If you have lived in Nairobi over the past 4 years, and I mean lived! then you would have found it rather difficult not to come across, and/or bump into Setutsi. This clothing and events brand has been able to escalate from a brand amongst friends, to household name within the Kenyan entertainment industry. From the iconic African patterns their products encompass, to the stellar reputation they have gained via their events, Setutsi has placed themselves at the top of the Nairobi streetwear industry. As the title suggests, “it’s all Gucci, at Setutsi”
African patterns are vibrant and eye catching. The aesthetics they evoke are memorable, yet having seen multiple patterns, no one name brand pops up. I now fail to lay my eyes on African patterned streetwear (hoodies, crewnecks, sweatpants, accessories) without the thought of Setutsi popping in my head. I would say this in itself stands as a testament to the success of the brand thus far. From marketing success, to expanding the brand beyond the borders of its origin, Setutsi has quite quickly forged themselves into one of Nairobi most recognizable and reputable streetwear brands. This has resulted in putting Setutsi on the map and as the founder puts it,
“known by most people as the founders of African themed streetwear, for example when you see a hoodie with wavy African prints, you think 'ah that's Setutsi'
I reached out to, Kwami Okudzeto, the founder of Setutsi and discussed his brand in detail.
Kwami comes off as confident and comfortable. Comfortable in his skin, confident with self. His vibrant aura is contagious, it is no secret he is the life of the party, his first name cosigns this. Kwami, a popular name Ghanian traditional name, given to males born on Saturday, pilgrims to his Ghanian roots at least once a year. He does so both for personal and business reasons. To the latter, Ghanian fashion and traditional patterns have been key sources of inspiration for Setutsi’s design blueprint.
Kwami is combining this ingredient (Ghanian tradition) with Nairobi’s vibrant, urban street culture in order to cook-up a lifestyle. This has always been the aim for Kwami, to be more than just a clothing line, more than a business, a lifestyle.
The Setutsi aesthetic has become somewhat iconic in Nairobi, taking design inspiration from both the Ghanian tradition, as mentioned above, as well as the west African Dashiki designs, to create an Afrocentric streetwear brand
We tennis our conversation, back and forth, I ask - he answers. I begin to get a clearer picture of the Setutsi brand as a whole.
Having officially launched in 2015, Setutsi has been able to gain a loyal and diverse clientele. This has allowed the brand to expand its reach. Despite being a Nairobi based brand, the Setutsi brand has been able to exist in all corners of the world. Kwami elaborates,
“we've featured in fashion shows in the UK, had merchandise on sale in Canada, the UK, the States just to mention a few. We've been able to spread our reach mainly through word of mouth. A lot of the Setutsi clientele are based overseas, when people wear their merchandise, they always get complimented and asked where they got it from, that's because this type of fashion isn't really available abroad, plus people abroad also appreciate the design and quality. And as a result, we've taken advantage of that and are able to ship Setutsi worldwide at affordable rates. We also work very closely with the East African Societies of many UK universities who help us showcase Setutsi designs on their annual fashion shows and cultural events”
This is rather interesting, that ability to appeal globally is no easy feat. This word of mouth mechanism cannot hide its resemblance to the DIY theme that the Nairobi streetwear scene seems to sustain.
Kwami gives his take on this achievement,
“The Setutsi client is anyone really, we don't ever say we have a specific target market, we target anyone who loves and appreciates Africa and African prints, anyone who vibes with streetwear.”
It’s that simple. This simplicity seems to underline the brand at large. With a very biblical, “less is more” policy, Setutsi doesn’t set out to bombard your feed, nor do they focus on digital numbers. For example, with a following of less than 3,000 on Instagram, those who place weight on these digits would abruptly dismiss the brand. But those numbers lie and Setutsi knows this. With a bigger focus on practical progress, Setutsi is able to generate a wardrobe of quality products. This is echoed by their following. Despite being less than 3,000 on Instagram, it's the details of that number that matters, not how many followers? but more importantly, who are the followers? Kwami elaborates on this,
“It's not about the number of followers, there are many brands out there with thousands of followers, but it doesn't translate into sales, presence, influence or anything really, it's just numbers. And for some brands, just robots or paid followers. Our followers are few but quality followers, people who actually appreciate the brand, appreciate the product and most importantly are customers.”
These are the facts. With all sorts of methods to manipulate digital numbers, brands are able to forge stats in order to appear ‘successful’. Setutsi however, rolls different. As mentioned earlier, with a stern “less is more policy”, Setutsi places all its trust in product and its loyal clientele to not boomerang back but rather return with rave reviews.
As Kwami puts it,
“We don't focus on sponsored ads, paying local celebrities/socialites to wear our clothes or anything of the sort. What we focus on is creating an amazing product, amazing involves great quality, very different designs to what anyone else is doing and just always switching it up. And this automatically puts us out there, as our products are so different and unique, so the product automatically markets and sells itself.”
The goal from the first stitch to the final sale seems to be to maintain an organic ambiance. The untraditional make-up of this traditionally themed African streetwear brand is insanely ironic. Kwami lays down their blueprints,
“with Setutsi, less is more. We don't have any strategy, we don't have any 6-month plans/goals, we just focus on the now and to do the best we can in the moment; and funny enough it always ends up translating into a better future. Not making too much noise, we don't want to be constantly like BAM! in peoples faces, people don't like that, we're quiet enough to be heard and not forgotten, then we're loud when we need to be loud
But yeah Setutsi is an experience it's not just a clothing line, the Setutsi lifestyle”
The brand-customer relationship Setutsi harbors aims to serve and satisfy.
“The relationship could be formed in a number of ways, the most common being when people interact with our social media and/or website, like what they see, place an order, receive their product, more often than not people are amazed by the product and just keep on buying more and more. All info regarding new releases is relayed on our social media pages and/or website.”
This method has garnered serious success,
“Since its inception in 2015, we’ve had good success. When starting it I didn't expect it to grow this big and have such a loyal and large clientele. We've grown from being just a clothing line to a recognized brand/events company.”
Kwami tells no tales in that statement. Setutsi has maneuvered itself from a home-grown clothing line to a nation-wide recognizable brand. From their successful seasonal drops, known as episodes, in which they encompass an elevated experience of fashion and culture at their fashion events. The episodes are what are commonly known as fashion seasons, your typical SS19, FW19, etc. But typical does not reside in the Setutsi dictionary, so why name them episodes? Kwami responds,
“So the episodes are basically new collections that we release at least twice a year. We use the name episode because we're just different, instead of saying collection/season, the word episode relays the same message, just a different word”
This persistence to be different has set Setutsi apart. The market has been responsive, and furthermore the creative industry has embraced the brand. As Kwami puts it, “business is good cannot complain at all.”
Beyond business, Setutsi upholds its communal duty. Their collaboration in support of the Project Maji Foundation is just an example of this duty in action. In regards to that experience, a collection was produced in which all proceeds were given to the foundation in support of their initiative.
“They approached us and we decided to help where we can and did a collection, where proceeds go towards helping them create and maintain existing sites”
In addition, Setutsi and the creative community have gelled. The brand has not only been repped by numerous individuals within this community, but the brand has also been able to cement various relationships through collaborations with these individuals.
The brand has collaborated with Nairobi artist Bey T,
“we did the wardrobe for her music video "Bad Bad" which came out great. We dressed her and her dancers for the Konshens concert in Nairobi, where they all killed it. We like working with Bey T, because she's cool, no pressure, no stress, she has a creative eye and she's just a dope artist.”
Beyond these mentions, Setutsi most notable wearer to date, is Didier Drogba.
This is Kwami’s proudest moment to date, the personal element this moment had and has on him, is everlasting.
“I support Chelsea, actually mainly because of Drogba and Essien, both Chelsea and African legends.
And yeah I played football, and I was really good at it. It was a dream but you know being African and wanting to play football professionally is a big challenge. There are barely any structures or pathways for young Africans to make it to the next level, so that dream kind of died...That's actually one of the things I'm most proud of, because Drogba inspired me throughout my whole life, till today he's one of my favourite and arguably greatest African footballer ever, so yeah Im mad mad proud and grateful to the individual that believed Drogba would love a Setutsi sweatshirt for his birthday.”
The reputation Setutsi has been able to build is well grounded. From a maintained level in product quality with their latest collection, to their expansion as a reputable events brand, seen in their involvement in “Mr and Miss World Kenya”, the Setutsi brand continues to place itself above and beyond. Kwami hopes they will, “continue being a pillar in Nairobi street fashion, a renowned brand keeping other brands on toes and most importantly inspiring other brands and just people that are generally into fashion.”
I conclude our conversation by requesting Kwami’s point of view in regards to the Nairobi fashion industry, he gives his take.
“I would say the industry has a bright future, this NuNairobi wave is helping, there are a lot of creatives out there not just fashion designers but singers and artists and all. So if we can all work together, the industry has a very bright future, the only way is up”
I couldn’t agree more, the Nu Nairobi wave is crucial as an attitude that must be instilled within all Nairobi creatives. Within this attitude, comes fearlessness, boundaryless and pure passion that is more than fuel enough to rocket dreams. Setutsi is one of many examples of this attitude in action, and as Kwami says, this phenomenon is not limited to one medium of creativity.