Thirty-four year old Kenyan designer Kepha Maina started his career in fashion by making clothes for himself when he was studying at the University of Nairobi. With a friend, who had access to denim material, Kepha would work with tailors to copy designs from magazines and music videos. Before long he started to get orders and by the time he graduated in 2008, with a degree in Economics, he was running a successful made-to-measure menswear company.
Two years later, a conversation with an acquaintance, who had recently returned to Kenya having studied design in Milan, impressed on Kepha. This chance encounter caused a metamorphic shift in his approach to design. Kepha came away encouraged to create a personal design philosophy with unique technical elements.
Kepha took time off to give thought to “what I wanted to do and understand where I wanted to go”. During this time he deconstructed clothes to understand how they were put together. In 2013 he felt confident enough to release his first collection – Eden by Night. The collection was a great success. It also gave us the first glimpse into the carefully constructed aesthetic his eponymous label – Kepha Maina – is now known for.
Unfortunately, with this first collection, Kepha ran into production difficulties. He realised that to make a ready-to-wear collection, “ … you needed a set-up. You can’t do it alone. You need to grade them [clothes] by sizes and have different sizes. You need a production partner. You didn’t have people like PANAH [a fashion production house] at the time…not in Kenya”.
For a time, Kepha went back to his made-to-measure business but continued to develop his aesthetic and technique. In March 2015 he released a highly conceptual collection – East African Types – knowing he was still not ready to produce. Almost 10 years after Kepha started making clothes, with the release of his Spring/Summer 2016 Collection, it seems everything has finally come together. In late 2014 PANAH opened in Nairobi and this year Kepha has partnered with them to produce his first ready-to-wear collection.