Scarves that are more than wearable art

Gemini Vaghela with her five eco-scarves. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
Gemini Vaghela with her five eco-scarves. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Scarves have become an essential accessory of many young women’s wardrobes in Nairobi these days. Yet most of them come from China, while those that accessorise saris come from India.

Very few of the scarves worn by either women or men have been by fellow Kenyans. The one exception are those made by Gemini Vaghela whose recent exhibition at Nairobi National Museum’s Creativity Gallery highlighted the beautiful textiles that Gemini had designed, all inspired and based directly on her abstract art.

Curtains, cushion covers

Having gone to school in Nairobi at Aga Khan Academy, Gemini had always enjoyed painting but only as a hobby.

Then at university in Australia, she majored in multimedia technologies, but she says she’d never stopped painting.

She’d even taken part in annual national art exhibitions in Perth up until the time that she came back to Kenya in 2011.

So despite her having a wide array of advanced IT skills, she was already committed to getting into the Nairobi art scene by the time she’d got back home five years ago.

In that short time, Gemini has already exhibited everywhere from the Best Western and Dusit D2 hotels to the Talisman, Mediterraneo and Karen Country Club to Banana Hill and Souk Galleries. She’s shown at Village Market, the Sondeka Festival and her artwork was specially selected to be in the United Nations Expo in Milan in 2015.

But what has seriously raised her artistic and fashion world profile are the scarves that she displayed side by side her paintings at the Creativity Gallery in Nairobi last month. For not only are the scarves beautiful and suffused with symbolic meaning, given all five designs are inspired by Gemini’s concerns for the environment.

They are also functional and affordable. They can either be draped or gracefully knotted around one’s neck, worn as a shawl to dress up any outfit or used in a myriad of other ways.

Curtains, table cloths

“They can be used as curtains or cushion covers, wall hangings or even framed like paintings,” said Gemini who made the scarves a full two metres long and one metre wide, meaning they can even serve as table cloths, baby carriers and so many other useful things.

“People have even made them into dresses and jackets,” she said, adding that her scarves come in two different fabrics, either viscose which is slightly warmer or polyester which is lighter and less inclined to wrinkle.

The one big problem Gemini had once she got the idea to transpose her paintings as digital prints onto fabrics, (both on viscose and polyester) was that she couldn’t find a company in all of Kenya to do the job.

“I didn’t want to look to China since I have heard too many stories about the chemical toxicity of their goods,” she told BDLife.

So India became the only other place she chose to explore. She briefly looked at the US market since they do digital printing on fabric, but at a much higher price than the sub-continent.

But even India wasn’t cheap if one includes the transport and duty costs. “So I chose to initially print just five of my paintings in limited edition,” she said.

She could have printed more since there were 26 mixed media paintings at the Museum, but she didn’t know if there would be an interest in her scarves.

As it turns out, there’s been wide interest in them although for now, they are only available on her website, at the Nairobi National Museum gift shop and at her studio at Kobo Safaris on Riara Road.

The five colourful designs on Gemini’s scarves all have names closely associated with the artist’s thoughts on the environment.

They are ‘Reconnected’, ‘Forest Grooves’, ‘Trail of Heat’, ‘Earth’ and ‘I Burn,’ each available in either viscose or polyester at Sh5,000.

“Each design has been printed in limited editions of 50 times 2, 50 in viscose, 50 in polyester,” she said.