Faith Kipyegon
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How an African-Inspired gown stole the show: Faith Kipyegon sprints to style stardom

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Faith Kipyegon who won Women's Athlete of the Year 2023 (track) has also won the CAA Female Athlete of the Year Award.

Photo credit: Pool

Known globally for her unmatched prowess on the track, double-world record holder Faith Kipyegon is now stepping into a new arena – the world of fashion. Having conquered the tracks and opponents alike, Kipyegon is now determined to reign as a fashion icon.

In the wake of her triumphant feats on the track, Kipyegon, a double Olympic champion and thrice World champion in the 1500m, appears to be orchestrating a strategic ascent for her brand.

This trajectory culminated in her recent crowning as the Female World Athlete of the Year on December 11 in Monaco, France.

However, it was not solely her athletic prowess that seized the limelight on that momentous occasion; Kipyegon also captivated spectators with her innate flair for fashion.

The talk of the town, she graced the occasion in a stunning Ankara print dress, a nod to her African roots.

In an exclusive interview with the Nation, Kipyegon emphasised the importance of athletes looking their best off the track.

"People are used to seeing us in office wear – the tracksuits, running tracks most of the year, and that has become our identity," she said. "It is very easy to pick out an athlete [in a crowd]."

Kipyegon's choice of attire for the awards ceremony was a one-of-a-kind African-inspired evening dress. "I love looking good, I try to keep up with fashion trends with my Nike clothes," she said. "For these prestigious awards, I wanted something that will represent my outgoing personality, a dress that will represent my motherland."

Kipyegon aimed for an Afrocentric-themed gown to make a statement. To achieve this, she enlisted the help of her close friends, Lynne Wachira and Michelle Katami, forming her very own "glam squad."

Faith Kipyegon and the stylist Wambui Thimba

Faith Kipyegon and her stylist Wambui Thimba during the fitting of the dress at Yvonne Afrostreet's boutique in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Pool

Describing the journey to finding the perfect dress, Kipyegon explained, "It was not easy, but it was an exciting one. We had different designs to pick from. The final dress was a combination of different elements, involving a lot of discussions between myself, my friends, and the stylist Wambui Thimba on what to include and what not to include."

Thimba's expertise became instrumental in the creation of Faith Kipyegon's show-stopping outfit. Two weeks before Kipyegon received the prestigious title of Female World Athlete of the Year, Thimba was approached to work her magic on the athlete's wardrobe.

Having previously collaborated with Lynne while styling two-time Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, Thimba jumped at the opportunity to contribute to Kipyegon's standout look.

Reflecting on the collaboration, Thimba shared, "Faith had not done anything like this before, you know, like getting a stylist. They told me Faith had an idea of what she wants, and maybe you can just help us elevate it and give us your opinion."

Despite the geographical distance – with Kipyegon in Eldoret – Thimba swiftly got to work.

"Faith was in Eldoret, so there was no way I was going to meet her face to face. Lynne sent me two 'inspo' photos that she had. I like to work with a client's inspirational photos because then I have an idea of what they want," Thimba explained. "Then I got the information that she wants something African. I created a mood board on what can work and what cannot work."

Once the team agreed on the design, the next challenge was finding the perfect fabric befitting for a sports icon attending a black-tie event. Thimba took on the responsibility of sourcing the Ankara fabric, presenting Kipyegon with various options.

The final choice defied expectations, with Kipyegon picking a colour that wasn't initially planned but turned out to be stunning.

Thimba recounted the final stages of the gown's journey from concept to reality.

"When she won, she told us how she was getting a lot of compliments at the palace about her outfit and how people loved it. For me, that was so good; she said she felt so beautiful. I remember when we first got the dress and put it on a mannequin. You know a mannequin is not the same as a person. When we sent her the video, she was not super excited. For us, we were [excited about the outcome] because we could see it with our eyes. But for her, it was different on video. But when it was sent to her, she loved it. That is when you breathe a sigh of relief.”

Reminiscing about the process, Kipyegon expressed her satisfaction, saying, "I loved the outcome; I love the dress. I believe I represented the motherland well. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in this journey - my friends Michelle and Lynne, our stylist Wambui Thimba, as well as Nike stylists and makeup artistes."

Reflecting on styling Kipyegon, Thimba noted, "She is different. Even the other athletes look up to her. When she dresses a certain way, even if she is dressed in Nike outfits, they want to pick the same item and dress the same way. I believe she is a trendsetter and she had this vision in her and how she wanted to look. You can tell that she is a fashion icon. She is different from the other athletes; she is interested in her overall look.”

Addressing the buzz on social media, Thimba noted, "I was checking comments on social media, and guys were like can we talk about that dress? People have already started asking about the dress from Yvonne Afrostreet. She is a trendsetter. People have saved those photos. You know how Kenyans are; they will ask for the same Ankara print. It is a great thing to also promote our designers. As much as I would have gotten her a ready-made dress, I said no, it has to be custom-made."

On the lost earrings, Thimba says, "We had picked specific earrings, but when we added the stones on the neckline of the dress, we realised they don't match anymore. Then I had to change the earrings. She lost them when giving hugs."

Reflecting on Faith Kipyegon's character, Thimba added, "I love that she thinks about her image also, and then she is beautiful, sweet, loving, she is fun. Like even when she came to Nairobi, everybody loved her. She is just full of energy."

Thimba says her anticipation for Kipyegon's future as a fashion icon and trendsetter.

"We look forward to how amazing she will look in the future as a fashion icon, a trendsetter. We were even saying she should be on the cover of Vogue or fashion magazines because why not?"