What you need to know:
- The self-taught fashion designer learned designing in the streets and made it his career by believing in himself and his passion.
- He founded the Avido Foundation to train women with hearing impairments, young mothers, and youths interested in fashion.
In the well-known informal settlement Kibera, David Ochieng alias Avido, 27, is changing the narrative in the fashion business, a stitch at a time, with great precision that brings forth fine-quality outfits that make him a tour de force in Kenyan and African fashion.
The budding fashion designer whose designs combine African prints with contemporary airy tailoring is the founder of the brand, Looks Like Avido which is commercial enough to include a feature on the website for clothing customization. His label is painstakingly committed to Kibera, the neighborhood from which he is originally from.
He drew influence from his background as a dancer when developing his fashion line, as many individuals at the time enjoyed his personalised attire, inspiring him into the fashion sector.
He says that his brand has had tremendous growth and has been successful in breaking through the international fashion industry.
“I have had the opportunity to outfit local and international celebrities like Chronixx, Buju Bunton, Ty Dolla Sign, Bruno Mars, Alaine, Ce'cile, Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, and Jah Cure,” he says.
The self-taught fashion designer learned designing in the streets and made it his career by believing in himself and his passion.
“I come from a humble background where we could hardly afford a meal daily. I didn’t finish my secondary school education due to financial difficulties as my mother was a housekeeper at the time, so I briefly supported my family by working on a building site in Lang'ata,” he says adding that he had to quit due to chest pain but would do housework for his neighbors so he could provide for his family. It was then he had a lightbulb idea of forming a dance crew.
His savings from dancing plus his mother's earnings as a housekeeper and help from his mentor at the time amounted to Sh15,000 and he enrolled in an adult school, before launching Looks Like Avido in 2015.
"My dancing group served as my inspiration. For our outfits, I would draw sketches. At that point, I understood that, despite how much I was expressing myself through dance, I felt that I could do so more effectively through colors, we could then take the sketches to a tailor for sewing, but the tailors never used to do precisely what we needed. That's when the need to do it on my own surfaced,” he says, adding that he later understood how wonderful it is to depict a person's journey via fabrics while highlighting their hardships and life lessons.
During this time, he met and joined the Maisha Foundation, which he says has had a significant financial impact on his career as they helped him enroll in BIFA for a Certificate in Fashion Design, graduating as the course's top fashion design student in 2016.
He founded the Avido Foundation to train women with hearing impairments, young mothers, and youths interested in fashion as his way of giving back to his community as well as creating opportunities for them.
In addition to receiving practical training, he has taken it upon himself to cover the educational expenses for the gifted students in his neighborhood. If not assisted, he claims, these students might find themselves on the streets, give in to peer pressure leading to misidentifications, or even lose their lives.
"I wanted someone to cover my educational expenses, but no one helped. I see helping those who cannot afford school fees as a form of therapy, “I feel like the younger me is healing," he says.
He also makes hundreds of school uniforms for Kibera's less fortunate pupils.
Avido recalls amongst the first people he created clothes for, was the late Ken Okoth, a member of parliament from his area who appeared in the parliament dressed in his pieces, drawing attention from other politicians and celebrities.
Later, when renowned reggae artist Don Carlos arrived in Kenya, Avido got the opportunity to make a shirt for him which he wore during his concert in Nairobi.
“Later on during his growth, he ended up collaborating with artists like Romain Virgo, Usain Bolt, Bruno Mars, Ghanaian Stallion, Tarrus Riley, Connie Nielsen, Everton Blendah, and others,” he proudly says and adds that he was as well featured in Beyoncé's Black King campaign in 2020 as one of the artists changing the world.
Avido adds that the diverse creations, time, fabric cost, and creativity all play a role in the manufacture, design, and overall planning process of each of his collections, from conception to retailing.
Creating a design, he says, begins with inspiration, then the creation of a sketch, the acquisition of fabric, the drawing and transfer of a pattern to fabric, the cutting and sewing of the cloth, and the quality inspection before sale.
His collections start from Sh2,000 onwards and they greatly depend on the fabric, labor, and skill required to create the products.
Even though his clothing is worn globally, he admits that being African is what matters most.
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He participated in the 2019 Berlin Fashion Week. Aljazeera, BBC, CNN, National Geographic, and other news organizations have documented his journey. He has also been featured in Vogue USA, Vogue Italia, and Essence magazine.
Currently, Avido tours the world and has been to different countries like Australia, the University of Australia, Germany, Koln University, and Denmark amongst others educating different people willing to learn about fashion.
Collaborating with Goethe-Institut, Nairobi Design Week, Maasai Mbili, and EUNIC Kenya, Avido initiated Kibera Fashion Week. This project comprises a year-long program to fundamentally change the power dynamics and narratives in the fashion industry, labeling itself a fashion week with the ambition to reinvent the format.
The goal of the initiative is to create a new, ethical, and sustainable fashion sector by showcasing the skills of Kibera-based creatives and sharing their perspectives with audiences in Kenya and the world.
By learning from a community that is impacted by the massive amount of textile waste exported by European nations and fostering a fresh debate about the negative effects of unsustainable consumption, this project's Kibera roots challenge the neo-colonial reality of the fashion industry.
By recognizing the abilities and viewpoints of local populations, Avido notes that this movement can begin a transformation that will affect both customers and designers in Kenya and worldwide.
He says that although Kibera is frequently represented as a desolate area in need of help and so-called "development aid," it is a vibrant metropolis that is continually expanding and innovating.
“The Kibera community has much to teach the rest of the world, and the initiative is convinced that they have the know-how to lead the way in a sustainable and moral creative sector,” he says.
He describes Kibera Fashion Week as "a platform for the community to redefine fashion, share new approaches for sustainability, and bring stakeholders from all over the world together to challenge unethical and exploitative consumption."
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta recognized Avido for producing and distributing over 28,000 face masks during the pandemic. He is also the face of the Keringet mineral water and Coca-Cola brand.