“There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans” - Jane Jacobs, Downtown is for People, 1958.
It is common knowledge that through circumstance, choice and necessity, humans are social creatures. A natural result of this is the invention of cities, which we live in for all the potential benefits of being close to other human beings: for security, proximity to resources, social mobility, the joy of interaction and other things. So cities become incubators for a wide variety of human conditions, ideals, and ideas.
Let’s talk about New York City. The city of cities. No matter who or where you are, the words New York hold a specific place in our imagination even if you’ve never been there. Some of the mental images we conjure of NYC: hustle and bustle, traffic, subways, art and culture, Broadway, hip-hop, etc. These images are people-driven, each person or thing or event with its own supposedly intrinsic agency. Where did this magical, permeating, seemingly endless energy come from? And that’s the strength of New York and cities in general: a massive, organized-yet-messy pile of human experiences rubbing, mixing and clashing against the other, such that the results become their own things or institutions. These ‘new’ experiences are poked, explored, mixed, clashed and repeated in a fractal nature. This is where we get innovation, culture and all the great, messy things that makes humanity tick.
In Vancouver, BC, where Kali Works was established, I saw The New Yorker branded merchandise like their tote bags frequently enough, despite — in my humble opinion — that most Vancouverites would probably not want to live in New York City. It is simply too urban for the type of person that loves the natural splendour of Vancouver.
So, why does the idea of New York persist there? It’s as if there is social currency or a kind of self-assurance to identify with New York City, no matter how loosely. I think this comes from our personal aspirations of wanting to be successful, cultured (with some grit still intact), socially energetic, upwardly mobile individuals. Stereotypical New Yorkers, basically, the highest expression of individuality, of belonging to a place with great social capital.
I’m no expert on its history, but I know Nairobi was founded as a train depot for the colonial enterprise circa 1900, an ‘artificial’ town compared to Mombasa, Kampala or Kigali that were established settlements since well before pre-colonial times. Nairobi, a former swamp site has attracted native Kenyans and people from all over the world since its inception, and has ballooned into Eastern Africa’s most populous and arguably most vibrant metropolis. Arguably, much of this is unavoidably linked to that colonial beginning, but that’s a whole other essay. (New York was also a colonial establishment and is not too dissimilar in principle to Nairobi, but again, another essay).
The Nairobian is a collection made to show off Nairobi as a similarly global city to New York, at least relatively in terms of aspiration and resourcefulness: a gathering place of intellectual ideas, artists, traders, labourers, and the full breadth of the human experience as I’d experienced growing up there. The collection’s title is in direct juxtaposition to The New Yorker, a weekly magazine famous for its illustrated magazine covers, topical line drawing comics, and overall clearly New York brand identity.
We commissioned two Nairobi-based artists, Naitiemu and Rosen Ian, to illustrate what they “know their Nairobi to be” and framed this in a New Yorker style magazine cover. To make clear the inspiration from The New Yorker, The Nairobian logo uses a similar typeface to the magazine’s title. We produced all the clothing in Nairobi.
The promotional images were captured in Nairobi by Kimty Dennis, featuring Jeremy Kimbo, music producers and organizers Factory DJs, artists Barak Jacuzzi and Mvroe, adding to the musical narrative of the collection's release.
To Nairobi, and to the greatness of cities.
Collection credits (Instagram handles)
Concept and Design: @kali.works
Artwork Collaboration: @naitiemu (Ishara), @rosen.ian (Ramani)
Creative Director: @sirpaully
Production Manager: @heavydmm
Models: @barakjacuzzi, @factorydjs @mvroemvroe & @jeremykimbo