdly so, for the first time as well, Idols East and Idols Southern Africa also decided to do something in Nairobi. So I made a little deal with myself — depending on how well I do on the show, I am going to make it happen and deal with whichever challenges I have to face. I didn’t do so badly on Idols.

Now here I am, five years later, a very determined and persistent person, armed with little more than my BA in fashion design and the most supportive family and friends anyone could ask for — chasing my dreams one step at a time.

What kind of woman do you see wearing your designs?
The woman I see wearing my clothes is ageless. She has a great sense of character, is a little adventurous, experimental, and romantic. She is ever-strong, but when it comes to her personal style, she still preserves her feminine flare. She loves to travel and is interested in the world at large. At the moment I have focused my work on women, but I do see myself going into menswear soon.

Top image by Daeun Kim

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