Founder and designer at Maisha Concept
As I grow older, I have this attachment to the saree which gives me a sense of identity. It brings a strong sense of connection to my mum that always fills me with warm, happy memories.
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
I’m third generation Kenyan of Indian origin. I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. I worked in the financial industry for around a decade. I left Kenya for Hong Kong around 13 years ago and worked in asset management until I decided to follow my dream and start my own business 7 years ago. That’s when Maisha Concept was launched.
My heart was always in design and social entrepreneurship. My family has been in the textile industry in Kenya for the last 80 years. Growing up surrounded by that entrepreneurial spirit, I always felt I had it in me to start something of my own. In Kenya, we never had high street stores or big shopping malls. I’d get a tailor to make items for me from local Kenyan fabrics.
While living in Hong Kong, I realised there’s a lot of appreciation for other cultures, with fashion being at the forefront. While I didn’t have a traditional design background, I believe I’m fortunate to have an eye for design. From the encouragement of my friends and family, I decided to launch Maisha.
Maisha means “giving life” in Swahili. It was launched to create awareness of various cultures and traditions across the globe through textiles and fashion. I started by sourcing fabrics from different parts of Africa and creating small, bespoke collections working with artisans across Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia. I branched out to partner with artisans in India, allowing me to forge stronger bonds with my roots.
I travel extensively to different destinations around Africa and India, and familiarise myself with the cultures and traditions, to design a collection that truly and authentically represents its origins. We assist these communities of artisans by creating jobs and opportunities for work and growth, as well as improving their standard of living and confidence in their skills. Every collection is handcrafted by our artisans using traditional methods to create contemporary pieces.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
I’ve been living in Singapore for the last 3.5 years. From the time we got here, Maisha has received a positive and warm welcome. As a brand, we strongly showcase through social media who made our clothes, how they are made and where they are made. We’re a transparent brand and we take our consumers right to the source. We’re proud to bring awareness of what the slow “artisan-made” fashion and lifestyle is all about.
Through those journeys, we have a fond appreciation and love from our audience here of what traditional age-old craft is. It’s been amazing to see the response from our consumers.
In Singapore, we’ve had the honour to speak on many panel conversations with organisations like the United Nations and Fashion Revolution. It’s nice to see the impact that Maisha has made on consumers here in terms of sustainability and ethics. It’s incredible and touching to see local influencers and role models in various industries sporting a brand like Maisha, be it for a big work event or an evening out.
What does 2022 look like for you?
2022 is going to be a huge year for us. We’re opening our first Maisha Concept Atelier, where clients can come to our showroom (by appointment only) to see, touch and try on the clothes, as well as shop an extensive range of homeware items. We’ll bring in limited edition artisan-made products which I’m extremely excited about. The space will also be used to bring a range of creatives in Singapore together to do workshops and inspiring talks.
We’ll finally go to our workshops in India and Kenya after 2 very long years, and I’m very excited to be reunited with our artisans and teams. We’re working on new textile art that I can’t wait to showcase. We hope to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of our artisans and create more awareness of their skills and celebrate age-old craft.
What do you love most about Singapore?
There are so many things I love about Singapore, but here are my top three.
Aside from the fact that I love its summer weather all year round, it’s also an incredibly green city. Singapore is definitely “a city in a garden”, from the beautiful supertrees to roadside sentinels. I love the fact that Singapore is always working hard toward being as environmentally friendly as possible.
I also love how multicultural it is. You’ll find temples, mosques and churches located within walking distance from each other. Cultural and religious festivals are proudly celebrated all year round, and it’s nice to feast on a variety of cuisines.
Singapore is incredibly safe. It’s so liberating to walk on the streets at any time, and as a mother of two young girls, it’s comforting to know the safety and security the city provides.
What’s the one thing you’d wear for the rest of your life?
For me, it has to be a saree. Growing up in Kenya, a saree was always occasion wear: for Diwali or weddings. However, it was a staple item in my mother’s daily wardrobe. I’d watch her drape a saree so quickly first thing in the morning and wear it elegantly all day long.
After my mother passed away, I was left with so many of her sarees but no clue how to drape them. As I grow older, I have this attachment to the saree which gives me a sense of identity. It brings a strong sense of connection to my mum that always fills me with warm, happy memories.
The more I see women rock sarees daily, the more I want to reclaim that connection and move it from occasion wear to day-to-day clothes styled beyond their conventions. For me, it’s more than just six yards of cloth — it’s an identity that will forever be a big part of my wardrobe.
Who is your Local Legend, and why?
When I moved to Singapore, I was intrigued by the wall art that I saw in various corners of the city. One artist that stood out for me is Yip Yew Chong. His art showcases old Singapore – lost scenes or scenes nearing extinction. Through his work, he preserves Singapore’s natural and cultural heritage, memories and the past, which is so special to see.
Through his art, you can see how far Singapore has progressed, and it helps me educate my daughters about how life used to be. His art brings me so much joy and I cherish the fond memories of my younger days growing up in Kenya in a joint family, where life was slower and much more simple.