she shapes the city

Annabel Onyango ~ Fashion Stylist & Cultural Influencer

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Annabel prides herself on being a hustler. She says “There’s a good connotation to the word. It used to be about struggling in the streets…now it’s about making your own success for yourself by yourself.” Annabel is a stylist and image consultant and has become in her own words “a successful fashion entrepreneur”.  She is considered a  “cultural influencer” for global companies who see Africa as the last frontier for their businesses. It is Annabel that international brands approach to find out what young, creative people on the continent think is cool, she identifies what is trending in Africa.

Fashion wasn’t always the plan. After her studies in Canada Annabel was all set for a career working in environmental issues, but she struggled with immigration issues and felt underrated despite her first class education. She admits that ultimately “What I was running away from in Toronto… was feeling foreign”. Growing up in Cote D’Ivoire to Kenyan parents and with a Kenyan passport she felt that Africa offered support systems that Canada couldn’t.

It was a “serendipitous” route to her career from an initial radio job, to lifestyle magazines, to finally launching out on her own. This organic route to her career is no less powerful for being undefined, in fact in may be what has shaped Annabel, she explains that “I’ve always felt like … with every success you feel strong, you feel empowered, you feel capable. Every job, every year that went by, you make more money, you get recognized for what you do. So I’ve always felt very powerful”.

Though she has ” never felt racism or sexism in a way that I was like “Oh my God this is going to impede my progress” “Annabel admits that the recent public stripping incidents in the city have really shaken her. She believes this harassment “shows that although Nairobi looks like a very glitzy city on the outside there’s something under the surface which is ugly and archaic, backward.” It is this underground reactionary current that she argues could stop Nairobi from being really great. Annabel’s hopes for the city are that it can open itself up more, become more colourful, more inclusive, more daring. She does see evidence of this in events that are growing, an example is the “Disruption by Design” night recently held by UP Magazine.

Annabel’s story is very much intertwined with that of Nairobi “I feel it’s a unique environment…what happened to me is because I was here….though in many ways I’m still a foreigner in this town it’s given me so much back…I feel like its created my career for me” she exclaims. This “unique environment” is a combination of the Nairobi Annabel returned to in 2007 and the Nairobi in which she works today. Seven years ago she came back to a sleepy town with a virtually non-existent fashion industry that was “just a couple people sticking their toe in the water, seeing if anything was biting.” It was during this time that she honed her skills and built her networks, it was her apprenticeship. Today brands are looking to Africa to sell their products, find inspiration and find profits, Annabel is the ideal woman to help them.

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