Genteel, from the word gentility: to be cultured, curated and well mannered. A name that serves to represent the combination of cultural consciousness and British conservatism that the brand exudes.
Growing up in Eastlands, the closest places to get decent clothing for Genteel’s co-founder Sam Omindo, was Gikomba, one of the largest second-hand clothing markets in Kenya. His knack for style sets him apparent, with his friends always wondering where he got his clothes. This spurred a business idea within him, and he began thrifting clothing. Starting with ties, he would buy them clean them, package them and then sell them. Expanding later to blazers and trousers, he realised he had a gift for this. His dad bought into his dream, loaning him 10,000kes to help him upscale and see if this was in fact a viable business.
One thing leads to another and next thing he knew Sam got the opportunity to travel to Istanbul, a place he sees as the 5th fashion capital of the world, noting how well-dressed people are and how robust and developed their fashion and textile industry is. He began importing suits, shits and premium menswear, in general, to sell to the clientele he had already established in Kenya. However, after 2-3 trips like this, he felt the inherent need to express himself creatively and go beyond dealing with ready-made clothing. It was time for him to begin his journey into design.
Sam began researching the world of menswear and exploring how to infuse into it, his personality whilst bringing something different to the Kenyan design scene. The silhouettes that Genteel are now known for, were modelled off Sam’s research that leads him to Saville Row, and more specifically the brand's Henry Poole and Gibs & Hawks. Brands which are known to be pioneers in the world of tailoring and menswear.
Though my fashion career started with me importing and reselling clothes. I felt the need to express myself creatively and go beyond dealing with ready-made clothing. It was time for me to BEGIN my journey into design
His research led him to reflect newly on his path. Subsequently highlighting that the majority of the pieces imported into Kenya were all made for a foreign clientele with foreign aesthetics. It was now more important than ever for him to embark on his journey finding a way to infuse local culture into the tailored menswear aesthetic he valued.
Genteel has grown to become a brand with an Anglo-Kenyan aesthetic. Channelling the bold and unapologetic looks inherent to our ancestors into a modern aesthetic. Sam notes how his research led him to understand more about the “flamboyant forefathers” he adds “you could spot a chief a kilometre away from his dazzling beads and dangling feathers.” Genteel incorporates bold prints with subtle contemporary looks. It is a brand for the bold man, but the pieces can be worn for the everyday.
When looking to the future, Sam notes his journey of rediscovering and reclaiming Kenyan cultural identity and expressing this through the language of fashion, in a hope to leave behind a legacy that sees himself as a designer who was able to curate the rich cultural heritage that Kenya holds and come up with an identity that most Kenyans can relate to and transfer that into cloth. One such way he is doing this is through Genteel’s cultural quests. Their first one being with the Samburu community. He highlights how this process involves researching the community and their culture and then coming up with a print that speaks volumes about the personality of the community and then expressing it in cloth.
Aside from the deep-rooted cultural side that makes up the brand, another is formed by their importance in the role of artisans and empowering them. They work with talented artisans from low-income communities such as Kibera, as a means of bringing them additional income but also leveraging their skillsets to build a global brand. When noting his aspirations for the legacy he will leave behind, Sam notes: “the day I know I will have achieved something is the day they will drive me in their own car and go and have a meal in their own home. I would love to empower more than 70,000 talented artisans who have learnt this trade of tailoring, probably through apprenticeship. To be able to take up their own future, invest in themselves, get reasonable sources of income and enable them to empower themselves and empower their own lives.”
We look forward to seeing the growth of Genteel and the artisans they work with. Read more about how they’re dealing with COVID-19 here: https://www.britishcouncil.org/genteel-vintara-fashion-brands-covid19-collaboration-2
Genteel is part of the Creative DNA Programme, a British Council programme supported by The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office designed to support fashion businesses in Kenya, develop skills, knowledge and networks in Kenya and the UK. The programme is focused on promoting alternative and innovative approaches to the global fashion system with the ambition of demonstrating that the fashion sector in Kenya is a professional choice for young people and a valuable contributor to the creative economy.