The 2018 winner of the best film in the fashion category of Bokeh Fashion Film Awards is Picha Marangi. This two-minute long film starts with seconds of smoky, depressing landfill imagery, but quickly segues into a film that leaves you feeling like you’ve been listening to Farrell William’s Happy song. Picha Marangi is about Kenyan photographer Stephen Okoth, “the most colourful, unconventional and creative man in Kibera”, Nairobi’s biggest informal settlement. He creates his look using bright second-clothes bought from the Gikomba market, which according to the BBC, has hundreds of shops and stalls selling second-hand clothes imported from Europe and the US. It is clear from watching Picha Marangi, which means colourful picture, that Stephen’s appearance will make your day.

Jackie May asked the director Nathan Collett about the film and about Stephen:

Tell me about Stephen? He’s a very creative guy. He is hard-working and at times temperamental. He takes discarded clothes and other items – anything that might be seen as undesirable – and repurposes them into fashionable clothing and film props. Often in Kenya and East Africa there is a feeling of ‘lacking’; of things not being good enough; of not having enough; of not being cool enough, etc. Stephen addresses this and shows people that there is ‘enough’ that you can be creative despite perceived limitations. We’ve worked together on a few projects in the past, since he was a trainees at a film school I helped launch in Kibera.

Why did you want to make the movie?  I believe in the philosophy of being creative with what you have, that we’re more than what people see… that the people of Kibera are more than what we expect. I believe in not letting your environment constrain you. Although, often it does.

Describe Kibera?  Kibera is amazing and yet tragic, it is both is both beautiful and ugly. There is a great energy, young people, excitement and people on the move. Yet, it’s a low income area, sometimes it lacks running water, limited electricity, and poor roads. It’s also a place where you will never get bored, where you will find a strong community and close knit people.

How does Stephen’s community relate to him?  Stephen is a ‘star’ in Kibera. He still works and lives in the community, though many of his projects take him out of Kibera. Last time I saw him, he was making props for an apocalyptic sci fi music video. Again, he was reusing ‘discards’ to make something truly creative. He works with a team of young people on these projects and is quite an inspiration to them. Last month I shot a music video with Kenyan rapper Octopizzo who also comes from Kibera. The video draws on the ideas of used clothing being fashionable, using older styles, drawing from the past etc. This idea really inspires. Maybe its nostalgia, maybe it’s a sense of self reliance, maybe its just the look itself.

Can you tell me about the second-hand clothing trade in Kenya? Though not an expert at this, in my experience it seems that the second-hand clothing trade is booming. It’s everywhere: on the sides of the roads, in busy sidewalks, in markets, etc etc. Compared to the cheap imports from China, it seems people prefer the quality and the price that second-hand clothes offer. Most of the clothes are pretty boring, not very stylish. To find the right stuff, you’ve really got to work at it. For Octopizzo’s music video, his brother spent many days combing through the used clothing stalls in Gikomba, and elsewhere. I also believe people have “a contact”, someone who lets them know when new stuff arrives. I think there has been past attempts to ‘ban it’ or over tax it, but somehow this hasn’t happened. It’s really a lifeline for people, and especially for youth who want to be fashionable and look unique with a limited budget. It’s a chance to be an individual, to stand out, to express yourself given the limited options in price and the availability of new clothes. Once they earn more they are able to mix up their clothes with those from the local market.

Describe Gikomba market?  It’s tight, lots of people, lots of movement and all types of clothes and food are sold there. Farmers bring their produce direct to the stalls and sometimes sell out of the back of their pickup or car. More and more Chinese wares are being sold. Cheap phone covers, cheap phones, plastics, etc but the core remains used clothing. It’s one of the few places where people can make enough money to pay small bills, to get by, in an ever more competitive economy in Kenya. Hundreds if not thousands are employed directly and indirectly. It can be messy and chaotic but its part and parcel of life in Kibera and its environs.

How long did you take to make the movie? After I wrote the script, it took a couple of weeks to prepare for the shoot. We filmed it over two and half days in Kibera. It look a little longer to be edited, since it was self-funded, I worked on it in between other projects. We finally finished the colour correction a few weeks ago which was done by my colleague Joan Poggio in Nairobi.

What is the music? We started with some stock music, 70s, funk type music and then an original score was made by Alfonso Perdomo.

Who is the voice over? It’s an African American voice over artist who I sourced online. Originally I wanted Stephen to do it, but after watching the renaissance of black television shows, the new voice over gave it a fitting lift to elevate the story.

Tell me about yourself. I’m from Australia and America and until recently lived in Kenya for over 10 years. My wife is Kenyan, and I feel a deep connection to the country. I’ve shot a lot of short films, documentaries, music videos and other projects in Kenya and all over Africa, mostly for overseas clients. I’ve been working on a few unfinished personal projects including a medium length film called ‘New Eden’ set in a post-apocalyptic East Africa. I like the space between documentary and narrative. As I’m attracted to the ‘real world’ to ‘real stories’ but I want to bring a visual edge using narrative storytelling.

The winning Bokeh Fashion Films are:

  • Actor: Hollywood Hills
  • Music: Casamorati
  • Documentary: MUMATHONES
  • Art Director: Perfect Parisienne
  • Cinematography: Paris you got me
  • Emerging Talent: Note to self
  • Make Up: Imagine Puppeteer
  • Hair: Doll House
  • Fashion: Picha Marangi
  • Director: Hollywood Hills
  • Lifetime:  Einat Dan
  • ECT: What Would Shara Do?
  • ECT Make Up: Eat It
  • Picture: Lovely

This story first appeared in the Sunday Times, SA

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Images: Supplied