Interview: Katungulu Mwendwa

Katungulu Mwendwa‘s journey has lead her around the world and back home to Kenya, where she is now one of the country’s most prominent young designers.  Katungulu is among a select group at the forefront of innovative African fashion, and has showcased her collections at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and in Nairobi in 2013.  FA254’s Richard Ensor caught up with Katungulu for a quick chat about her passion for designing; you can read FA254’s full profile on Katungulu Mwendwa here.

Katungulu Mwendwa1How did you get into the fashion industry?  What made you want to become a designer?

Growing up I was always preoccupied with making things with my hands, from experimenting with painting, weaving, beading and, to my mother’s disapproval, pulling apart her dresses and reconstructing them. We spent many weekends and holidays with my late grandmother and she worked with women’s groups to make all sorts of wonderful things like baskets, necklaces and pots.  

By the time I got into my O-Levels I found that I really wanted to be a fashion designer, I saw fashion as art, a way that would allow me to experiment with different media and techniques. It was the ultimate art. After school I decided to take a gap year to do a little growing up, it began to feel like I was a little bit too much of a dreamer. Despite knowing I loved fashion, fear kicked in and I realised I needed to do something with my life that could earn me a living as well. 

Fashion design is one of those things many people in Kenya are quite skeptical of.  It felt like I was expected to grow up and become a doctor or a lawyer. At this point I was seriously considering becoming a lawyer, then an architect and then maybe a graphic designer and part time singer (I really also love music). Weirdly enough, like a sign from God amongst all my confusion, I won a fashion designing competition, and from there on there was no turning back. I went to school and graduated with a BA in Fashion Design, and here I am making this happen.

Since the beginning of your time in the industry, have you seen attitudes towards African fashion change?

Yes! Although I haven’t been in the industry for long, I feel like people are now more willing, or actively choosing to wear, African fashion than before, both at home and abroad, probably in their attempts to identify with Africa. 

Locally, people were more accustomed to wearing African fashion to traditional functions and festivals such as weddings etc. and even then they tended to come from a more mature generation. Now it’s common to come across people from different generations and races wearing African fashion in more casual everyday settings.

I think as designers, we are still cultivating the concept of African Design, this is evident in all modern African design, which has and continues to evolve into something fresh and exciting.  It’s something that caters for all aspects of modern African life and so I know the attitudes towards it will continue to change. At some point African Design as a whole may also become the standard.

BannerYou describe what you do as ‘Luxury Womenswear’, what does the word luxury mean to you?  

Making clothing can be very straight forward and basic, we generally wear clothing to be acceptably “decent” and appropriate for whatever role or environment required.

I take time to resolve and develop concepts for my collections, putting a lot of effort and thought into it, making sure that it is both comfortable and beautiful, that it uses great fabrics, has little details and finishings that are consciously decided upon to best suit and compliment each piece, and most importantly that it is manufactured well and ethically. I feel that luxury, despite not being necessary, is the little extra added value to life. 

Where do you want to take your work and your brand in the future?  

Into lifestyle. I feel like the various design concepts I have are adaptable in many design fields such as household goods and so on. I therefore see my brand expanding at some point.


Katungulu Mwendwa‘s 2013 collection