What started as a casual chat between strangers about a Tote bag, had, within a year, turned into a fully-fledged fashion label, complete with eye-catching photoshoots, lookbooks, and live shows. Muqaddam Latin and Keith Macharia, founders of M + K Nairobi, work together with local artisans in Kenya, and make beautifully unusual designs that explore “ease, adaptability and modern femininity.”
When Keith and Muqaddam met by chance in a Nairobi patisserie, they bonded over Muqaddam’s bag which featured a picture of an Austrian queen. They came from very different worlds – Keith was a globe-trotting art history graduate and former drama student who’d spent time living in New York and Hong Kong, while Muqaddam was a newly-graduated intern with a fashion degree.
But they shared a strong love for style, a readiness to start something new and an interest in the different layers of the modern fashion industry. As Keith previously said in an interview, “Fashion is not just tailoring. You’re thinking about concepts and ideas… you’re using so many parts of your brain.”
Since the start of their collaboration, a key part of the duo’s approach has been working with local craftspeople. Their newest work, inspired by nature and the rich tones of the earth and sky, is made together with Kenyan embroiderers, hand-beaders and leather workers. Some of the pieces are practical – like a casual, sleeveless shirt with wooden buttons – while others feel like delicate works of art, but everything is carefully-crafted.
Muqaddam explains that new pieces start out in brainstorming sessions, jumping off from materials, shapes and colors they like and then letting their minds run wild to build and develop their concepts.
The designs combine tough and soft elements. Loose fabrics alternate with sturdy leathers, and androgynous vests are decorated with colorful, detailed hummingbirds. The attention-to-detail makes each garment unique, and everything feels much more special than the mass-produced clothing we are used to.
The fashion scene in Nairobi, the pair explain, still has some room to develop. “It’s a bit of a bubble because a lot of Kenyans don’t buy local fashion,” Keith explains. “There’s a huge second-hand culture, so buying brand new Kenyan clothes is not really a thing.”
“I think most fashion designers here rely on a small base that comes back to them again and again,” he adds.
That being said, the artists are optimistic about the future. They’re thinking of expanding into a men’s collection, as well as designing pieces that appeal to both the international and local markets. “Kenyan woman like to dress in a certain way,” Keith says, “so we are trying to figure out how we can adapt our designs to make them more pleasing to the market over here.
“There’s the woman in your head, but it has to marry with a real life woman who is conservative in certain ways and more open in others. We are still trying to find out who our woman is.”