Meet first Kenyan to showcase African collection at New York fashion week
As the first Kenyan to showcase an entirely African collection at the New York Africa Fashion Week, SALLY KARAGO’S impact on fashion has been felt all over the world. She tells her story to Nailantei Norari
“I have always had a keen eye for fashion. My dad is the first person who noticed. He would let me pick out items for him every time we went shopping ahead of the Christmas season,” Sally the founder of Sally Karago Collections recalls with a fond chuckle.
We are meeting at her office at Adlife Plaza, where she runs and lectures at her fashion school, Mcensal School of Fashion. Sally is warm and effusive; she is the epitome of humble even while being a titan in the fashion industry. She has achieved many firsts.
She is the first Kenyan to showcase an entirely African collection, The Turkana Boy Collection, at New York Africa Fashion Week. She runs two stores, one at Village Market and another at The Hub, which stock bespoke ready to wear pieces as well as beautiful accessories under her SK Collections label. A few months after launching her new collection in Ghana to high critical acclaim, we met with her as she prepared for yet another fashion event, Angels Fashion Show.
Stitching doll clothes
“When I was growing up, I had this neighbour who was a fashion student. I was fascinated by her big bags, which carried cloth and big rulers. I would follow her to her house, where I would watch her as she cut brown paper or measured out and cut cloth. I would then go home and try to make my dolls clothes,” she says of the genesis of her love of fashion.
Sally was very keen to get into fashion school and made a case for it to her parents who agreed to it, albeit reluctantly.
“A career in the arts whether in fashion, film or music is viewed quite unfavourably here in Africa, yet in the West these are some of the most prestigious careers. We have to understand that a career in the Arts is not a retirement plan or the default plan for someone who does not do well in school. It is a career like any other. That is why I keep telling my students to keep reading and learning. It is up to all of us to grow and uphold the professions we are in,” she passionately explains.
She would complete her degree in fashion and merchandising and a masters in the same to start her own business with a partner. They would split with the partner, after which she decided to single-handedly start her business.
She went to Ngara to buy industrial sewing machines and in one shop she managed to convince the Indian man at the store to give her the machines on loan, which she would pay for as she worked.
She started off by approaching and designing for friends, family and even those who doubted her career choice in fashion at a fee. She then moved on to revolutionising corporate wear such as in the banking and in the hotel industry injecting the industries with brighter and more imaginative designs. Some of her first clients, have stuck with her to date, something she attributes to consistency and passion. Over time, Sally decided it was time she tried to pass forward the skills she had gathered in the fashion industry by starting a fashion school.
“I would get trainees and interns fresh from school, task them with a few simple jobs and they were unable to deliver. I sought to find out why and they told me they had not been taught some of these skills in school. I, therefore, decided to start Mcensal School of Fashion in 2009, where we follow the British curriculum, BVET. We also get an external verifier to come in every year to assess if our education is up to standard. At the end of the course, we have a fashion show where the students showcase their unique designs,” she further elaborates.
Sally remembers the young girl she was, fresh from fashion school with a thirst for knowledge, big dreams and a passion for fashion. She is largely the same girl. She has kept the thirst for knowledge as she continues to take numerous courses such as a course in photography and make-up, which helps her better oversee fashion shows. She is still very passionate and wholly believes anything is achievable if one is willing to work at it.
“To all those aspiring to great heights, be it in the world of fashion or elsewhere, be hardworking and passionate about what you want to do. Be patient enough to see it through to the end, no matter the challenges you face whether it is sourcing for fabric or seed capital. Remember to learn everything you can in your field of interest. Time has a way of favouring the patient and the hardworking,” she concludes.