Twenty-seven-year-old Mohamed Awale’s interest in bags began when he was studying Business Administration at USIU. Mohamed was always buying leather bags from second-hand markets and asking his cousin, who ran a leather apparel company, to make bags for him based on his ideas. As fate or luck would have it, about three years ago, Mohamed’s cousin decided to focus solely on making shoes and offered Mohamed the opportunity to take over the apparel part of the business. With that, Suäve Kenya was born.
The day I was meeting Mohamed to visit his workshop, I bumped into him crossing the hectic road near Globe Cinema Roundabout. We walked back up to Kimathi Street as Mohamed was delivering a messenger bag to a client, who he was to identify by his red car. We found him parked opposite the KFC. I waited on the sidewalk as Mohamed slipped into the backseat and handed the bag over to the driver, who inspected it as his companion, a young woman, sat in the passenger seat eating bright red mabuyu.
I realised before the afternoon was up that this is how most of Suäve’s sales are made. “We don’t have a shop, we are purely online. So people see a bag on the website or on social media, call and order. They can then pay by M-Pesa or on delivery,” Mohamed explains.
The Suäve Kenya workshop is a small room on the first floor of a building on Kirinyaga Road above a noisy garage. Against one wall, completed bags are piled high on top of each other. Three of Mohamed’s employees work, cutting patterns and assembling bags, from a table that takes up almost half the room. The fourth employee works on a sewing machine on the other side of the room, Suäve press clippings pasted on the wall behind him.
Each Suäve bag is unique, made from a mix of second-hand clothes and new material, which is usually kitenge bought from the nearby River Road. Mohamed buys all the fabric himself, going to Gikomba Market once a week to buy second-hand coats in durable materials such as tweed, cotton or wool and denim and leather clothes from contacts he has cultivated over time.
For months, the Suäve team has been busy working on a large order for a local bank that placed an order for 500 messenger bags for a marketing campaign. They did so, after seeing a member of their advertising company with a Suäve bag. Anecdotes like this are at the core of the Suäve story.
Another integral part of Suäve’s recent success have been the street photography campaigns, styled Bryan Emry featuring Kamau Deloys and Alvin Gicheru and photographed by Joseph Baraza and Mohammed Abbas. Suäve Kenya now have over 2,000 followers but only had around 200 before Bryan’s campaigns.
As I bid farewell to the Suäve Kenya team, Mohamed’s phone rings and as I walk away I hear: “Do you know where the KFC on Kimathi Street is? Once you are near there, call me.” No doubt another order.