Passion Points: Style
Shop for Anna Trzebinski fashion and accessories on the Indagare Souk
Anna Trzebinski was born in Germany, but her family moved to Kenya shortly thereafter and today the renowned fashion designer says: “I have no memory other than growing up in Kenya. I am a child of this country and despite how hard it can be to live here, this is where I want to be.” Based in Nairobi, Trzebinski has long been a secret source of stylish women around the world who flock to the designer’s trunk shows. Trzebinski’s gorgeous handcrafted fashion and accessories combine modern, wearable designs with tribal-inspired details, like intricate beading. Aficionados, passing through Kenya on their travels, can now also visit Trzebinski in her studio, situated on the same property as the Giraffe Center, a 200-acre indigenous forest sanctuary. Indagare spoke to the designer about her life in Kenya, her studio and where she dreams of going next.
Shop for her products on the Indagare Souk
What do you love the most about Kenya?
I love the spirit of the Kenyan people. They are so warm and friendly in the face of so much adversity. I also recognize how unique it is that we still have untouched places in Kenya that are as God created them. I recently watched an interview with the founder of the Eden Project on the BBC, and he spoke about the need he sees in people understanding that man and nature are inextricably linked. Until the western world can re-teach its children that they are children of the earth, all the rest is make-up. In Kenya, we still have pockets where we live this and to experience it first-hand is life changing. This is certainly the philosophy on which we built Lemarti’s Camp, in Laikipia. I believe that understanding how we are one with nature holds the key to the future of the planet.
How does this translate into your designs?
My designs are very organic. They have many tribal elements to them and they make you feel differently than if you were wearing a shiny designer handbag. It’s more than fashion—it’s a philosophy, and it speaks to people. You can see it when they feel them.
What are the biggest changes you have observed in Kenya in the last decade?
A population explosion, but that’s not as terrifying as the rate at which Kenyans are losing touch with their indigenous cultures. Through mass media, we are now seeing a Westernization of Kenya, brought to us from South Africa; we now have gas stations with fast-food restaurants, shopping malls and satellite television. All of this would not be so scary if it did not go hand in hand with the disappearance of so many traditional cultural values. We have close to forty tribes in Kenya, and I am so sad that so many Kenyans do not value and keep alive their traditional cultures. The other biggest change is traffic. I would warn any visitor to not try to cross town at certain times and to plan their day carefully.
What about the neighborhood where your studio is located?
My studio is on the grounds of my home so that I can be near my children. We live inside the 200-acre indigenous forest sanctuary of the Giraffe Center. I can look out over the tree canopy, and we hear hyenas, bush babies and leopards at night. The studio is on the grounds and it’s where the women who bead the garments and feather the pashminas come to work, as do the tailors.
What are some of the pieces you’re most excited about in your current collection?
I stopped working with retail two years ago, which means I now focus on classics that are not seasonal. I have a beautiful knee-length coat that is a signature piece. My pashminas are incredible and I have some beautiful safari jackets that work well on Fifth Avenue too. These pieces are like heirlooms, classical but with a tribal element, and they translate well into a sophisticated woman’s wardrobe. I am also putting a lot of attention into a new range of bags and planning on launching my website next year.
What are some of the materials you are most excited about using?
As ever, my choice of materials is very important. Of course, I could easily source cheap and good pashmina from China, but I have spent time in Katmandu, where I work with the few remaining hand-loomers. The yarn comes in from Tibet and it’s just more magical to work with materials like this.
What inspires your work?
I am fascinated by indigenous cultures and their traditions and handicrafts. From Hungarian embroidery to Maori tattoos, anything made by human hands that carries cultural values of generations fascinates me. This would be the other important driving force in my creativity as I try to use these and always stick to having integrity to this in the materials I use and what I look at to inspire me.
Can you give a few specific examples of the social aspects of your work?
My whole studio is, of course, a community project, as I work with the community. I do not make anything anywhere else in the world; instead I train local men and women and chose to make things here, which is far more difficult than simply ordering my bags in Thailand. It’s an uphill struggle to meet very high-end standards of excellence, but we manage. In principle I do not believe in hand-outs but hand-ups. I have a studio where women, who in the majority are single supporters of their children, can come in on flexible hours, find work, receive training and then make a good income from something they feel great pride in doing.
What made you decide to open your studio to the public?
2008 has been a very tough year but we are all in this together—the workers and I—and hard times make you really think and push yourself. We had the post-election violence and now we have the global economic crisis. What we decided to do was to open the studio up to shoppers who love to come to the privacy of this place and to see work in progress. We are turning it into a beautiful life-style shop, which will carry all of my designs. It will be full of treasures.
What are some of your favorite places in Nairobi?
I think that in many cases, for good reason, travelers to Nairobi are sheltered from it too much. But there are some places that are safe and interesting to visit, where you can get an authentic feel. The Maasai market is a must and it only happens every Tuesday. If you miss it, you can also see the Triangular market in Westlands, which is open daily and packed with great finds. I think that the Karen Blixen museum is wonderful, and the Giraffe Center is a fun experience, especially if you have kids with you. I would also recommend visiting the David Sheldrick orphanage and the Nairobi national park.
What other parts of Africa do you love?
Kenya is so beautiful and has such diversity; I have still not explored all of it. Much of my free time is spent here in the bush, so it’s easier for me to say what I would love to do rather than what I have done. I adored Namibia for its landscapes but much prefer Kenyan camps. Top of my wish-list: Botswana, one of the great wildlife wonders of the world; Morocco, especially Marrakech and Fez; Cairo while drifting down the Nile; joining the three-week salt camel caravan from Agadez into the Tenere (Sahara) in Mali; witnessing the epiphany in Ethiopia; exploring the coast of Mozambique by boat; trance dancing with the bushmen.
Are there any places in Africa that you find under or overrated?
I despise what mass tourism does to a country, especially culturally, so any mass-tourist lodge is overrated by my standards. I’ve always preferred to find my own little adventures off the beaten track.
Studio opening hours: Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-5p.m.. Saturday, Sunday and holidays, by appointment.
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