The fashionable career of a personal stylist from Kenya
The idea of a personal shopper and style consultant is not that well known in this part of the world. But, Erika Akoth has fashioned a career in this field and has been giving personal fashion advise to global clients for years. She runs a high fashion concept shop in Nairobi called Erika A. Style.
The Erika A. Style shop is located in Karen and has racks of designer clothing and accessories sourced from all over the world. You immediately get the sense that all the items were individually handpicked by someone with a bold eye for style.
I saw classic apparel for formal or smart casual occasions and plenty of distinctive pieces. From unique kimono jackets, beaded skirts, sheer sequined blouses, kaftan tops, off-shoulder little black dresses, deconstructed jeans, fashion swimwear to crafted jewellery.
A shelf of high strappy sandals decorated with ruffles, sequins and rabbit fur catches your eye. Huge, brightly coloured sun hats are a favourite with Erika.
Her handbags are in novel designs influenced by soft drink cans, the solar system and hemp fabric. Famous designer names jumped out like Channel, Calvin Klein, Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Raf Simons and Kurt Geiger. But, not everything is pricey as the items range from $20 to $3,000.
Erika has always been interested in fashion but trained as a chef. After two years of culinary school in Nairobi she grew bored of the monotony.
“I’m always restless and need to try something different almost weekly,” says Erika.
A visit to Asia gave her the exposure she needed to pursue her passion. While visiting a friend in Thailand she attended a number of haute couture shows put on by top Thai and international brands. Determined to somehow enter the industry, her opportunity came through modelling. Tall, slender and chocolate-skinned, Erika has the physique for the catwalk.
But her real interest lay in styling and design. “So, I started doing a lot of free work with photographers to get into that side of fashion,” says Erika.
She took a design course in Singapore and continued attending fashion events, establishing contacts in the process.
With time her style was noticed and she started getting requests from people looking for assistance with their wardrobes.
“I started doing home calls then evolved into a personal shopper.”
New clientele mostly came through word of mouth especially among wealthy patrons with little time to shop or looking for discreet, personalised advice.
She travelled throughout Asia and Europe, meeting new clients and collecting unique pieces.
“For me to get more bookings as a stylist meant I had to get unique items.”
Erika says that personal styling is not only about fashion and fabrics but adapting to individual tastes and regional influences. She aims to understand if the customer is willing to be taught about style or has a set way of dressing.
Back in Kenya she finds that people here more conservative in their style. She likes to dress up in costume fashion and it’s not uncommon to see her in a strapless bodice, fascinator hats or masquerade party masks.
“Now it’s more about mixing my style with something conservative,” she says.
At every opportunity she wears her signature scarab beetle jewellery custom-made from real jewel scarab beetles with metallic blue-green colours. Erika assures me the beetles died a natural death, which helps to retain the striking colours.
Many of her clients are expatriates, but an increasing number of Kenyans are coming to her in search of something unique.