Meet Kevin Ondieki.
How a 21-year-old is using technology to bring affordable fashion to his community.
7 Minute read
It was early and the air was buzzing in Gikomba Market, a bustling marketplace near Kibera, one of Kenya’s largest disadvantaged neighborhoods—and Kevin was on the hunt.
Every trip to Gikomba held the potential to discover a secondhand treasure, and Kevin always tried to show up before the crowds so that he could take his time perusing the makeshift clothing boutiques, trading greetings with shopkeepers and friends.
Kevin wasn’t looking for anything specific, but like always, he knew a score when he saw one. On that day, it was a pair of white Nike Air Force Ones sitting at the end of a row of sneakers. They were simple, stylish, effortlessly cool—to Kevin, they communicated to the world that their wearer was someone who took pride in their appearance, but also liked to be comfortable. He had to have them—and, after a little haggling with the shoe vendor, they were his.
At the time, Kevin was about to graduate from high school, but hadn’t yet decided what to do next. He loved art, but couldn’t afford art school. He’d saved some money selling data packages at a mobile payments shop, but knew that he wanted more from a career. Leaving Gikomba that day, new sneakers in hand, it struck him for the first time: Fashion is what I really love, so that is what I’m going to do.
Over the next few months, Kevin saved up enough money from his job at the mobile payments shop for a few months’ rent on a 12-by-7-foot shack in the heart of Kibera. A few weeks after that, his secondhand fashion boutique, Westside Looks, opened its corrugated iron doors to the community.
At first, business was slow. Kevin continued going to Gikomba Market three to four times a week, sourcing clothes to resell at a slight (but still affordable) markup. In a ritual he continues to this day, every time he found a standout piece, he’d snap a picture on his Samsung J5 Pro—an Android (Go edition) smartphone—and share it with a couple of close friends using the offline sharing feature on the Files by Google app. His friends, in turn, would share the photos with their contacts and other potential customers.
“I share with my customers the pictures of new inventory using Files, and then they go and share with their friends as well. They promote me and increase my network.”
Gradually, Kevin’s reputation as a treasure-finder and tastemaker grew—as did his ambitions. Before long, local artists and performers from Kibera started showing up at his shop, asking for new styles and fashion advice for upcoming performances. He began to think about designing his own line of stylish, affordable clothing one day: Whenever Kevin had access to wifi, he’d save art and design tutorials from YouTube offline, and begin to mentally sketch designs he hoped to someday create.
“Fashion is the best thing I think I can do for my community. I know from my own experience that there are kids growing up in Kibera wanting clothes that they can’t afford. I want to help them enjoy what I didn’t get to enjoy.”
Today, Kevin’s modest storefront has become a fashion fixture in Kibera. He sees it as not only a business for himself, but as a way of giving back to the community that raised him. Kevin dreams of opening more stores in Kibera, filled with his own clothing line. He wants everyone in the neighborhood, however humble their origins, to look and feel the same way he did the first time he put on his Air Force Ones from Gikomba Market: powerful, empowered, and proud of how they look.
How Kevin does it.
Files by Google.
As soon as Kevin sources new inventory for his shop, he uses the Files by Google app to share images of new items with friends and potential customers.Learn more
Kevin’s dreaming big: In addition to opening his own shop, he hopes to design his own affordable line of clothing. He watches YouTube tutorials to master drawing and sketching for fashion design.Learn more
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