This month, Lucy Munene, sits down with Suave Kenya owner, Mohamed Awale to talk bags, thrifting and hidden food spots at the iconic K1 Klubhouse.
If you haven’t already heard of Suave then let us introduce you to a brand that is making an effort to save the environment one bag at a time. This Kenyan bag brand which started as a small idea in owner Mohamed Awale’s mind is well on its way to becoming iconic which is why we decided to have this particular meal at an equally iconic spot: the K1 Klubhouse.
“Suave was a side thing for only six months after which I quit my job and started focusing on it. When that happened, I started doing everything like buying things, working sometimes even stitching, cutting and selling. I think I remember a couple of times where guys would actually think I was the delivery guy because I was all over the place.”
It’s not every day someone decides to wake up and make bags for a living but Mohamed laughed as he described how it all began.
“I just started liking bags somehow. In university, I would go to Gikomba and buy bags then keep on changing them every now and then. At the time a cousin of mine had a workshop where he would make leather bags. Because he was working with leather, I used to go to ask whether he could make me this kind of bag or a different kind and it would take time but I started having custom bags. From there, I think he realised how interested I was in this whole thing so fast forward 2 years and he stopped that business to focus on shoes and he asked me if I was interested in starting up something because he was going to help me with starting up something.”
Suave is a brand that upcycles second-hand clothes and turns them into functional items and I discovered that it started more out of necessity than anything else.
“I am passionate about upcycling because I grew up in the whole second-hand sector, I love thrifting and I love clothes. Initially, we used second-hand clothes because we were broke and you start asking questions about where it all goes. After going to Gikomba and realising the amount of waste that happens you talk to people and ask them what happens if an item isn’t bought after some time it ends up somewhere and clothes keep coming every single day so by taking some of those clothes we sort of contribute to it not going to waste. We might not be able to do it on a large scale but its the effort that counts.”
This has worked quite well because each bag is unique so I had to find out what the logic behind picking each fabric is.
“We prefer working with larger items so anything from a size 34-50. Certain materials work and others don’t, for example, we can’t use silk because it’s not a durable as denim and we can’t use white denim because it would get dirty too fast. These days the traders even know what our tastes are so out of everything they don’t sell they collect the good stuff and call us, there is a chain so the shops in town get the premium stuff. Also, there are a couple of EPZs in Kenya and we upcycle their leftover material or offcuts by using it to line the insides of our bags and make them more durable.”
Suave has had standard designs since its inception…
“We’re in an industry known as slow fashion which is the opposite of fast fashion where instead of working with seasons and designs that change frequently you make something that someone should be able to wear for 3 -4 years until it’s falling apart. Most times we try to combine fashion with functionality but other times we put together what other people want for example tote bags.“
So what is the goal for the brand now?
“It being part of the club of bigger brands that are globally recognised then it being known as a Kenyan bag brand that made it out there and became a global brand based in Africa that has clients from around the world. We’re small scale right now but we have a few clients from countries outside of Africa such as Pakistan. We changed our website and started to ship globally (we’ve been doing it for the last year and a half) and it works so well out there because people are used to the normal and conventional bags out there so what happens is someone carries a bag as they travel and they get people who stop them and ask where they got it from it means the person will come back for another bag because they recognise how unique it is and then it helps spread the word.“
At this point, the food arrived and we all dug into 4 different plates that included mukimo croquettes, dry fry kienyeji chicken and more while talking more about his love for food and his passion for restoring cars.
“I love food. Food just makes me happy. I prefer eating to cooking which is why I love Pronto because it’s affordable so that’s where I usually have lunch. I also love the pasta from Cafe Concerto but my preferred restaurant is the kind that serves you home-cooked food. So for example, if I want Chinese food, I’ll go to China Town in Kilimani for their hand-pulled noodles. For Ethiopian food, we go to this restaurant that’s in a house and you can even take away your own injera but if you’re eating in then you’re in for a treat. I think such places are much better because the cooking feels more authentic than if you were eating it in a more commercial setting. That’s why when I travel I prefer eating at their equivalent of kibandas.”
Beyond the brand…
“I love restoring old cars with my friends. I’m into a lot of vintage things and that includes cars. Restoring cars isn’t something you finish, well for me anyway. I started with one but before it was 30% done, I got another one but that one looks much better then after that, I went and got another one which looks like a chicken coop! It’s 51 years old but it’s going to be a 5-year project. I love drinking tea as well, milk tea to be specific.”
All in all, between all the samosas and sizzling chicken, I learned that sometimes it’s good to take a risk because it just might pay off and a bit of individuality is good now and then.