Warembo Wasanii isn’t just the place in Kariobangi North where Joan Otieno trains young women off the street to be environmentalists, concerned about cleaning up their garbage-strewn city.
She also shows them by example how to be tailors and fashion designers as well as conservationists who collect garbage and then upcycles it into costumes that are being shown everywhere from UNEP in Gigiri to the Landmark Mall in Karen. Landmark also has a Plaza in K-North, which is where Joan moved her Warembo Wasanii.
Their rooftop studio is a hive of activity where up to 14 young women are currently working with the ‘junk artist’ who’s a specialist in recycling garbage and upcycling it into everything from handbags, shoes and baby clothes to floor mats, hats, tapestries and other sundry items.
Joan’s studio is an open house of sorts where young women come, having heard of her good works by word of mouth. “Some are school leavers from the slums while others are university students who heard about what we do here and wanted to be involved.
“Esther [Wambua] was the first one to come. But after that, one girl would come and bring a friend. The word has got passed around like that,” says Joan who’s always created her art having fellow artists around. She’s worked with artists at Dust Depo Art Studio with Patrick Mukabi and company.
She’s shared creative times with many graffiti artists. And when she’s had exhibitions at Alliance Francaise or British Institute, she’s worked with artists from Maasai Mbili. But since she’s been at Landmark, she’s generated her own group of blossoming ‘junk’ artist-designers. They were rehearsing for their upcoming fashion show early this week so we got to see the amazing costumes made by six of Joan’s 14 mentees. “The rest are either taking exams or looking after younger siblings, but they all come regularly,” she adds.
Appearing one by one out of their dressing room were Ritah, Risper, Lourine, Yvonne, Esther and Idah. All were dressed in colourful costumes, all of which were made out of plastic wrappers and stitched by the girls into dresses, skirts, tops and even one brassiere. All had made hats to match and several also had matching shoes and handbags. If one didn’t look closely you wouldn’t know the wrappers had once contained everything from condoms and sanitary pads to cookies, plastic bags and straws.