New fashion trends are emerging in Africa every day. The best of which can be seen in Kenya. Modern and traditional fashion in Kenya is similar to other countries, but they have recreated everything in their own unique way. The fashion scene in Kenya is changing the way we look at the African fashion industry.
Kenyan fashion is influenced by American and other global trends. It has been changed by Kenyans to fit their culture. You will see major tribes in Kenya wearing khanga, red-checked Shuka clothing (Maasai blankets), and more. These outfits are adorned with neckpieces, earrings, and bracelets.
Some Interesting Kenya Fashion Statistics
- Revenue from fashion will reach US$ 1,416.00 million in 2022.
- In the Fashion segment, the number of users will amount to 21.5 million by 2025.
- Revenue will show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2022-2025) of 4.78%, resulting in a projected market volume of US$ 1,629.00 million by 2025.
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How Major Tribes in Kenya Embrace Their Fashion?
Kenyans have always taken pride in their history, culture, and tradition. And they have worn their pride for over a century now. Want to know about the population of tribes in Kenya? Kikuyus make up 8.14 million and are one of the richest tribes in Kenya. Looking for the tribes of Kenya list? Let’s take a look at the fashions and crafts of the 5 most popular and major tribes in Kenya that made way for modern traditions.
1. Maasai Fashions
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya
The Maasai is one of the major tribes in Kenya. Maasai fashion is well-known for its distinctive Maasai clothes and beaded jewelry. The colors of the beaded jewelry worn by many Maasai subgroups can be used to identify them. One of Kenya’s and the Maasai people’s most recognized symbols is the Maasai blanket known as the “red shuka cloth.” It is mostly red in color and made of durable thread for harsh weather.
Image credit – answersafrica
They are known for their decorative beaded jewelry as well as headbands, wrist and ankle bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and earrings. They are also known as the richest community in Kenya.
2. Fashions of the Ogiek
The Mau and Elgon forests are home to the Ogiek, one of the major tribes in Kenya. They are known to be beekeepers and farmers but also amazing artists who create clothing and jewels. The men made their own prestigious wild animal skins, dressed in them, and adorned themselves with plumes, while the women typically engaged in this type of leisure activity.
Capes, coats, and caps made of monkey skin, blue duiker, hyrax, and more were used by men and women both when they went to the forest and especially by men when they went hunting and gathering.
3. Dress like the Butterfly People – Samburu
Image credit – kenyacradle
Samburu of Kenya are referred to as “The Butterfly People” worldwide due to their stunning vibrant jewels, clothing, and hairstyles. Being one of the major tribes in Kenya, animal skin, beads, shells, and brass are used to create their clothing and jewels.
Men use red ochre to color their hair. Warriors (Morans) wear more vibrant clothing than other members of the community and keep their long hair in braids. The women adorn themselves with colorful necklaces made of beads as well as other antique jewelry.
4. Njemps Craftsmanship & Fashions
Image credit – opera
Other Maa-speaking people and the Njemps – one of the major tribes in Kenya share a variety of cultural features, notably in terms of clothing. Leather, beads, brass, and copper are used to create clothing and jewels. Members of the community wear many attires and jewels to signify status.
Married women wear a pair of leather-bound bead earrings (Oichonyi Onkiya) on each earlobe. Olekesena, a special form of a skirt, was crafted from goat (or cow) skin and adorned with beads. Women wore it. A cowhide sandal (Nkamuka) has two soles and decorative coils of cowhide on the straps. Everyone wore these, which were made by men.
5. Pokot Crafts & Fashions
Image credit – Roberts Safaris
A Kalenjin subgroup known for their vibrant headdresses and beadwork is the Pokot. It is also one of the largest communities in Kenya. Here, we’ll look at some of the Pokots’ distinctive traditional clothing. A young Pokot warrior shows his status by donning a headdress made of ostrich feathers and black fur after becoming an adult.
A married Pokot woman wears multiple strands of beaded necklaces and metallic earrings. Her earrings are attached to hair clips with a beaded string and decorated with bells that signify her status and the number of children she has. The groom performed jumping dances while wearing a leopard skin cape during a wedding.
Image credit – Roberts Safaris.
They used a comb made of ostrich feathers to style hair and it was adorned on the head by young men who wore mud-pack hairstyles. During traditional ceremonies, men wear ceremonial hats as well.
How many tribes do we have in Kenya? There are more than 42 tribes in Kenya.
Why do major tribes in Kenya use body marks and makeup?
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya.
Body markings are a crucial part of Kenyan culture, history, and traditions. Body markings, both temporary and permanent feature messages about identity and social status. They focus on the roles of these tribes in society, politics, and religion. Body markings were known as wearing your identity card on your face in some traditional African tribes. It has served as a badge of honor and remains a vital element in some places today.
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya
The most common temporary body markings were henna, charcoal, and ochre paintings. They applied ochre to warriors’ hair or as decorative markings during celebrations. For body decorations, ochre was combined with water, and for hair, it was combined with animal fat. Body marks that set someone apart from others were used, just like on Samburu warriors. Every group used body markings to identify members by gender, social status, family, clan, and beauty or strength.
Girls wore body markings to express their beauty and mark life stages like marriage. Like when a Kikuyu bride is prepared to take on a new, high social status.
In order to control the shape of the scar tissue on different parts of the body, scarification is the practice of incising the skin with a sharp object, such as a knife, glass, stone, or coconut shell. Under her eyes, a Pokot woman has markings. Permanent marks like scars were valued both for their aesthetic appeal and as proof that women could withstand childbirth. On a warrior’s chest, you could see raised scars. Scarification patterns on sculptures serve as family identifiers and, in some cases, as a form of protection against evil.
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya.
Henna body art is still practiced today. It is used at events like weddings and the Maulidi festival. In the sculptures that are on display in some museums all over the world, permanent body markings like scarification are made.
What does traditional Kenyan dressing symbolize?
In Africa, clothing not only provides protection from the weather but reveals details about the wearer, such as their age, community, gender, and marital status. Foreign influences can be seen in fashion African dresses and clothing, but major tribes in Kenya and even modern designers still retain traditional styles.
An elderly Tugen man used to dress in a robe and a headdress, making his position in society clear. The Rift Valley of Kenya was home to the Tugen people. An old Kikuyu man used to dress in a manner that denoted his wealth. The Kikuyu people have been living in central Kenya.
Image credit – Alamy.
A special attire worn by the Pokomo chief denoted his position as a social leader. Traditional African clothing was mostly made of animal skin. Cowhide, which was used often, was made into cloaks, aprons, and skirts. The Maasai used the lion’s mane as headgear to identify a warrior who had killed a lion at some point in their lifetime.
Today, many old Kamba men dress in modern clothes with traditional patterns. In the past, Kamba men used to pierce and extend their earlobes.
Do you know what united these major tribes in Kenya?
The Kanga (Leso) has a deep cultural, historical, and economic meaning. It is one of the most popular cultural items in East Africa for more than 100 years. The Kanga is a symbol of unity in Kenya that unites people of all ages, genders, rich and poor, locals and foreigners, in the vibrant world of its design.
Because of its design, the Kanga can be identified from other textiles in Kenya and Africa. A patterned border (Pindo) surrounds a central motif (Mji) and a Swahili proverb or phrase in its basic design (Jina). The printed cloth is rectangular in shape and is about 110 cm wide and 150 cm long. The Kanga’s vibrant prints are divided into flora, fauna, and other patterns.
Kangas were made in Europe and India in the early days. British, American, Dutch, and Japanese imported cloth continued to rule the market in the 20th century. But Kenyan textile mills were built in the 1970s, and Tanzania became one of the biggest producers of the kanga in 1985. Today, Kenya, Tanzania, Oman, India, and Pakistan are the countries that produce kangas. And China is the biggest producer.
The kanga is still very popular today and can be bought in many Kenyan markets, as well as in big cities and small towns in Europe, Asia, and the US. Because cotton is so expensive in Africa, it has managed to survive and is now printed on materials other than cotton. The traditional soft cotton clothes from Kenya in a variety of colors, patterns, and styles continue to be the most sought-after Kangas.
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya
The Kanga’s images and inscribed Swahili texts are used to convey social, political, and religious messages and more. The first proverbs were written in Arabic script, which was replaced by Swahili. Swahili women use them to convey private messages to their friends, husbands, and families. Kangas are printed and used as campaign tools for religious messages like Eid al-Fitr and Christmas, for bringing attention to various issues like HIV/AIDS and more. Kanga plays a vital role in the life stages of major tribes in Kenya like birth, weddings, and funerals.
A Kanga is given to the newborn’s mother and a grandmother among the Kikuyu tribe. In order to bestow prosperity, strength, and beauty as a symbol of the parent’s love, the baby may also be wrapped in an uncut and stitched pair of Kangas. Several Kangas are laid out on the floor during weddings so that the bride can walk on them as she leaves the house. She won’t get dirty this way. The Kanga is used in modern society as costumes for church events and school music and drama festivals.
5 Modern Fashion Designers Influenced by the Tribes in Kenya
Fashion and design in Kenya have come a long way. Today, top designers contribute to the fashion industry with everything from contemporary to African designs, ready-to-wear to couture lines. The fashion industry in Kenya has a bright future. Here are the top 5 fashion designers that are influenced by the tribes in Kenya.
1. Sally Karago
Sally is one of the fashion pioneers and takes inspiration from major tribes in Kenya. She was the first to include the Maasai fleece blanket and Kikoi fabric in her designs with a “Made in Kenya store by a Kenyan”. In 2009, she founded the Mcensal Fashion School (one of the best fashion schools in Kenya) to teach fashion, and in 2014, she added the SK Collection ready-to-wear line to her portfolio.
She has received many awards in the fashion world, including the Mnet Face of Africa competition in 1996 and the Smirnoff Awards Kenya in 1993. She currently serves as the chair of the Association of Fashion Designers Kenya. They started the annual Safari Fashion Week and the TV show – Safari Fashion Runway competition. She has taken part in runway events all over the world like Africa Fashion Week in New York.
2. Ann McCreath
Image credit – linkedin
Ann came, she saw, and she conquered the fashion industry! She is the founder of the Kikoromeo brand which means ‘Adam’s Apple’ in Swahili. Inspired by major tribes in Kenya and their culture, she uses prints and patterns to design clothes for men and women.
She founded the Festival of African Fashion & Arts (FAFA) in 2008, a fashion-based initiative with the motto “Fashion for Peace.” She currently serves as Fashion Revolution Day’s Kenya coordinator. She was recently listed by Arise Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Women Influencing Africa.”
3. Evelyne Adongo
Image credit – nairobifashionhub
Evelyne is one of the top fashion designers in Kenya. She is the co-founder and creative director of MEFA Creation. She began her journey in 2002, and since then, the popularity of her designs has exploded in the national and global markets.
She makes African-inspired designs that exude class and diversity. She was one of the designers to present her line during President Barack Obama’s 2015 trip to Kenya. Margret Kenyatta, the first lady of the Republic of Kenya has worn her designs as well.
4. Patricia Mbela
Image credit – Simon Deiner / SDR Photo
In Kenya’s fashion scene, Patricia Mbela is a household name. Poisa, her brand creates jewelry and knitwear as well as lines for both men and women. She likes to refer to her creations as “Wearable Art,” with a strong focus on designs inspired by major tribes in Kenya and they have been displayed all over the world.
The Kenya Airways Millennium uniform design is her most well-known creation. She received many honors like the Top Kenyan Fashion and Jewelry Designer award at the 2014 Kenyan Fashion Week. Amina Mohammed, a radio and TV anchor, and the well-known afro musicians Yemi Alade and Seyi Shay, are just a few of the big names who have worn her creations.
5. John Kaveke
John started out by creating designs for men, but he has since added designs for women to his lines. He uses materials like leather, cotton, beads, linen, silk, and more to show how his designs are a delicate fusion of both African and Western cultures.
His work has been shown on local and global stages, such as the International Smirnoff Fashion Awards, Swahili Fashion Week in Tanzania, Catwalk Kenya, and M-Net Face of Africa in Nigeria. In 2017, he showcased at the New York Fashion Week as well.
Where to Stay in Msambweni near Mombasa to Explore the Fashion of Tribes in Kenya?
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Looking for hotels in Ukunda? This beach hotel is only a 30-minute drive from Ukunda Airstrip and a 2-hour drive from Mombasa. A visit to our serene property can be perfectly combined with your safaris from Mombasa or Msambweni (where you can meet major tribes in Kenya and discover their fashion) or you can simply come to stay with us for a week or so to relax by the Indian Ocean.
This Kenya beach house offers three master suites, a romantic ocean suite, and three private villas for exclusive use, each with a pool, a private chef, and panoramic views of the ocean. Enjoy pre-dinner drinks here while listening to the surf crashing below as the winding jetty comes to a wonderful sundowner setting on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean! Dining at Villa MB by Xanadu Collection is an absolute treat, and your stay is all-inclusive as well.
The staff has been trained by a celebrity Belgian chef and you will enjoy seafood, Swahili dishes, and Belgian and French cuisine. Dine by the pool or by the beach under the stars. You can enjoy mountain biking, private beach picnics, and beach BBQs as part of the experience, and you’ll even get a relaxing massage when you get there! Looking for more adventures in Kenya? Outdoor activities like snorkeling, fishing, kitesurfing, motorized water sports in Diani (Mombasa south coast), and even a picnic with elephants and antelope in the nearby Shimba Hills can be arranged.
The Evolution of Modern Fashion & Tribes in Kenya
Fashion trends in Kenya is constantly evolving. People in Kenya enjoy wearing both modern and traditional attires. Kenyans adorn their attires with jewelry as well to make them more appealing. The impact of modern fashion combined with traditional Kenyan style gets results that are unique from the rest of the world. In order to preserve their culture, modern Kenyans and major tribes in Kenya promote more traditional clothes like Kitenge, Khanga, and Shuka.
Men and women in Mombasa and Kenya prefer slim-fit clothes like shirts, pants, dresses, and more. Pencil skirts are a current trend for women in Kenyan fashion. The trendy buzzword “athleisure” combines casual clothing with activewear. It is popular all over the world and has become a fashion staple in Mombasa and Kenya.
Fashion is often used for political and social messages in the country. There have been past campaigns to promote peace and awareness. We can look at some of the current fashion trends at any given time to know the political and social scene of Kenya.
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