Adding a touch of Lamu to swimwear

Mwisho swimsuit. PHOTO | COURTESY
Mwisho swimsuit. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Lalesso fashion brand was dreamt up on a beach in Lamu.

Olivia Kennaway and her business partner Alice fresh from fashion school were backpacking on the island where they trawled through the narrow streets collecting many beautiful and old kangas.

“My mum had this amazing handkerchief hem skirt design she had made in kanga from the 60’s and whilst eating mangoes on the shores of Manda Island we mused over how cool it would be to recreate these,” said Olivia who is the director of Lalesso.

When they got back to Cape Town they made kanga skirts and they were a great success. After finishing university in 2007, they decided to make a real go at the fashion business and Lalesso brand was born.

Lalesso now prides itself in a collection of swimwear and summer clothing which is inspired by African prints and mostly sold in the US, Australia and Europe.

Their designs are not entirely trend-focused but they are made to suit the breezy and effortless feeling of summer.

“Ever since I was young I knew that fashion was what I was going to do. I remember driving my mum mad using (or destroying, as she’d probably prefer to say) her Elna sewing machine from as early eight years old,” said Olivia.

The Lalesso designs are made from silk, cotton, rayon and for the swimwear they use polyamide. The production takes place in Kenya and South Africa. They work with Kenya artisans who make various components of the designs.

‘‘We add little beaded and tassel embellishments to certain designs which are all hand made by the Hadithi Women’s Group in Kasigau, Taita Taveta,’’ she said.

Choosing swimwear

The most important rule when choosing swimwear, Olivia said, is to love your body. Once you do, you will easily find a costume that you like and that suits you. One of the greatest misconceptions about swimwear is that it should cover up the curvy parts. If you have a curvy butt, try a slimmer cut swimwear.

However, she said, do not reveal too much. A medium covered swimwear with a Brazilian cut will flatter a curvy woman.

Another thing to consider with bikini bottoms is the park that sits of on your hips. If you have big hips, do not go for a bottom that has a thick band and will cut into your hips, go for a string bikini with a little tie so it can rest nicely without causing any great bulge effect.

For those with large bust sizes, go for something with good support and medium coverage. Don’t show too much cleavage on the beach as breast skin is sensitive to the sun. Go for an underwire bra bikini top style or a cut like the Lalesso Kuzamisha bikini top.


For smaller bust sizes, a bandeau bikini is a great option as you will not get tan lines. The Lalesso Faruta bikini top is a great style for smaller bust sizes. If you are active in the water, you need full support and coverage, try a high neckline style which straps you in.

One-piece swimsuits have made a fashion comeback; they provide great support and are comfortable.

“A few guidelines that usually help me choose a bikini is to go for prints, colour and vibrancy. Shop around for what works for you, buy three swimming costumes in the same design, but pick different prints. Don’t forget to rinse your swimwear in fresh water after sea water contact,” she said.

However, she cautions against picking mix and match prints, overcovering the butt and leaving your swimwear to dry in the sun. The sun weakens the elastic and fades the dye.

2017 collection

Their first collection was the Spring Summer 2009 and then Spring Summer 2012 was when they really cemented the brand identity and direction, printing their own kanga-inspired designs on luxury textiles.

Until 2015, they produced just one Spring Summer collection a year. Now, they do a Spring Summer and a Resort collection each year. Both collections feature a range of garments and swimwear. A new set of three prints is introduced with each season to define the collection. Their 2017 collection is now available in shops and online.