Mohamed Bade Abdullahi is the reigning Mr World Kenya Garissa county and CEO of Aqil Fashion House.
You recently showcased at the JW Show 2019, how did you end up on this runway?
The JW Show, which is purely Kenyan, has been on my radar for the past five years. In my career as a model while in college, I auditioned for the show three times but I didn’t make the cut. My luck, however, shone elsewhere. I was a finalist in the Mr and Miss World Kenya 2018 after which I came up with the idea of creating the Somali International Fashion Show, which was successful. It was after this show that the JW Show CEO, Jeffery Wilson, invited me to exhibit my collection. It was an honour to be part of the show. I got the opportunity to not only showcase, but also to walk the runway, as I’ve always wanted to, in my own creations.
Do you feel you were better prepared this time?
I was more than ready to be part of the show. I shared the stage with amazing people and I’ll forever be grateful. The prior rejections only meant that there would be better opportunities. Even when I didn’t get through with the auditions, I still knew I was good. I have learned that you should never permit rejection to kill your dreams. ‘No’ simply means ‘next opportunity’.
Why were all the outfits in your JW Show collection cut from different fabrics?
I was trying to blend my Somali cultural heritage with the urban modern look in both the women and men’s wear. The collection was designed from the Somali kitenge, also known as the Somali heritage outfit.
As you tap into and express your Somali identity through fashion, do you consider yourself a cultural ambassador?
I would say I’m trying to integrate the Somali community into the fast expanding fashion industry in Kenya as well as create a face for my community in the industry. There is so much more that we have to offer.
Do you feel as if the Somali community is left out in the local fashion industry?
Somehow yes, and it’s not just the Somali community. There are so many people who are sidelined or are not empowered enough. The biggest market of textile in East Africa is in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area, which is mostly dominated by Somalis, but they are still not exposed to these opportunities. That is why I have taken the step to boldly acknowledge them. My designs are a reflection of harmony and peaceful coexistence between all the communities in the country.
Do you have a specific target market or you do it speculatively?
While my creations are inspired by my Somali heritage, Aqil Fashion House is open to everyone. And seeing how much positive feedback we’ve gotten, we are trying to cater to diverse clients and make this brand accessible. Our prices depend on the design and fabric used, but right now, we are in the wedding season and we have suits retailing at Sh8,000 to Sh35,000.
How long has Aqil Fashion House been around?
As a registered company, it’s been a year, but I’ve been designing clothes for seven years now. The Somali International Fashion Show in February 2019 was my first major event. I then showcased at Modesty Fashion Week this year.
You are also into modelling, right?
Yes, I’m a former Mr Gretsa University 2014 and Mr Thika Town 2015. I’m also the reigning Mr World Kenya Garissa county and I was a finalist at the same competition in 2018. I’m convinced nothing is impossible with a willing mind. I know I’m capable of so much more and I will audition for the Mr World Kenya 2020. Right now the fashion industry is rapidly growing and we have more than it takes to bring out the glory it embodies and the time is now. We need to invest in young talent because it is where the fire burns bright.
Did you study fashion design?
Not even close. My first degree was in public health at Gretsa University. The second one was in business management at Kenya Methodist University. I always had a special affinity for fashion and that is why I tossed myself into modelling in my college days. My fashion interests were sharpened over the time.
But your business management skills must have given you the tools needed to run your company, right?
Yes, it does help. I got into the course out of influence from my family. I wanted to be my own boss and that is why I did this second degree.