Interview: Creativity in a Copycat World

Yesterday I met with Samita Josphat, a stylist and micro-fashion retailer, who rocked up to Café Nova in Eldoret wearing an impressive ensemble of mahogany snake skin trousers, vintage shirt and tweed jacket. His black leather shoes sparkled with the shine of a person proud to make a statement. “Wear your Sunday best I’d said”, knowing he’d take me very seriously indeed. I was quite taken with his studded leather Guess watch which he told me he picked up for 300 shillings (around £2). He complimented me on my classic black Casio.

watches

I met Samita at a party in Kericho over the summer. Called intriguingly, Twerk in the Woods, it was a collaboration between musicians & dancers from Western Kenya’s famous tea region. Displaying his wares in a wooden stall, I was taken in by the plethora of paisley silk ties and vintage jackets.

Samita and myself in Kericho August 2014

Samita and myself in Kericho August 2014

Samita, from Kericho, goes to school (college) in Eldoret. Studying mechanical engineering – he has ambitious plans and whilst he doesn’t particularly want to have to fall back on being a mechanic, if he can raise enough capital he would really like to launch a car shop giving skilled jobs to disadvantaged youth, in particular street boys.

For the moment he’s making a sustainable living out of styling models and musicians for shoots, subsidising his school fees and giving him enough to start planning his future. Not bad work for a 20 something year old, especially in a world where creativity and innovation isn’t part of the mainstream. Kenyans, as entrepreneurial as they are, tend to play it safe with business and there is a huge copycat culture here. The minute something is successful, there’s a tendency to jump on the bandwagon. Samita has therefore carved himself a bit of a creative niche.

Always carrying a flowered canvas bag full of his best vintage wares (including a suspicious lone crocodile shoe), Samita is able to frequently tempt people with his unique pieces. He lent me his bag yesterday so we could play dress up. I wanted to style Anna, Mel & Jen under his mentorship, and see if I could ‘get it right’. Needless to say I ended up picking out loads of stuff I like, trying them on, and then finding myself wondering how much it would cost. Mr Josphat knows what he’s doing.

When asked why he started getting into fashion, he told me that getting money in this country is not always easy. He was always asking parents for cash, so wanted his own money to do his own things. He started hawking (selling every day things in the street to passers by). But then realised quite quickly that he could be doing something more connected to the needs of his peers.

“I started to exploit the things that the youths wanted such as trendy clothes and unique customised pieces, like leopard print sewn onto denim shirts that I made myself. Which has proved very popular.”

Inspired by programmes on TV like the Churchill Show and the Sakata Dancers, the dancers have a designer who produces contemporary styles for them, “so I got some inspiration from that and started producing similar things.”

Now, having built a reputation for himself, he gets second hand items sent in from Nairobi which are shipped in from other countries. Usually very few of these fashions leave Nairobi which means “the rest of Kenya doesn’t get exposed to them”, but Samita brings them in to Eldoret and Kericho, and it is changing the way young people dress.

trio of models

Models from left to right: Samita, Beryl, Kuboeka

He also does a bit of fashion modelling himself, which brings in a bit of extra cash from agencies. “They coach you and inspire you with their fashions”, he says. “And then events come up and I get paid to work the event.”

Samita’s contribution to the hipster scene in Eldoret makes me think about Daniel and Amos, two social work students (and friend’s of Samita’s) who joined us for work experience during our first week of training in Eldoret. They confidantly strided into the Red Cross centre where our entrepreneurs were studiously making things with plastecine (as part of our creativity session). Amos all mod-like in a leather jacket and skinny tie, and Daniel in a tweed three piece suit – completed by bluetooth ear piece – looked a sharp contrast to everyone else’s hoodies and trainers.

“Fashion makes me feel like big things are coming my way” Samita says, with a wry smile.

I tell him that if he could bottle up that feeling, he could probably make his millions.

The big dream is to grow his facebook group Swaggerific Empire into to a big fashion label where he can sponsor fashion events and music artists and get his fashions into retail.

Created by Samita and his friends, Swaggerific is more than just a facebook group. Created in summer 2014, he describes it as “a lifestyle – a place for people into the latest trends to get together across music, arts and culture’. Influenced by fashions they see from the west ie the US/UK and West Africa, Samita and his friends love to combine all the unique styles they come across to create something new. There is something that feels uniquely Kenyan too, with inspiration also from Jamaica. There is definitely a sense of a love for Americana vintage – cowboy hats and boots – inspired by TV shows like The Walking Dead and True Blood.

Samita loves interesting materials and textures. One time he went to the market place to find unusual fabrics for sewing on denims. He found a silk parachute, and no one in the market knows what it is. “They were so confused. I really liked the material though and so bought it for 500bob and turned it into bags and clothes.”

www.facebook.com/swaggerificempire

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