In an aeticle Vogue says these sixteen are the city’s most stylish powerhouses who are combining passion with purpose, and consider them your guides to the best places in town.
She got a standing ovation at the Cannes Film festival for her movie Rafiki. She has since achieved numerous recognition, and according to Vogue, here are her cool places in Nairobi.
Her spot: “The GoDown is full of artist studios creating amazing work and Afrobubblegum art, which has joy and hope at the center of it. It’s an incredibly inspiring place to be. You are surrounded by some of Kenya’s best artists all in one space.”
Cafe select: “Tin Roof Cafe in Karen has fresh juice, cocktails, and great vegan food. I always do the salad bar and bunless vegetarian burger.
Going live: “Check out live events like Life in The Single Lane by Patricia Kihoroor a live recording of ‘The Spread’ podcast by Kaz, hands down best way to spend an evening.”
Fashion fix: “Deepa Dosaja and Katungulu Mwendwa clothing, worn with Ambica Shah accessories.”
Wild life: “Driving through the Nairobi National Park and staying at Emakoko, the gem of a lodge inside the park.”
If she were mayor: “I would cover public spaces with roadside exhibitions of art, increase access to cultural events, and I would encourage freedom of expression and support artists in their quest to create.”
Weekend getaway: “Diani beach, my favorite place on earth.”
She made her debut in the movie Rafiki, by Kenyan filmaker Wanuri Kahiu above.
Must-try: “Zucchini green grocers in the Village Mall for Madafu baby coconut water with key lime.”
Fashion fix: “Nyeks is an illustrator and clothing designer I currently have been rocking. I also like the hats from creative collective Bongosawa, which means ‘like-minds’”
Local style: “It’s in our culture to dress up on Friday, not knowing what kind of party we’ll go to, but the whole crew has to look fresh.”
Key Kenyan trait: “Waiting until the impending doom of a deadline to act on something.”
If she were mayor: “I would improve on garbage collection, disposal community recycling, find a way to accommodate hawkers without increasing traffic/insecurity, create designated bicycle lanes, increase skate parks, playgrounds and tree cover in town however possible.”
Wild life: “Get up early and do a forest hike at Oloolua or Ngong Hills.”
As Rafiki’s enigmatic co-star, Munyiva has the kind of rare beauty and talent that signal big things are to come. Not content solely gracing the screen, she’s currently training as a director and producer, with her first short film in the works. She also recently scripted and directed a Kenyan children’s program “The Krazy Kool Show” for ZUKU.
Go explore: “I like going to Kitengela Glass to watch the artisans make glass sculptures as well as walk around their beautiful property to find little hidden glass gems and art pieces.”
Cafe select: “Crave Kitchen. I order a plate of ugali and sukumawiki with a side of guacamole. This meal is the staple of our Kenyan runners—and we all know how well we do at the Olympics.”
Going live: “The Alchemist in Westlands is one of my favorite places. There’s always live music and it’s a great place to listen to underground and established artists. The vibe is always electric.”
Sound off: “It’s so wonderful to see how Kenyan women are taking a front seat and becoming vocal and unapologetic in what they do. There’s been an increase of women embracing their African beauty.”
Pro-tip: “Get MPESA, a local mobile phone-based money transfer service. It’s convenient because everyone accepts it and safe because you don’t have to carry money.”
Wild life: “The Giraffe Manor has to be my favorite. If you stay at their hotel, you get to have meals with Rothschild giraffes. They normally poke their heads through the windows at breakfast time and as a guest you get to interact with them.”
In a culture where skin bleaching is still practiced, this model, or rather, role model, has become a national symbol for natural beauty. After walking the runways from Alexander McQueen to Vivienne Westwood, she recently returned home and opened her own agency, Ajuma Limited (she’s pictured here at her headquarters), which seeks to increase African representation in fashion. Her search for models even extends to Kakuma, Africa’s second-largest refugee camp, through her project Beauty Without Borders.
Her spot: “My offices. As a former Victoria’s Secret model, I have experienced first-hand the excitement and media buzz that show generates. With a rapidly growing and highly aspirational urban market spurring me on, I am launching Kenya’s first African lingerie fashion spectacular, Afrodisiac, on October 27. It will raise funds for our 2019 Beauty Without Borders project.”
Must visit: “Bomas of Kenya, which displays recreations of traditional villages belonging to the several Kenyan tribes.”
Weekend getaway: “Try to visit more exotic areas of Kenya like Turkana, where I am from.”
Chief Kenyan trait: “I was The Kenyan National 400m champion in 2003.”
Wild life: “Visiting our adopted baby elephant at the Sheldrick, picnics at Paradise lost and walks at the Aboretum or Karura forest.”
Fashion fix: “Kikoromeo, Kidosho, Trendy B and Yvonne Afro Street. They make amazing looks with that beautiful modern African touch. The Maasai Marketcraftsmen and women also make beautiful, vibrant accessories that I love to wear and gift to friends and family abroad.”
Night spot: “Mercury Lounge. The music cuts across board which makes it fun for everyone, and the crowd is a great mix of locals, expats and visitors.”
A Canadian expat who has called Nairobi home for the past seven years, Milneshas overseen the building of local libraries across Kenya, stocking them with a curated collection of local authors and international thought leaders. “I am currently working on groundbreaking research using fiction as a tool to prevent violence. It’s exciting because I’ve been able to show that reading can be a simple and cost-effective way to reduce extremism, in any country.”
Her spot: “The office of Knowledge Empowering Youth. I helped build their trademark program, which designs and donates libraries for government schools in Kenya, and then uses the libraries as a platform for democracy and peace. The book collection there is always different depending on the project you are working on.”
Dine out: “La salumeria, in Valley Arcade. I always end up ordering the eggplant parmesan; on the cooler Nairobi evenings it’s perfect with a glass of red wine.”
Culture club: “Circle Art Gallery. I’ve slowly been building up a collection of East African artists discovered there. My current obsessions are Patrick Kinuthia and Donald Wasswa.”
Shop talk: “Diana Opoti’s store is out of this world if you want to discover African designers. Go hunting for textiles on Biashara Street. I am currently obsessed with designing furniture for my home in Vermont.”
Wild life: “Karura forest, followed by brunch at the River Cafe. Also, Sirikoi Lodgein Laikipia. It’s heaven on earth and completely eco friendly.”
Through her eponymous label, the half-Tanzanian Mpinga creates not just striking clothing, but a pressing dialogue that addresses stereotypes of African prints, and questions overconsumption through season-less collections. This dynamo is also the founder of Free As A Human, an anti-human trafficking initiative which counts Gloria Steinem as a supporter and rallies to end the sexual exploitation of young girls, the use of child labor and modern slavery. Check out her t-shirts here.
Her spot: “The Tribe Hotel (pictured) was founded on the principle of inclusivity. Their belief that unity is the foundation of a prosperous world is something that speaks to my values as a Baha’i. I love visiting their Jiko restaurant for meetings. I order the ginger salmon and coconut rice in banana leaf.”
Shop talk: “If you’re looking for a special piece you won’t find anywhere else, visit the Erika A. Style Store. It was started by a stylist who worked for Louis Vuitton.”
Art scene: “Check out Paa Ya Paa, Kenya’s oldest indigenous arts centre, currently directed by renowned artist Elimo Njau.”
Weekend getaway: “Nothing beats a trip to Lamu Island on the North Coast of Kenya. It is a former slave port which carries with it a rich history and beautiful architecture with its centuries old settlements. I love that there are no cars on the island.”
State of affairs: “People are supporting local brands more. There was a time when Kenyans wouldn’t go near anything that was made in Kenya because they assumed the quality and standards wouldn’t be good. However, in the past few years there has been a great shift.”
As one of Nairobi’s most influential tastemakers, Onyango uses her multimedia platforms to highlight Kenyan design talent. Originally from Ivory Coast and raised in Zimbabwe, with stints in England and Canada, she brings her worldly eye and passion for promoting African design to Republi.ke, her new multi-brand boutique dedicated to locally-made fashion. “After I had a baby, I threw out all my old clothes and set myself a goal to rebuild my closet with mostly Kenyan brands.”
Her spot: “Tribal Gallery is a furniture, art, and design haven. Shopping here is like going to visit the home of your friend who has superb taste and being allowed to take things home with you. Owner Louise Patterson travels the world sourcing exquisite things. She will give you a glass of wine and let you chill with her dogs. It’s one of the most inspired places in Nairobi. The in-house artisans also create custom furniture from old boats sourced from the Kenyan coast.”
Cafe select: “Wasp & Sprout is a family-owned coffee house, brunch spot, and artsy shop. Most Sundays we’ll stroll over there for the spinach and mushroom omelette and a couple of mimosas, and a look around the shop for stuff to style our house.”
Night moves: “J’s in Westlands hosts live Kenyan music on Thursday night, showcasing local sounds, from traditional to more urban. It’s a converted colonial manor house with a large outdoor area. After the live music stops, the DJ takes over, so the dancing continues until very late like most Nairobi nights.”
Eco find: “Ocean Sole make children’s products from discarded flips flops recovered from beaches and dumpsites. It employs local craftsmen, allowing them to provide for their families while alleviating marine pollution by recycling hundreds of tons of flip flop rubber waste every year. The art of transforming trash into sculpture is something Kenyans do very well.”
Must-visit: “Every Sunday, the K1 Flea Market hosts brunch and live music and is a popular spot to shop emerging local artisans and fashion brands.”
Nairobi myth: “I think Westerners have this vision of Kenya as politically insecure, on the brink of civil conflict, or teeming with terrorists, which isn’t at all accurate. We have no more of these things as any other major city in the world. We strive for the same things everyone else does—peace and prosperity.”
If she were mayor: “Women need more maternal support—resources, information, healthcare and benefits like longer maternity leave and subsidized baby care products. Mothers need workplaces that protect their right to care for their babies by providing daycare centers or flexible hours. More female representation in government is necessary.”
Opoti’s store, Designing Africa Collective at the Village Market (pictured), is a compelling ode to the region’s buzziest labels and emerging lines, which customers are prone to shop directly from her daily Instagram looks. With glamour in spades, Opoti is a champion for design talent across Africa and consultant for foreign brands looking to enter the Kenyan market.
Art crawl: “Visit One Off and Circle Art Galleries for their curation of top East African artists, and always discover new names.”
Fashion fix: “A favorite new name is Kepha Maina. Also, you have to check out Anyango Mpinga, Katungulu Mwendwa, and Ami Shah.”
Dine out: “Zen Garden’s Bamboo restaurant for their pan-Asian cuisine and scenery.”
State of affairs: “Nairobi is growing rapidly. I love the tech innovations, but worry about the quick real estate growth without strategic urban planning and the city water supply. I’d love to see more recreation centers and parks as well as better waste management.”
Weekend getaway: “For a quick day trip, drive up to Naivasha and have lunch at the Ranch House Bistro. I love the beach. And for longer breaks, I’d recommend the Majlis in Lamu or Hemingway’s in Malindi.”
Meet Nairobi’s most ambitious culture curators. The Tokyo-born Wachuka’sbackground is in publishing some of Africa’s leading literary voices, while Koinange is a writer, arts programmer, and podcaster. Together, they co-founded Book Bunk, an organization that restores and repurposes some of Nairobi’s oldest libraries and installs new ones in public spaces.
Their spot: “The McMilan Memorial Library (pictured) is our newest labor of love,” says Wachuka. “It was opened in 1931 and has somehow remained trapped in the past. We’re transforming this space into a modern library and a public arts center.”
Lunch spot: “Roasted Truth at the co-working space Ikigai. The grilled cheese, salad and soup combo is the perfect lunch, and they also make the best coffee in town,” says Koinange. “The goat pepper soup at Valley Arcade’s Mama Ashanti is a staple, “ says Wachuka.
Going live: “The Elephant on Kanjata Road for concerts. I will also go anywhere the Too Early for Birds crew are putting on shows. They bring history alive in breathtaking ways, exploring everything from newspaper headlines to Kenyan idioms,” says Wachuka.
Fashion fix: “Angelsmile House of Design—Wambui Kibue creates such masterpieces. Check out Kiondos, which are handwoven baskets made from sisal and wool, my favorite Kenyan-made accessory,” says Koinange.
Kenyan pride: “Right now, Rafiki, a groundbreaking film by Wanuri Kahiu,” says Koinange. “Our athletes bring me tremendous pride. They excel against so many odds,” adds Wachuka.
State of affairs: “There’s something shifting about the way that Nairobians are imagining their city and I am thrilled to be among the people who are concerned about the utility of public spaces,” says Koinange. “On the flip side, our creative economy is under the threat of unreasonable and uninformed censorship. This is worrying.”
If they were mayor: “We’d would institute a regeneration plan focused on the city’s arts and culture as not only channels for public consumption, but key drivers of an economy whose demographics are mostly young and who more than ever consider the arts as a viable career path,”says Wachuka.
While her bespoke jewelry label Loyangalani has a cult following in Kenya, the Florence-trained designer is equally in demand with international labels seeking to manufacturer artisanal products in East Africa. She’s a key connector between artisans, ethically-aware brands, and a diverse group of the city’s creative class.
Her spot: “The home of Dodo Cunningham Reid, a friend and mentor known for her impeccable style. She is a woman of many talents, best known for interior design and her magical boutique hotel in Naivasha called Hippo Point. She has been a driving force in my life.”
Go explore: “My favorite part of the city is downtown. I am lucky as a majority of the stone merchants and gold smiths I work with are based there. There is lots of quirky buildings and you see the real hustlers of Nairobi. Watching them go about their work inspires anyone.”
Fashion fix: “I’m currently working with a wonderful brand called Ubuntu. We recently launched the first ever African customizable shoe called the Afridrille, using locally sourced spun cotton canvas, the best of Kenyan leather and beautiful bead work embellishments developed by Masai women.”
Dine out: “Talisman. Try the Nyati wings and feta coriander samosas, and don’t forget the dessert. My brother John Bond Macharia just took over as the new pastry chef from his stint at Faviken in Sweden.”
Must-see: “Our countless beautiful sunsets, so there is always an excuse to have a sundowner, our classic gin and tonic cocktail. They make a great one at The Giraffe Manor, and the experience can’t be beat.”
Her sophisticated collection has developed a following so loyal that Mwendwaenlists bicycle couriers to whip around town delivering her latest creations to clientele. With her unfussy designs gaining traction abroad, she’s focused on expanding her business internationally.
Her spot: “Mama Rocks Burgers is such an energy-filled spot! The space has an afro-pop kind of vibe going on and the food is a yummy mix of your gourmet burgers in flavors. I also like to work from there.”
Night out: “Brew Bistro is known for brewing its own beer, The Big Five. It’s a fun dancing spot.”
Pro-tip: “Be patient and open minded to the possibility of cosmically-imposed spontaneity and unpredictability. This will help you in all aspects of your experience here, from the weather, to traffic and people. Every day feels like a little adventure and you won’t want to leave.”
Must-try: “An apple mango. Although its probably not only native to here and isn’t always in season! When ripe, it’s the yummiest fruit ever.”
Shop talk: “The Made in Kenya home and fashion store at the Yard in Westlands is a really exciting. They carry a ton of really cool local brands.”
Cafe society: “Crave Kitchen. Try the Kienyeji tea (similar to chai) and a mandazi pastry.”
Go explore: “DuBois Street, where you’ll find the West African Market, a house with multiple rooms around a central courtyard. Each room has an array of West African antiques and textiles from intricately beaded Yoruba Chairs to indigo Mali mud cloth. There are no price tags, so be prepared to have an approximate budget in mind before you start bargaining.”
Pro-tip: “While distances in Nairobi are not that great, traffic can be grueling. Give yourself enough time to get around and always overestimate how long it will take to reach places.”
Shop talk: “Ichyulu.com is a beautifully curated online store for Pan African fashion, and Saba Furniture Company based in Lamu.”
Guilty Pleasure: “The Sno Cream ice cream parlor is a real treat.”
As one of Kenya’s most in-demand makeup artists, the Uganda-born Akello has a uniquely personal take on beauty, influenced by her diverse upbringing all over Africa and in England. With her natural, skin-first approach, she worked on most of the women in this story.
Her spot: “Kuona artist collective. I have a studio here and love the space because of all the inspiration I get from my fellow creatives. I use it to come up with unique makeup looks.”
Lunch pick: “The Arbor is amazing. I always order something different, but try their wontons.”
Fashion fix: “Check out M+K Nairobi, a contemporary brand by Muqqadam Latif and Keith Macharia. It’s modern African chic.”
Shop talk: “The Natural Beauty Bar for Kenyan-made clean beauty products.”
Must-see: “Masai Market is so dope. You can find some real gems there. When I lived in England and took trips back home, it was the one place I always had to make sure I reached before getting back on the plane.”
This rapper, singer, and drummer fuses her upbeat dancehall with feminist manifestos. A popular figure on the Kenyan music scene, she also has an international following and is currently on tour in Europe in support of her latest album #SHE. And with her ever-changing, day-glo hair, indeed she’s hard to miss.
Her spot: “The Nairobi Railway Museum. It’s smack in the middle of downtown. All the old trains no longer in use transport me back to an imaginary time. Its also super cool that a lot of these carriages are now occupied by visual artists with great studios and galleries.”
Go explore: “My favorite part of the city to go exploring is Karen. There are lots of boutiques, restaurants, galleries and artisanal spaces.”
Lunch pick: “TamuTamu, which means delicious. It’s a Swahili food spot. I almost always order biriani or fish in coconut sauce.”
On Live: “The Alliance Francaise. I’ve watched a lot of great theatre, poetry, contemporary dance and live music there.”
Fashion fix: “My favorite is Bongosawa for everyday streetwear. Their minimalist, unisex designs and excellent graphics makes it super cool. Sandstorm and Nyakanboth make excellent travel bags. Own Your Culture are amazing at accessories.”
Key Kenyan trait: “I often say ‘Me, I’ That’s a truly Kenyan way to start a sentence.”
Local style: “Living in Kenya and being of modest means has made a lot of us rely on secondhand clothes because we don’t have a textiles industry so we don’t make our own clothes at mass scale. To look good, I had to develop my own aesthetic through curated thrifting. I recommend the Toi Market. When these thrifted items are mixed in with locally produced products, it makes for really quirky, individual style.”
Must-try: “My Nairobi guilty pleasure is the street food. Nothing beats a boiled egg with some spicy salsa after a night out.”
Rossa is one-half of 2ManySiblings, a creative collective with her brother, Oliver Asike, concerned with exploring new African narratives in fashion and art. The striking pair (definitely worth a follow on their joint Instagram) recently worked with ASOS on a Made in Kenya collection.
Lunch spot: “Haru for the fresh crab sushi.”
Pro-tip: “Learn bits of the local language Swahili. It comes in handy with the traders in the markets. But be prepared to tolerate the dust there as well.”
Must-try: “Kericho Gold for their elegant flavors and blends of tea.”
Key Kenyan trait: “Put simply, I am a non-conformer.”
If she were mayor: “[We need] beautifully painted buildings with murals to have a city that would visually inspire and stimulate all senses.”
Weekend getaway: “Cycling in Naivasha’s Hell’s Gate. There are bikes for rent and the routes there are quite gorgeous.”