Afrofanatic: One on One with Ziki, Nairobi's Wrap Star
We have all no doubt seen stunning, complicated head-wraps atop the heads of beautiful women and felt discouraged by our inability to successfully recreate those gorgeous styles. Ziki, creator of Afrofanatic (now available at the Kung'ara store), has specially designed and handmade one-size-fits-all head-wraps that take away all the fiddly stress of wrapping your own, while still allowing you the creativity to play around with the style as well as protecting your hair with the soft, non-abrasive satin lining. It really is as simple as placing the wrap on your head as you would a hat. We sat down with Ziki recently to unwrap her story and discover her inspirations, her goals and her methods behind this new and incredibly practical accessory that is causing a stir around Nairobi.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Ziki and I was born and raised in Nairobi. What I studied whilst at university (Computer Science) is light years away from what I'm doing now, however I still use some of the skills I learnt in my current business. I worked in the tech industry for a while but decided I wanted to do something more artistic, to explore the chance to work with my hands.
What was the inspiration behind Afrofanatic and when did it start?
Afrofanatic began in 2013. I've always had this deep appreciation and love for Afro culture, and for me the biggest embodiment of that was Ankara print and African printed fabric (originally known as Dutchwax). So Afrofanatic was me saying ‘I'm crazy about this culture, I'm crazy about our prints and all these amazing things we have - so why not dedicate my brand to making lovely contemporary Afro designs.’ That was the initial inspiration for it all. At the beginning it was fun I got to meet so many people and have some great experiences just with my Afro print designs. What ended up happening, however, was that the design space became quite saturated because everyone started doing African print this, African print that. So it became increasingly difficult to stand out as a brand.
I still maintained my total love and philosophy behind Afrofanatic, so while I was still trying to figure out how to make my brand different and distinctive - I cut my hair. I used to have long locs and everyone was shocked when I cut them. During that period of time figuring out how to manage and style my new short fro, I would watch head wrapping tutorials and observe how to keep it on straight and tight all day and all the technical things I needed to do to protect my hair. I was frustrated that there wasn't a simpler way to wear head-wraps and protect my new little 'fro at the same time.
Then I was rummaging through my things one day and found a pre-sown turban I had made but never worn and I began to wear it after many failed attempts to tie my own from scratch. From there I discovered it was really handy and began to develop a prototype, lined in satin and wore it around. Over time more and more people would ask about my head-wraps and began to request them. I thought I was just doing it for myself and making my own life easier but after a lot of interest was generated by a few people I began to think ‘hey maybe this is something I can use in my business and my brand’.
Since then I've taken my wraps to different fairs and things; the response has been pretty amazing, this is a thing people actually want and will use.
What other products do you make at Afrofanatic?
So we build our products around the concept of the Afro. We have our head-wraps, and we also have T-shirts with our graphic on the front that is a stylisation of the afro-comb. With the afro-comb comes all the symbology that it has carried through many centuries. Our second shirts are a punny twist on the term 'rap star'; if you wear a wrap you're a Wrap Star, these two words printed boldly on the shirt.
We also still have our regular apparel such as our pants (which people love) and our skants which are a cross between a skirt and pants. I am also trying not to make this space solely for women which is why I get excited when I see different men being interested in both the skants and the head-wraps. The whole idea of the brand is not only to embrace afro culture but also to disrupt some of the norms around what you can and can’t do, blurring the gender lines between what is meant for a girl and a guy and just allowing people to wear the styles they enjoy wearing within their cultural heritage. It’s clothes! You can wear it, I can wear it. It’s for everyone.
What is the future for Afrofanatic?
I just want to walk into a restaurant and find a guy and girl sitting side by side wearing my stuff, that would blow my mind. I also want to challenge certain narratives about what is ‘okay’ or ‘proper’ to do or not do as people of African heritage. I like that the head-wraps can stimulate discussion about natural hair and it’s place in the professional or corporate world, your hair is your hair! Wearing it out the way it grows on your head should never be something that causes such problematic responses. It’s amazing to see how much resistance there is to natural hair and afro-culture in certain spaces still in Africa. We should always be conscious of our knee-jerk reactions to things and wonder why we think that, and whether it’s really based on anything rational or if it’s just the way we’ve been taught to behave. I would love for the brand to be a champion for those types of causes and conversations.
Who would you ultimately love to see wearing one of your head-wraps?
It's so hard to pick just one! I have to say, I would love to see this man wear one and I know for sure he would - Andre 3000. Also Erykah Badu is another big one, I would totally just die and thank God for that. Besides that, I am just so excited every time a friend of mine or someone I respect and admire in Kenya rocks my wraps!
What’s the production process for your Afrofanatic head-wraps?
I did a short course in fashion design to learn how to sew, how to make patterns, and how to make clothing that works. So based on that skill I developed patterns for the different styles of head-wraps that can be replicated every time. I choose all my fabrics and I cut them and figure out who is going to sew them, though so far most of the time it has been just me making them. Sometimes I get some help depending on how much work there is to do. We are slowly changing our production line and outsourcing some of the sewing to other local craftspeople and who have a real eye for quality and who have good equipment.
Everything is made here in Kenya from scratch, with amazing finishing and high standards which often actually surprises people. For the sake of expansion and spreading the love we hope to continue getting more people involved and grow our production capacity, so every Afrofanatic purchase enables that growth! We hope to play a part in bringing the Kenyan textile industry up to global standards, which is another reason we also only use locally spun fabrics, made right here in East Africa. Let’s be a producing nation.
What advice would you give to young designers in Kenya?
For me what I’ve found is that there is such a great power in collaboration. There’s only so much you can do by yourself in a corner. I’d say find a tribe, find people you can plug into. Not in a ‘using people’ kind of way that exploits others, but in a way that adds value to the group you are attempting to collaborate with. Always bring something to the table, communicate it clearly and learn from those around you. Also I would say develop all your necessary skills, read up on it, study it every day as much as you can, be the go-to person for that thing. Never just settle for a little bit of exposure or one successful sale or feature, always think forward for new ways to collaborate, to be inspired and encouraged by others.
KUNG'ARA X AFROFANATIC- HEADWRAP DEMONSTRATION:
To order your own Afrofanatic head-wrap :
contact +254 711 120 160
or visit kung'ara at karen plains arcade, karen plains road in nairobi.
By Wanja Wohoro