Fashion

Kenyan siblings Oliver Asike and Velma Rossa spent much of their childhood searching through flea markets, sourcing clothing to recycle and repurpose with their mum. Engrained from a young age, this sustainable approach to fashion was later released in 2manysiblings, a popular blog founded by the duo in 2015 documenting Nairobi street style alongside their own thrift shop finds. The concept later morphed into ‘Thrift Social’, a marketplace-style fashion festival, which enables the selling of repurposed clothing, accessories and one-of-a-kind previously-thrifted pieces.

Expounding these ideas of sustainability, Asike has since taken this commitment to a further level under the umbrella of his own brand, Vitimbi. Inspired by his Kenyan background and the nascent creative scene currently bubbling in the country, this new venture also celebrates the idea of reusing and recycling. With slow fashion being a key pillar, Asike’s latest collection – titled Mali Safi: literally meaning slow fashion in Swahili – hones in on working-class communities through upcycling second-hand clothing to create anew. 

“Our concept is basically upcycling one-of-one garments, which we get from the flea market, and a limited range of premium basics.”

Amira Arasteh: When did your fashion journey begin?
Oliver Asike: When I was really young, my mum was my biggest inspiration – she used to take us to all these flea markets in Nairobi and she would buy all our clothes from there.

AA: And that aspect of sustainable fashion is now key to your own design work?
OA: Very. I’ve been grateful to combine it with my work in the industry. For me, it’s something I’ve been involved in – even subconsciously – from a young age. Through my mum, repurposing clothes into something ‘new’ was always a part of my life. Fashion has a big effect on the environment – second only to oil – so I think it is important for each person working in the industry to be conscious of what they’re doing and how it affects the planet. We only have one world. I feel like slow fashion has to be the future.

AA: How do you think your desire to be sustainable influences production and output?
OA: It is a conundrum of some sort, certainly. As much as we want to scale the brand, we also have to think about our responsibility to the planet, as a slow fashion brand and at same time existing as a business. Vitimbi has two capsule collections a year, only making made-to-order pieces in-between. Our concept is basically upcycling one-of-one garments, which we get from the flea market, and a limited range of premium basics. We source our fabric from deadstock, so fabric that will otherwise be discarded, from the “Export Zone” in Kenya. This is actually where a lot of international fashion brands produce and manufacture their collections.

Vitimbi SS20 / 'Mali Safi'

“Fashion has a big effect on the environment – second only to oil – so I think it is important for each person working in the industry to be conscious of what they’re doing and how it affects the planet.”

AA: Lots of brands are picking up on sustainability now yet it can sometimes be treated as a trend, I suppose that’s good as long as the word is being spread?
OA: Honestly, I think it’s good. It’s a great awakening that everyone is turning their attention towards the issue. It isn’t common for streetwear brands to take a sustainable approach, in the current fashion environment, you buy something today and get a new version next week. I think it’s great that it is a topic we all understand now. It’s something that should be built on. Every brand should have a sustainability clause or ethos in what they’re doing.

AA: Even if every brand does a little, it’ll help.
OA: It helps but a bigger responsibility is needed to be taken by fast fashion brands. I feel like this is a challenge as once a brand goes sustainable, there is less profit.

AA: So if I were to ask you what your advice would be for aspiring designers or stylists, would you say sustainability has to be at the forefront of their ethos? 
OA: Yes, I think that the most important thing for any designer is to be true to the cause and address that challenge. Especially when you think about what is sustainability. Is it sustainable to make a collection with 10,000 pieces? So we do a lot of work with flea markets and repurpose old clothes. We are really trying to improve the situation by actually doing what we preach.

Vitimbi SS20 / 'Mali Safi'

AA: Which designers do you look up to?
OA: Craig Green. I just love his artistic approach to collections, they almost look like art pieces. His whole vibe is really amazing. Samuel Ross from A-Cold-Wall* is very dope. Also, I love taking inspiration from African style.

AA: So is it important to you to remain close to home, is that always going to visible in your work?
OA: Yes, it’s always going to be from Kenya or Africa to the world. Portraying my African, Kenyan roots to the world is key.

AA: Could you tell me more about the Kenyan fashion scene in general?
OA: The Kenyan fashion scene is at a stage of renaissance and I would say the fashion community has grown expeditiously. So many young fashion designers, stylists, photographers and other creatives are building careers doing what they love.

AA: You mentioned your mother was a great source of inspiration for you but how has the country inspired your brand, as well as your own aesthetic?
OA: My background and passion lie in styling – this is before I tried my hand at designing. Nairobi, where I was born and raised, still remains a major inspiration to me. All the tones and colours are beautiful and, most importantly, the “Gikomba “ flea market is a source of inspiration to me and the home of Thrift Social Nairobi.

Follow Vitimbi on Instagram.