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From the lowly streets to high fashion

 The Big Issue Kenya 15 November 2019

One of the best ways to experience the stark dichotomy between Kenya’s majority poor and its modest affluent class is to visit one of the many shopping malls that have sprung up in the capital. A fashion show by former street kids made shoppers think twice. (699 Words) - By Philip Emase

The Big Issue Kenya_from low streets to high fashion_3

A collection from fashion line Get Together Girls (GtoG). Photo: Grazia Orsolato

At the three-storey Westgate mall in Westlands, affluent shoppers cart their purchases towards their sleek four wheel drives. They walk past kids from the neighbouring slums with their hands outstretched as they beg for loose change to buy an exercise book or a piece of bread. A few of these children are homeless urchins in need of a bottle of glue to sniff the cold and depression away.

There was a rare moment at mall ealier this year, when a group of former street girls showcased their collection at a high end fashion show that gathered East Africa's finest fashion houses for three days.

The expo which was hosted by former Miss India-Kenya Pinky Ghelani, had many participants, but two stood out. Sylvia Owori, the eminent Ugandan designer and editor of African Woman magazine whose designs have been modeled in Milan and Paris and GtoG collection. The later was haute couture made by former street girls from Anita's Home, a shelter that cares for disadvantaged children in Ngong.

Get Together Girls (GtoG),is a project founded by Italian Grazia Orsolato, who first came to Anita's Home as a 32 year old volunteer in the summer of 2004. A professional in administration, Grazia was a customer administration manager working with Pirelli in Milan. She had chosen to volunteer in Africa during that year's summer vacation instead of taking the more common excursion to some exotic setting.

Grazia's encounter with the Anita girls changed her life, but more so, that of the girls. While the home guaranteed their basic needs and an education, Grazia discerned a need to assist those who were unable to gain a tertiary education, either because they did not make the required grades or became pregnant and quit school. She felt a need to give such girls a practical skill that would help them earn a living. She thus shared her thoughts with an Italian friend, a stylist named Roberta Vincenzi, and together they returned to launch G2G at Anita's Home in February of 2010.

Roberta spent two weeks teaching the girls all the natty gritty of sawing fashionable clothes and according to Grazia, "they learned very fast even though most of them had never even touched a sewing machine before".

Today the girls are designing and producing fashionable clothes for women both in Kenyan and for the global market. All their products are handmade, covering all body sizes and using materials that range from African patterned cloth to Western oriented material.

"In Africa, our target is the middle class and we mostly use African materials such as the kitenge," Grazia explains.

She presently sustains its operations from her own personal reserves, operating from a room at Anita's Home with four manual sewing machines and four electric ones. She pays each girl Ksh 300 a day and they work from nine in morning till three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday.

Grazia hopes to ensure GtoG is firmly founded on the Kenyan market before she goes back to Italy, from where she will make efforts to help expand their products into the European and American fashion markets.

Despite having existed for less than a year, the project is already touching lives. One of the girls, Monica Nzembi, had dropped out of Anita's Home one year ago to marry her boyfriend.

One day while she was with child, he took a bus to downtown Nairobi and simply never returned. His mangled body was found at a morgue two weeks later, the victim of an unexplained murder. Monica was only 17 at the time her world crashed.

She joined GtoG and the project has become her sole hope and she is depending on it to raise her little baby girl.

"From my earnings I can afford my own place and a babysitter," Monica says. "GtoG has reunited me with the many friends I had left behind at Anita's Home. My loneliness has reduced because we lean on each other."


Originally published by The Big Issue Kenya. ©

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