Young Kenya designer basks in a New York minute

October 21, 2012 4:23 am
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City of New York/AFP
NEW YORK, Oct 21 – Katungulu Mwendwa knew she wanted to be a fashion designer ever since the day she put the scissors to her mother’s wardrobe.

“I think I did that to her wedding evening dress,” said the 24-year-old from Nairobi, recalling her childhood. “I’m not sure she was very happy about that one — but here I am in New York, so she can’t complain.”

In a career breakthrough, Mwendwa was the lone African invited to join the Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion showcase for up and coming designers during the recent New York fashion week.

In its 14 years, the event has been a springboard for the likes of Zac Posen, Phillip Lim, and Rodarte sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy — and Mwendwa is no less ambitious.

She brought to New York a capsule collection of 10 outfits with light flowing silhouettes and generous cowl necks inspired by the Tuareg desert nomads of north Africa.

“Showing in New York was something adventurous,” she told AFP before flying back home to Nairobi, where she is hard at work establishing her own label. “It was a learning experience.”

It was her first time in North America’s fashion capital, and she fit right in, sporting one of her own tailored oversized T-shirts with a billowing scarf, silver bangles and a pendant styled from a Kenyan tribal smoking pipe.

“I actually won, competing against other people who had (university) degrees,” she said. “That was nerve wracking and scary.”

Mwendwa’s first steps in fashion came in 2007 when, not long out of high school, she entered “Catwalk Kenya,” a reality TV design competition, and surprised herself.

“I actually won, competing against other people who had (university) degrees,” she said. “That was nerve wracking and scary.”

She went on to appear on the “Idols East Africa” talent show, then headed to the University of the Creative Arts in southeast England for three years to hone her design skills.

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