Sophie Diana Gai
David Avido is the founder of Kibera Fashion Week (KFW) and also owns a brand called Lookslike Avido. To learn more about Kibera Fashion Week, check out the website About – Kibera Fashion Week.
Kibera is a neighborhood in the city of Nairobi, Kenya. It houses over 250,000 people and is commonly known as the biggest slum in Africa and the third biggest in the world.
Avido, a natural born fashion designer and exemplary leader uses fashion to bring light to a community that is often misunderstood. In this interview session, The Thinking Watermill Society gives you a firsthand insight on the beauty and creative spirit within the community in Avido’s own words.
1.What is your brand about?
My brand is Lookslike Avido, which is a community brand and it was started four years ago. I started it as a platform to show my community members how emotions can be expressed through art in different forms. Twenty percent of every sale we make is destined to the support of the community through various activities, such as making school uniforms for needy students, sponsoring their education and training hearing impaired individuals and young mothers on how to design and make clothes.
2.Tell us about the inception of KFW
Kibera Fashion Week was founded as a way of connecting the individuals within the community who are not directly dependent on Lookslike Avido. Through KFW, other designers and creatives learn to accept themselves and focus on their art. It also acts as a platform to empower children in the community to achieve their dreams and not let their background define them. They are able to gain exposure and learn from positive role models, which broadens their imagination beyond that which they perceive on mainstream media. Most individuals only see beauty pageants and fashion shows on television but KFW helps them to experience it on a firsthand basis.
3.What was the community’s reaction to KFW?
When the Fashion Week was first showcased, the reaction was unexpected and overwhelming. It was somehow like something people were wishing to have but had not been experiencing. People were happy and wanted more. The first time we held the fashion show, over 500 people attended. We used the railway lines as a runway, there were trains periodically and we would have to stop and resume after they passed. KFW was really appreciated and we felt like we really needed to do more in order to educate the community about art and give them a deeper experience.
4.What challenges did you encounter during the inauguration of KFW and how did you deal with them?
We did not encounter any setbacks because we made sure to gather a lot of feedback before the project was started. We sourced for security from within the community itself so everyone was safe, especially during the fashion show because it was held at night. People have a notion that the neighborhood of Kibera is unsafe but we did not have any incidents due to insecurity.
The challenges actually started arising as the event grew because of increased numbers, which meant more people to manage. However, we are glad that the community is close knit and, therefore, it is easier to work with people from the community because they are ready and willing to be guided. It all draws down to leadership and how we relate with people in the community. If you relate in a good way, they will also treat you well. I am on good terms with the people here and I am thankful because they are the ones who guided me onto the path that I am on today. I feel a great need to give back to them as well.
5.What challenges have you encountered as a fashion designer and how are you managing them?
I faced many challenges but I am grateful for them because they help me know that I am growing. The main challenge is second hand and fast fashion because, as a person making first hand designs, most people prefer buying second hand clothes. These clothes are usually donated from Europe, USA and China but instead of being used for charity, as they are meant to, people end up selling them here at very low prices. People prefer the cheap stuff because it is more affordable and I cannot price my designs the same, since I have to factor in the time and resources I use to create.
There are other challenges but these are very trivial compared to the ones of second hand clothes. If we did not have second hand products, we could develop our textile sector and ten times more people (than those who currently work in the second hand sector) would have employment opportunities.
6.What does sustainable fashion mean to you and what makes your brand sustainable?
I would say my brand is more of a conscious fashion brand. Sustainability for me is more about community and not just production. It is not just about fabric but, rather, about being conscious and striving to treat people right. For instance, when designing a piece, I have to focus on social, economic and environmental sustainability. I buy fabrics from the locals and I hire staff from the community. I join hands with the individuals to whom my brand impacts in order to clean the environment in the community. Eighty per cent of the environment in Kibera is polluted and we need all the hands we can get to clean it.
7.How does your brand promote inclusivity?
My brand does not discriminate and hires individuals of all backgrounds. Even for the training sessions held in the community, everyone can participate as long as they have a passion and willingness to learn, that is the only requirement.
8.How do you provide a conducive working environment for your employees?(physical and mental health)
We operate like a family and, to me, my employees are like my siblings so it is very easy for me to recognize when they are facing challenges. I check in on them regularly and sometimes even visit their families to check in. We also have activities we do outside work like hikes and barbecues, which help us connect better. I also do my best to avail myself when they need someone to talk to. For us it is all about working WITH each other towards similar goals.
9.There are so many negative perceptions about Kibera i.e. it is unsafe, there is violence etc., If indeed these perceptions are true, what do you think can be done to make things better?
I believe that Kibera is the home of talent. There is nowhere in the world that you can go that is completely safe. At the end of the day, whatever is happening in Kibera can be happening in any other country in the world. We face a lot of stigma as a community and most people believe that if you come from Kibera you are only suitable for prostitution and crime but there are criminals all over the world. People need to see the brighter side and immense talent in Kibera and understand that people in Kibera do not get the same opportunities as everyone else out there.
10.When is the next fashion week and how can designers participate?
The next fashion week is happening from 14 October 2023 but check out our social media handles to stay posted. We are working on creating a calendar that works better and engages creatives from all over the world. Designers and creatives who would like to participate can find us on Instagram @kiberafashionweek, @lookslikeavido or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Also feel free to check out our website.
Great things come from places least expected.