All posts by Nkatha

Embracing Seasons

There’s something to be said of coming into your own… It’s literally waking up one day with this grand epiphany… “You are Awesome!” Though it’s been ages since I blogged, it feels like riding a bike… You fall off, dust yourself off, get back on that saddle and start cycling. It’s also a crazy balancing act! I have certainly faced major challenges to get to this point, of self love… of embracing my craft… of deciding to do ME really.

After years of waiting on a cookie cutter life, it occurred to me that we’re all on different journeys – some more eventful than others… Some seemingly more glamorous… and others rather mundane… My Craft and my passion for fashion supersede my desire for that Picket Fence that is too often lathered over. This is my season of embracing the path I chose those may years ago… The path of creating beauty, working with textiles, colours, motifs, shapes, sizes, patterns, textures, cuts… endless possibilities.

And as always, May Jesus take the Wheel.



I remember as a child watching mesmerized as my mother stitched anything by hand, “It is called a Backstich”; “a running stitch”; “a chain stitch”, she would answer, when I proded.. She was so consistent, every stitch was identical to the one before. So patient, swift and accurate, I wondered if I would ever sew like that. At the time, I imagined that she was just doing her motherly duties, stitching, sewing, cleaning, disciplining.

My mother wore many hats, she ran a knitting business and supplied the whole town with beautiful knitted sweaters, she didn’t sew much because it wasn’t her core business- that was keeping chicken which people came to buy from far and wide.. Still, that was not all, she taught in Secondary Schools far far away, at the time she didn’t tell us how far, and even if she did, we simply couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of her hard work. She taught in Isinya (a small town a few kilometers shy of Namanga) from where she commuted to our home in Athi River on a daily basis! Previously, she had taught in Machakos and even in Taita Hills… WOW! I know this now, and yet here I am thinking I am a hard worker?!

My mother is a H.A.R.D Worker! She taught us to work work work! A virtue I am forever grateful to her for, infact I may have inherited the trait. To date she still keeps chicken for sale, I have watched her slaughter hundreds of them on order and fifteen minutes later be ready to host a party of fifty or to head out for a social visit! Call it multitasking, but I think it’s simply admirable, for many a time I have grown wary from my much fewer obligations. I wonder how she does it? I remember still how she kept a ‘shamba garden’ in our backyard, sooo industrious.

Today in our desperate attempts to keep up the facade of a young modern generation, few of us own compounds (albeit by default, as landlords maximise on quarter acres barely remembering to spare some parking space). I dare say, even fewer will keep shamba gardens in our small front lawns when we do eventually acquire that coveted quarter acre. I hope I shall recall the lessons from watching my mother, that industry is not wasted, it may not return in cash, but certainly in kind…

We still occasionally run into students my mother taught, they recall her with such fondness, rather than reverence. I am often surprised, for my mother- the teacher was always revered growing up. As an adult I now see more of the compassionate teacher, the listener, the caregiver and the one who empathizes with me after a tough day’s work. More than anyone, she knows my pain, my determination to defy the challenges and limitations of being in a difficult business. I am glad I can call her for encouragement, she scolds me back to reality; and it works!

I remember once, she gifted me a T-Shirt branded by one of her suppliers, she is such a cheerful giver- oblivious of what It may mean for a Teenager to wear a T-shirt branded “Chicken Feeds”. Once I wore it to a swimming competition. Between heats, a girl haughty with pompous pride (u know those), came up to me in the changing rooms and tapped me on the back. “So.. arr.. is Chicken Feeds.. arrr… lyyk… the School You go to?” What?!!! How dare you? I wanted to respond with “I come from a loooong long line of Kenya High School girls and I have my mother to thank for that!” But, as humility is a rare disposition and a strong weapon in the face of bullies, I gave her the eye… Another lesson from my mother.

And with that, may you face your challengers will sturdy humility and silent pride, knowing your worth and holding firmly to the belief that your blessing will come… may be not in cash, but in kind and the many favours of God. Thanks MUM, may you continue to be blessed and highly favoured.


The other day while visiting with family, I challenged my father  and mother to allow me to drive the car, he and mum agreed, on condition that daddy directed me as I attempted to back up the complex drive way. It was a daunting task, made all the more difficult because my father made sure I backed up out of the whole driveway and back in (all in reverse), before I packed the car to allow another vehicle to exit. Anyone who is still  a “LEARNER” (with a seven year old driver’s license and four hours in accumulated driving experience) will understand. Now before you imagine that I ran over a few cats and drove over the flower bed, pomp your imaginative breaks! I hacked it, but it certainly reminded me why I prefer to sit in the passenger’s seat.

One day, not too long ago, my father sent me a friend request- three or four so years ago to be exact… I mean, what was I to do, I certainly wasn’t going to ignore…may be I just needed to edit my Privacy Settings, and who could see what… u know, that kind of thing anyone in my shoes would do. Many updates and posted links to my wall later and my daddy still remains my Best Friend and biggest Fan (and I hope he knows I feel the same about him too). My father, like me, loves to question, to think widely, has an open mind and an adventurous spirit. It is plain to say that I love him very much!

As a child, my fondest and oldest memory of his first lessons was on how to ride a bike. I remember that he took the training wheels off the rear wheel and drove me to a nearby football field, bicycle in tow, and there he set me out on a ride to remember. Needless to say, I fell several times, I have the scars to show for it on my knees; my mother always assumed it was because I was an agile child. Yes, but there was a lot of motivation, my father encouraged us to play hard and read even harder. I remember the day I graduated with a First Class Honours in Design, trying to be modest I shied away from sharing the details on my wall. But along came my Father, May be I can find the post if I tried..

I am not writing this to gloat, just to acknowledge that my father’s efforts were not wasted. Today, my father or “Daddy” as I fondly call him, reads my every post and calls me when three days have passed, before my last update to Wall or Blog. Few fathers ever encourage their children to pursue a career in the Creative Industry, even less if their children happen to demonstrate strong Science and Math acumen. But my father was and still is among the few, so with his blessings, I have become a Professional Designer.

daddy mum n me

Every so often, we meet for a tête-à-tête, How’s business? How’s School? Where can I help? What have you eaten? Are you on track at work? I could go on.. but I know you get it. I value these conversations, they help me readjust my expectations and my evaluations about life. At the core of the message, he always stresses on remaining very positive and highly enthusiastic. Am glad to have a cheerleader in a father.

1. Stay Positive- be highly enthusiastic!

2. Work! But do not work yourself to the ground! Sleep 6 to 8 hours, eat every meal!

3. Thank the people who help you, thank them even if you have paid for the service.

4. Do not under any circumstance, allow anyone to take advantage of you, be cruel to you, or treat you like any less of a person! Because NOBODY is..!

5. Do not under rate yourself. “Charge a Premium Fee!”

6. And on a much lighter note, “Fake it till you make It” In a related story, while on vacation in Mombasa, I must have been four or six, my father was soo determined to prove that he could swim so he kept swinging his arms above the water, but moving quite slowly… I dipped my head under the water only to discover his feet on the pool floor – he was walking… but determined to appear to be swimming!

So on that note, I shall keep walking until I can cross the ocean- or at least a lake. I Love My Daddy! May the Lord add you many many more years that you may live to be a blessing to the next generation.

PS: Mum’s post is coming soon…

All New Funky EarthnVanilla

When I first set out to brand myself and my work, It was always an uphill task to explain to people, what this Earth huddled together with some Vanilla was all about… Indeed I too sometimes wonder what the **** I was thinking, then this collection happened, and I felt that truly the spirit of EarthnVanilla had finally arrived.

What’s the story? Earth is for the frequent use of earthy materials to accessorise my line, while Vanilla is the flavour, the tastefulness, the crisp clean feel and look of the finish. Here are some pieces from my most recent collection “Earthy Flavours”. Cow Horns and bones featured widely in my collection, with brass, wood and glass accents. Other earthy materials like Mother of Pearl and ostrich egg shells also made for beautiful complimentary additions.

In Search of HE(ART) PT II

The brief: Biomimicry

The result: Furniture and Furnishings

The Inspirations: The Zebra knee stripped Tarantula…

MA Design, SEM II Project: When the work of your hands and the product of your mind come together, this could very well be the result.

The Verdict: Sitting below left is the Founder and Head Designer at…. wait for it… RAMARA… So you be the judge of that.


In Search of HE(ART)…

On that rare ocassion when I find that I have some hours (even a day) to spare, I Love to go and see and discover…

Discover I did. On a recent trip to Mutchatha  a small town fifteen or so minutes away from Nairobi, I called up an artist I had met at an Artists’ Workshop sponsored by the Export Processing Council (EPC). He had mentioned that he and his two brothers worked from home in a workshop on Limuru Road. I have to say, I was humbled to find such talent in such humble aboard and challenged in turn to simplify my own life… that perhaps one day my means may meet my needs… I digress.

Tucked into the hills and valleys of rural-suburban living I met an artist of surprising repute, Willie Wamuti has painted for over ten years he says- since 1996! I had the pleasure of being allowed to view some of his pieces pre-installation, these scarp metal sculptures will be put up at the new phase of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. What an honour!

As he ushered me to his humble studio, which really was his Verandah outside his house, I was struck by what talent could lie beyond the hills, beyond the streets of Nairobi, beyond the less modest precincts of Nairobi. He explains to me that he was evicted from other studio spaces, not for failure of payments but because the Landlords never understood his craft… ‘It is the curse of the Artist’ I implode! But he is very happy and at peace here, he says he feels inspired and at ease. See some of his paintings here:

IMG_20140312_151707 IMG_20140312_151749

As an endnote, let me say that I one day hope to afford one of his paintings – Eyes Wide Open> But till then, kazi iendelee. I shall continue insearch of HE(ART)!


I think my earliest experience of having to light a traditional firewood jiko was when I was in Class 5, may be it may have been sooner, but it it hard to forget the experience, the date could be more or less, irrelevant. Back to the lighting of a jiko… Firewood had to be sourced from my grandfather’s farm a short trot away, but thankfully that had already been done for you. We would fetch splinters of wood from their vantage point outside the outdoor kitchen, arrange two or three nicely in the fire pit, and if there was a burning ember still remaining, you were lucky you could blow it till it lit up in flames.

I do recall that I could never seem to master the art of blowing the fire, I always seemed to end up with a cloud of ash in my face and worse, my “city-bred”eyes… to think that somebody somewhere would at this point burst out laughing. One man’s sorrow is another man’s humor…or something like that. Anyway, soon enough I discovered or learnt how to do it, thanks to my very patient grandmother.

You simply filled your mouth up with air like a balloon and ended up looking like this little guy,Wonder-62-Fish-Static-Image then blew out slowly though your nozzle-like-lips (like I said, it’s an art) and voila… the flame would come alive. Sparked by the burning embers of a previous fire, the flames would engulf the splinters of firewood and slowly form into a lasting fire enough to cook up a meal for atleast a couple of hours…

In much the same way, it is never easy to light up a fire for something you may need to start to keep you well fed, being passionate about a hobby is one thing… because it may be enjoyable and you can stop when you feel you have had enough. However, a Career is a whole different affair, it may blow up a cloud of ash and smoke in your face occasionally.  You may fail a couple of times before you get it- the secret… if there’s one. I do believe the secret is in keeping the embers of a previous fire burning, so that when you need to add a little more firewood, there’s still a couple of sparks left to get the fire back up again.


Sometimes the firewood has been fetched for you, and all you have to do is master the skill to blow into the fire pit, but when you are a sole fashionpreneur, you may often have to fetch the firewood yourself. This year I will face several challenges, I may have to source funding, build a small task force of extra hands and keep the clientele flowing in… this as I juggle the very demanding second semester MA Program. Sounds like the bitter taste of smoke and ash in my face just going over the agenda, but greater tasks have been accomplished.

So even as I struggle to start my engine back up again after the December break, I am blowing that fire till the flames light up again and cook up a storm to remember. That’s it for now folks! (PS: I must have been practicing that thing with the mouth!)


Chronicles of a Sole Fashionpreneur

It’s been said before and I shall stress the point, no man is an island. That having been said, there’s a cost to collaboration, outsourcing and cooperation. I certainly wish I could split myself in ten sometimes, the cost of course is a couple of sleepless nights and a migraine here or there. However, looking back after a stint of back to back sole fashionpreneurship, I often forget how crazy it’s been, until two days later, it all starts all over again. (I Should know better by now…)

Here are a few valuable lessons:

1. Always take advantage of those sleepless nights to get some planning done. For me, when the insomnia kicks in, I get my financial accounting book out and balance sheets until the mosquitoes stop buzzing n the sound of day trickles in…

2. Set realistic goals for your work flow and financials. God knows am still trying to reach them. There’s an ugly cost to not being on top of your costs and living expenses- it’s called bankruptcy n it happens to the best of us.

3. Remember you are competing with yourself first n for most, the fashion world is dynamic and fast paced. Often it feels like am a small player in an ocean size field with all sorts of predators; not to mention that there are those who have the resources (human n financial) to take off in a sprint. But am learning that I have the rest of my life to build my career and I should take it one step at a time, and at the right time, everything will fall into place.

4. Outsource n collaborate, it’s what the smart guys do to get by. After having to do a whole wedding party of ten all by myself in six weeks, I can tell you forthrightly that “sole” fashionpreneurship should not be taken literally. Find technical help you can trust, train and take them on. (SERIOUSLY)

5. Document your work. For a long time, I just gave my clients their outfits without taking pictures; trusting that when they went to their functions they would take  a couple and tag me. I always ask them to, so of course I imagine that they would, but they often forget.

As a career designer I rely on my work to build a portfolio for future opportunities (READ SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS). So now I just snap away on my Android Phone, camera ready or not. Some day soon *shuts eyes in prayer* I will have the resources to do an elaborate photoshoot, theme, make up, hot model n all, but until then.. this is a little of what I have done in the last couple of months…