When Maryne Keseri began designing clothes for her friends and family while still a student at the Multi-Media University, she had no idea where that journey would take her years later.
At the time, Ms Keseri was designing clothes as a hobby after her close friends and relatives urged her to try her hand in fashion and design. They had been impressed by her sense of style and fashion.
And today, the 26-year-old designer and the owner of Afrikeseri Kollection, is one of the brains behind some of the outfits that have been worn by deputy president and United Democratic Alliance presidential candidate William Ruto during campaigns across the country – attires she says she has designed and tailored in her workshop located within the Nairobi city centre.
Ms Keseri says the journey has enabled her create some of the embroidered African shirts that have been a dominant feature in Dr Ruto’s campaigns. She says she is also among those who have designed clothes for Dr Ruto and his family during special events.
“People had noticed that I had an eye for detail at a very young age and as I was growing up and over time, I decided to go into styling and design as a serious thing. I began as a stylist at the Multi-Media University, where I was studying journalism,” Ms Keseri told Lifestyle.
She added: “Over time, people kept asking me where I got either my dera, outfits or even head wraps from. That is when I identified a niche because I also needed to make some extra money and I started selling the deras I had styled and designed. It started as a small business and over time people actually came to me to make clothes for them.”
Before she met and started working with the Deputy President, Ms Keseri said she had spent most of her time perfecting her craft and working with clients she had known while still a student.
“I used to have a client who for a long time — before I even had a shop — kept telling me that ‘Keseri, you’ll meet my boss one day. Your work is very good and you will dress my boss’. So after four years, I finally got a call that the said boss (Ruto) had actually liked some of the shirts we had previously made. The first pieces we ever did for him were details of beadwork,” Ms Keseri said.
She is part of a group of designers and tailors who have been dressing some of the leading contenders in this year’s election, crafting and designing custom-made shirts and sometimes dresses corresponding with the themes of the campaigns, party symbols and colours.
And in an election where fashion has become an integral part of vote-hunting, more and more politicians are now enlisting the help of these tailors and designers to help refine and define their looks.
Designers like radio journalist Cynthia Anyango says they have been custom making clothes for politicians like Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party presidential candidate Raila Odinga, while others like Florence Masinde are the brains behind attire worn by Mr Odinga’s running mate, Ms Martha Karua.
Ms Anyango adds that she has been designing some of the clothes worn by Mr Odinga during campaigns across the country, including the African-themed Azimio shirts.
“I began tailoring shirts for Raila sometime in December last year, after I met Raila Odinga Jnr (the presidential candidate’s son) to whom I expressed the interest I had in designing clothes. Raila Jnr later told me that he would be interested in giving me the job,” Ms Anyango said. “We then arranged for a meeting in Karen where I went and took all the measurements needed and I started the work.”
“In the beginning, I only did like seven pieces, which he (Mr Odinga) liked, after which I was again asked to do another seven pieces. It has been a smooth journey ever since,” Ms Anyango said.
And besides Ms Anyango, Mr Odinga has also benefited from the services of 20-year-old fashion designer Ali Abdi, popularly known as Nairobi West Niccur, who once sold him merchandise like the Jordan Air sneakers by Nike that the ODM leader wore during a meeting with youths last year.
Mr Abdi said his relationship with Mr Odinga came through a friend who took him to the Orange party leader’s house in Karen on a surprise visit. He began working with Mr Odinga in May 2021.
“One of my friends called Hillary had asked me to take him somewhere to meet a client. I did not know who the client was, but then when we got to the house, I was surprised that it was Raila Odinga,” Mr Abdi, who runs an online store known as La Beaste Designs and Sneakers, said in a previous media interview.
For her part, Ms Karua, known for her colourful and stylish African kitenge dresses, has been enjoying the services of her tailor, a relationship she recently said has lasted many years. In a recently shared video on her Twitter handle, Ms Karua defined her style as authentic African.
“My long time tailor, Flo Masinde, who has made many of my outfits,” Ms Karua said in the tweet celebrating Ms Masinde
Back to Ms Keseri, in the deputy president’s camp, she says her assignments usually begin with meetings involving a team from the presidential candidate’s office. During these intense meetings, they decide on the colour schemes, logos and other elements of the design before she can start tailoring the shirts.
The meetings usually happen at least every month, where she also takes new measurements of the deputy president. Dr Ruto, Ms Keseri said, is a lover of good quality fabrics and has an eye for detail.
“I have had moments when I took shirts to him and he could tell from the get go that the fabric was not of good quality or even the quality we had agreed on. He even tells me when the work is not well done. And so when I know that I do not have the fabric needed, I have to tell him in advance,” Ms Keseri said.
When she started working with the presidential candidate, Ms Keseri said she had no theme or even colours to choose from. But then that changed after the DP picked the UDA party as his vehicle for the August polls.
“If you have noticed, during campaigns he normally wears much brighter and bolder colours, which makes him stand out in the crowd. He only wears the dull colours like grey and maroon indoors. We normally do about 15 to 20 pieces every month but most of the time, he does not end up wearing all of them. He has his best. Usually when I take all the shirts, it is upon them to decide which shirt and colour would look best on him,” Ms Keseri said.
Ms Anyango said most of the designs and the pieces she does for Mr Odinga are normally picked and decided on by a team from Mr Odinga’s camp. She said the job can sometimes see her work overtime to deliver on some of the deadlines set during campaigns.
“We usually don’t have concepts, as long as the designs have the blue colour representing Azimio and the Orange colour for ODM. We also have to make sure that there is the R, which stands for Raila. Sometimes we also incorporate white colours in the design,” said Ms Anyango.
Cultural analyst Joyce Nyario says politics and fashion have often gone together, and the trend has continued in this year’s election campaigns.
“Every election has had a distinct fashion feature, from the 1970s to the 2002 polls, where branded T-shirts became a thing. Since then, we have had other things, including T-shirts becoming too colourful and now lately where we have politicians donning embroidered African shirts,” Dr Nyairo said.