Kimana Tuller is the founder and the designer behind the Kimana Collective fashion house that brings you the sun, the sand and the cool ocean vibes in a laid back, eye-catching tie-dye beachwear. A native Kenyan and a big-hearted creative, Kimana is passionate about her business being a celebration of Kenyan cultural traditions as well as a source of stability in the lives of the amazing communities contributing their time and talent in to each piece of clothes.
Photos courtesy Kimana Collective
Glitter Trotter: Hi Kimana! I just have to tell you, I am really envious about your “office environment”! I really love Diani, and Galu Beach is truly special!
Kimana Tuller: Yes, I am very lucky to leave on the beach! Everything around here is an inspiration.
GT: I can see that! So, did the ocean motivate you to start your fashion business? Or was there a particular event that give you that last push to launch on this path?
KT: All my life I have known I would get into fashion somehow. When I was a child, my parents would have to carry my wardrobe or bikini’s in the car, so I could regularly change outfits. I started my business in 2018 as a small passion project, while I was working in the hospitality sector. Slowly, step by step, it has grown into a really exciting little start-up! And in the past few month, I have had all the time in the world to focus on it, and really push my boundaries. So, the pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise!
GT: I see you’ve made plenty of lemonade from the COVID-19 lemons! But in all seriousness, I am really happy to hear that this health crisis helped you slow down and focus on the things you are passionate about. Taking about fashion and passion, tell me what makes you excited about the Kenyan fashion culture right now?
KT: I am loving the Kenyan fashion culture right now! There is boldness and sophistication merged with traditional fabrics and prints. There is some really innovative thinking in the Kenyan fashion scene, but everything is deeply rooted in our cultural heritage. It’s electric! I am looking forward to seeing where it all goes.
GT: I fully agree! There some very cool developments I am eager to see blossom! Now, let’s talk about the thinking behind your collection. Tell me, why did you choose tie-dye? Is there a link to the traditions as well?
KT: Why tie-dye? Well, why not! Tie-dye is forever! There is a long history of tie-dye in Africa, long before the hippie times. For centuries, African artists have used the tie-dye technique to produce vivid fabrics, and many of the symbols you’d see in the African tie-dye come from various cultures in Africa.
Exactly at the time I was starting my business, I found this amazing organization called RefuSHE. It’s an organization dedicated to empowering refugees in Kenya, specifically orphaned girls and young women; they are really serious about providing not just a shelter but also economic and leadership opportunities to the girls, who are most like to become invisible and forgotten. Have you seen the scarves from their artisanal program!? These scarfs are exactly what I LOVE in tie-dye. So, I made a decision to support RefuSHE and use the fabric lovingly made by these incredible women. I will forever be in love with the work that RefuSHE do! Together, we are on a very exciting conscious journey indeed!
GT: Talking about conscious business, you work with two tailors in a village. How did this come to be? Why did you go with village tailors?
KT: My two tailors come from rural areas outside of Diani. I found them be sheer luck! It took a lot of practicing and patience on all parties, but eventually these two gentlemen, who previously only made menswear, started enjoying the challenges of all types of designs. I actually just started with one, Salim, who is our master tailor. Now that we have grown, we have been able to take on his brother.
GT: Have you seen the so-called “ripple effect” of the two brothers being consistently employed by Kimani Collective? Are their communities changing because of your company?
KT: Being a conscious fashion business means keeping your practices ethical today and having a vision for the long term. Because these gentlemen are employed with good wages and reasonable working hours, they are able to actually live their lives with a little less worry, and the local economy definitely benefits. Many Kenyans have to balance a multitude of small jobs/hustles at the same time just to be able to feed their families and themselves; such balancing on the edge of poverty and hunger creates a lot of stress, and hinders talent and creativity. A lot of people are surprised that I am not using tailors from Nairobi, but I am proud to be part of the place I live, which includes supporting the people around me.
Photos courtesy Kimana Collective
GT: Working with two village tailors means each piece is unique and different and produced slowly, it’s the so-called slow fashion. What do you think about the slow fashion movement? In your view, it is the same/different as ethical fashion? Why do you think this movement is gaining so much interest in Africa out of all places? There is something to be said about mass production and mass employment vs. slow fashion? What’s your opinion?
KT: I feel that slow fashion, ethical, sustainable, conscious fashion are all under the same umbrella. All the concepts overlap in some way as designers and businesspeople are trying to be better in their practices. For example, we say we are conscious fashion – we are socially responsible, ethical and mindful in our practices. But this is not it -- our hope for the future is also to be more environmentally aware and friendly, which falls under sustainable fashion.
I think the slow-fashion movement is gaining so much interest in Africa because this continent is bursting with creativity, and it is FULL of talent. These are our African treasures, which should be appreciated and nurtured, not exploited for mass market. The current fashion trends in Africa are also very dissimilar to Asia in that here, it’s not easy to produce things cheaply. So in a way, you have to step back and say, “I want to do this but how do I do it right”.
When it comes to mass production and mass employment, if the production is excessive and it leads to waste and suffering of the employees then no, I don’t want that. But there is hope for the future. Look for example at SOKO Kenya – they are showing us how we can do things on a larger scale and still remain ethical, do more for the people working with us, and benefitting the communities around us. It gives me an aspiration and a something to think about for the future.
GT: Taking about aspiration, what do hope to achieve as a designer?
KT: I hope to show people that there are positive ways to address consumerism, I want to be an example of conscious fashion in Kenya. I am very proud to be Kenyan, and I want to be proudly showcasing all the incredible talent out there that should be appreciated.
GT: And what’s your hope for Kenya?
KT: My hope for my Kenya is that the future generations of young people will see that they are worth it, worth all of it -- great education, bright future, access to good affordable healthcare, etc. And I hope that they find the right voice and the right path to move forward to enjoying everything they are entitled to.
GT: I am with you on that! The new generations are worth it, and just like you I hope they will find their voice and the outlet for their many talents and creativity. Thank you very much foryour thoughts and time!
KT: Thank you too!