What you need to know:
- The Masai-inspired designs signal readiness for battle, and Wanja believes they set the stage, quite aptly, for Kenya’s medal hunt at these Games.
“A global print on a global platform with a global winner.”
That’s how Wanja Ngare describes her designs for Team Kenya’s apparel at Friday’s Olympic Games’ opening ceremony at the National Stadium here.
The Masai-inspired designs signal readiness for battle, and Wanja believes they set the stage, quite aptly, for Kenya’s medal hunt at these Games.
Talk over opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi’s sacking owing to his recent sketch making light of the Holocaust seems to have overshadowed the ceremony itself.
And this came hot on the heels of the dismissal of musician Keigo Oyamada from the ceremony following his confession to having bullied vulnerable minors.
But when the ceremony is eventually held from 8pm local time (2pm Kenyan time), the Kenyan attire could have tongues wagging, and Oyamada and Kobayashi momentarily forgotten.
Kenya’s male athletes will wear Masai fabric shirts with open shoes (akala) and the women a cape dress (warrior dress).
Kenya has won a total of 103 medals in its Olympic Games history, a fact Wanja feels should be amplified in the nation’s image.
“We’ve seen designers like Louis Vuitton use such fabric in their collection. The Masai are synonymous with us.
"Kenya, despite its winning spree, has overlooked the role our athletes can play in promoting our culture, and marketing our country globally,” she argued.
“We have a print that’s being appropriated by other people… The Olympics is the world’s biggest fashion show and we as Kenyans are winners, so I was combining the global print on a global stage with global winners.”
She likes to refer to herself as “Wanja Kenya” and although she graduated in management and finance from the University of Oxford, she was bitten by the designing bug way back in high school.
“While in school at Kabare Girls High School in Kirinyaga, I always wanted to be a fashion designer… but my parents thought this would mean I’d be a tailor,” she told Nation Sport Thursday night.
“And although I did management and finance at the University of Oxford, my passion for fashion was still burning.
“Every time I watched the parade of nations at the Olympic Games, I said we can represent ourselves better.”
Also passionate about equality and maternal health, Wanja gave a shot at designing Kenya’s ceremonial uniforms at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and failed, only for her dream to finally come true for Tokyo 2020.
“I’d really like to pay tribute to Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and our ambassador in Tokyo Tabu Irina for all the support they have given me in this project,” Wanja concludes.
Her 13-year-old son, a rugby player, is a huge fan of Kenya sevens rugby team and aspires to be a member of “Shujaa” when his talent blossoms.
But for now, he will have to sit back and admire Shujaa captain Andrew Amonde carry the Kenyan flag at Friday’s match-past, wearing his mother’s designs.
The numbers of athletes and officials at Friday’s opening ceremony has been drastically reduced with organisers urging team members to follow the proceedings from their rooms at the Olympic Village.
This is part of the efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 with some positive cases already reported at the Olympic Village.
Tokyo is currently under a state of emergency in a bid to contain the worrying spread of the coronavirus during these Games.