Kenyan Designer Transforms Nairobi Waste Into Fashionable Bags

For Mohamed Awale, one person’s trash truly is another person’s treasure.

The 28-year-old is the founder and designer behind Suave Kenya, a Nairobi-based fashion line incorporating “upcycling” into its stylish and functional bags, backpacks and accessories.

Upcycling is the concept of repurposing byproducts and waste materials to craft new and experimental products with better environmental value.    

“Suave is all about breathing new life into old,” reads an entry on the company’s website.

Awale’s bags are explosions of color and style, combining cut-off materials left behind by tanneries and factories across Nairobi with fine and locally-sourced African fabrics. The result is artful amalgamations of denim, tweed, linen, cotton, herringbone, wool, leather, Batik and Kitenge.     

Courtesy of Suave Kenya.

It’s a bold move in a fashion world typically dominated by commercial trends and corporate control — but Awale is no stranger to hard work and adventure.

He told a CGTN reporter on a recent visit to his workshop in downtown Nairobi that he left his full-time job at an oil company in 2013 in order to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to what he calls “sustainable fashion.”

“I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and a few months down the line you start getting those startup problems…capital and access to markets and all that,” Awale explained. “We (were) just selling bags to friends who would appreciate them.”

Fast-forward to 2017.

Suave Kenya has garnered international recognition, with celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o being spotted wearing his products. The company produces about 200 bags a month and have them stocked at warehouses across Africa and Europe for international shipping.

Courtesy of Suave Kenya.

As evident from an interview Awale gave in 2014, the company’s mission has stayed the same since day one.

“Every bag I make is unique,” he said at the time. “Once I make a bag using one material, that’s it— I just can’t make any two bags that are going to be similar.”

Make sure to check out the bags for yourself at Suave Kenya’s online shop.