A heritage brand, widely credited with transforming fashion in Kenya, and mentoring many designers and artisans over the last two decades, KikoRomeo meaning “Adam’s Apple” in Kiswahili, was founded in 1996. Transcending cultures and fashion trends, KikoRomeo puts sustainability at its core, striving to create longevity in each garment by using handmade and hand-dyed fabrics as well as hand-carved trims, sourced from the African continent. Their fabrics come mainly from natural fibres including cottons, linens and silk, as well as explorations into alternative fibres such as those derived from sisal and orange peel. KikoRomeo’s silhouettes are effortlessly elegant, with attention to detail, they are treasured as works of art by all those who wear them.
Our vision is to bring different peoples together for humanity, using fashion and art as a medium. Our designs enable conversations and build wider understanding between nations and cultures.
Who We Are
We love the arts and use our language and fashion skills to mentor and inspire people to be open-minded and to earn a living from creativity. The beautiful things we create, embolden the wearer, opening new paths and giving them confidence to bring out their own authenticity. Our items are crafted by artists in East Africa, many of whom have worked with us for over two decades. We often collaborate with others in the visual arts, literature, theatre, film and music, who enrich our works with their talents.
KikoRomeo continues to question what one can wear to look great. Looking at the textiles in paints, the accidental merging of colours and mixed media create and originality and richness in the textiles.
Iona McCreath stepped into the role of Creative Director of KikoRomeo in 2018, taking over from her mother Christine-Ann McCreath who founded the brand. Having grown up as a life-long apprentice, Iona ventured into fashion quite early, starting her own brand as a subsidiary of KikoRomeo in 2013 at the age of 17. Following this she went on to study a foundation degree in Art and Fashion Design from UAL’s Central Saint Martin’s followed by pursuing a BSc in Sociology from LSE.
Iona’s approach to the brand looks into material innovation, researching and developing ways to create new textiles that are informed by our contexts. Whether be this the design that is applied to the textile, or the materials which make up the textile. In her design application under KikoRomeo, she looks to reinterpret classic KikoRomeo silhouettes with a contemporary lens.
We use natural materials and fibers including rainfed cotton and silk from Kenya. We choose to work with natural fibers, which are locally available and biodegradable. Within this are wool and leather, both are by-products of the meat and fish industries, which are big in Kenya. Many of our textiles are handloom woven and some are hand spun or handknitted. All of these processes use no water except for the dyeing process and little to no electricity. Aside from this, we also use the fabrics classed as excess production, which are available in Kenya. To accessorise our garments, we use handcrafted coconut buttons or laser-cut logo buttons in horn. The horn ones are made in Ethiopia using the latest technology at a zero-waste horn processing factory. Horn, like wool and the leather we use, is a by-product of the meat industry.
Laser-cut in Ethiopia, our logo buttons are made from by-products of the meat industry at a zero-waste horn processing factory.
At the core of KikoRomeo is the desire to improve livelihoods of our employees and the network of craftspeople we involve in making our products. We believe that by making an exceptionally designed and high-quality product, we can pay our crafts people and employees better than they would otherwise be paid. Many of our workers have been with us for decades. Our employees are paid over double the minimum wage, work a five-day week, and are provided with lunch and tea. We also partially fund tertiary education for their children. We believe in the importance of highlighting the members of our supply chain, our products would not be what they are without them. As a brand, our ingenuity and artistry are credited to many people from those growing the fibres and weaving the textiles to the end retailers, and everyone in between. Our beautiful textiles are sourced from many artisanal weavers across Kenya, who include
Pendeza Weaving Project, Tosheka Textiles, ICIPE, Rachel Wanyutu, Alfred Shikanga, Beacon of Hope, Murage, Namayiana Maasai Women’s Group, Eunice Mtetei and Crochet Sisters amongst many more.
We have invested in training and mentoring all who we work with. This covers product making, but also exposure to clients and markets, as well as language skills. We also take the children of our associates as interns, giving them insight not only into the world of fashion and textiles but more importantly the practicalities of running a business.
From inception KikoRomeo has worked with women’s groups and crafts people across Kenya to keep national heritage skills alive. We recognise that crafts offer supplementary cash income to rural communities, particularly women, who live off the land through pastoralism or agriculture.
In urban communities, we work with crafts people as well as artists, with whom we develop textile designs, sets for fashion shoots and backdrops for shows. We like to shine a light on talented youth in all forms of the arts as well as modelling, and actively seek out interesting projects to collaborate on.
We have often used handcrafting as a basis for projects to bring income and art therapy to vulnerable communities, including young mothers and refugees. Kenya is blessed with a wealth of traditional skills from many different cultures. These include beadwork, embroidery, crochet, knitting, basket-weaving, handloom weaving, tapestry weaving, patchwork, tie-dyeing, batik, hand-painting and leatherwork amongst many more. Thus, we are able to use our garments as an avenue to keep these skills alive as well as a way of bringing different communities together, provoking dialogue and fighting negative stereotypes and xenophobia.
We use handcrafting as a means of healing to overcome difficult situations as we believe that making things with your hands, connects you with your soul and a happy time in life when you learned how to craft. Such projects include Peace Patches in 2008 (bringing together young women who were victims of the post-election violence in Kenya) and Moving Masks in 2020 (a mask project targeted towards providing a source of income for women who have faced unemployment as a result of COVID-19). Both have involved giving scraps of fabric to women and getting them to embroider cloth using threads and waste materials they have at hand. We have then incorporated them into our classic silhouettes to create a polished final product. These activities have allowed us to provide income to women in vulnerable positions as well as create one-of-a-kind fashion art pieces for our clients.
KikoRomeo products are designed to last forever. From the cut of the garment to the quality of the materials and stitching, we make timeless pieces, which transcend fashion. They are treasured and handed down to the next generation.
We have been working with Sudanese fine artist El Tayeb Dawelbait, a resident of Nairobi, for the past two decades. As well as using his artworks as backdrops for our shows, he also haindpaints on our textiles. We collaborate on garments with us the designers carefully marking the area of the body to highlight and him painting inside the designated area. Each piece is unique as he paints according to his mood of the moment, and individual orders can be highly customized to suit the individual’s body.
Our fabric offcuts are all recycled. Small pieces are given to the Friends in Kaimosi, in Western Province of Kenya, who use them to make patchwork through their 15 women’s groups. We buy back some of their production as finished patchwork cloth. Since March we have also been using our offcuts to make face-coverings.
Shanelle Nyasiase wears a cape featuring a patchwork insert made by women in Western Kenya.
Image: Shanelle photographed by Lyra Aoko
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