“Fashion depends on what you make of it.” This is how Brian Msafiri sums up his understanding of fashion.
Msafiri is a cultural scientist. Electrically gifted in various facets of art including creative production, fashion direction, photography, presenter, artist liaison and a nifty dresser to top it off.
As his name suggests, Msafiri is indeed a traveler in his fashion world.
He’s not shy about exploring and using different facets of styles in his fashion, even if that means going unconventional, provided someone notices and talks about it.
From my numerous encounters with every “look” it appears in, there’s always an exaggeration, even suits that are generally not that sophisticated.
“General is boring. Do not you agree? Of course, not everyone agrees with how I dress, but that’s the point. Feeling good and looking different,” he says.
When we meet this time, he’s wearing a black and white striped shirt, baggy black pants, and a “dusty” pair of sneakers.
A small black breast pouch hangs from his chest, containing his wallet, smartphone, sunglasses, and lip balm, among other valuables.
And as always, you will see him not missing any of his many caps and hats.
This time he’s wearing one of his favorite disc-grooved hats. A cross earring hangs from his left ear.
“I like to shave my head, which is why you’ll see me in hats almost every time,” he explains with a smile.
Msafiri’s love of fashion began when he was in school, when his father introduced him to the Gikomba market.
“If you remember, there was a time when Toughees shoes were all the rage in school. If you didn’t have them, you weren’t fashionable enough. The problem is that mine never lasted long because I was a playful kid, so my dad used to take me to Gikomba to buy durable secondhand shoes. That was the first time I encountered quality and started to fall in love with fashion because you could get a variety of shoes that were cheaper than Toughees but durable.”
Over the years his fashion sense has improved so much that he shares with me that he has two closets with two different pieces of clothing – one that he wears when he goes somewhere that isn’t important enough and another that when he comes to events. Like a Gordons Gin event where he is one of the paid partner content creators.
The 29-year-old is not only stylish, he also makes money doing it.
“Like I said, it’s what you make of it,” he reminds me again.
Around 2010, Msafiri and his neighborhood friends started styling themselves.
“My friends and I used to be so competitive when it came to fashion, so out-dressing each other always brought out the best in us.”
They were all that stylish, but he always stood out from the rest, he claims.
It wasn’t long before his flair for style was recommended to then-top hip-hop group Camp Mullah, who did so well they became the first East African group to win a nomination for the popular and prestigious Black Entertainment Awards (BET). .
“Back then I didn’t see styling as a job, I used to do it for my friends for free. I didn’t understand why people thought it was so sophisticated to dress me the way I did, even though I did it so effortlessly. Then one of the many guys I helped style for free recommended Camp Mullah. They were the first celebrities I styled for their Channel O Awards (2012), and later I was working on music videos for Sauti Sol, that’s when I realized there was money to be made from styling,” recalls Msafiri.
After figuring this out, Msafiri landed his first paid gig styling rapper Muthoni Ndonga aka Muthoni the Drummer Queen and urban contemporary singer Blinky Bill.
Over time, he started styling various music bands, then ventured into commercials and the paycheck grew thicker.
With a rich resume of styling celebrities and bands, as well as creating themes for events, corporate brands have requested his services to bring to life various fashion themes embedded in the brands’ culture.
But not only brands, but also events.
“I’ve worked as a liaison for festivals like Nyege Nyege and Kilifi New Year. I mentored more than 100 artists during the 2019-20 Kilifi event.”
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He was also part of Google’s Alte residency in June 2020, where young Alte artists, fashion entrepreneurs and content creators from across the country were invited to share energy juices and foster collaborations.
Msafiri also participated in the 2021 Tribal Chic fashion show competition and emerged victorious after creating the best original design, beating out more than nine design stylists.
“Right now I’m in a position to know what value I’m bringing to the table and standing by it. For a commercial gig, I charge at least Sh50,000 a day,” reveals Msafiri.
However, the height is not static, it is always adjusted upwards depending on the number of people to be styled and the metric to be met.
When creating an invoice to a customer, Msafiri takes several factors into account.
“You establish the cost of production, which is how much the items you need will cost you, the value of your time and expertise, and then connect it to the customer. Who is the client, where will he/she perform and how long will he/she have my work.”
Over the years he’s been doing it, Msafiri affirms that there is good money to be made in fashion styling if you know how to do it and have the passion.
“You’re never taught what we do in school. You just have to be smart and figure out how to position yourself. When awarding a job and a budget, you need to weigh all of these factors, don’t fly blindly. You don’t want to come up with an absurd idea that requires so much work, that takes a lot of production costs and time and leaves you with nothing,” he warns.
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Msafiri loves the development of fashion in Kenya. “We’re trying to move away from themed spaces where people show up to events dressed in a certain color or theme. The goal now is how you stand out within this topic.
It’s been a year since he last had a styling gig.
“I haven’t styled much in the last year because I’m expanding. I’ve been in the space so much that there is room for new talent and what I’m working on now is creating spaces for them to flourish. I try to curate different pop up spaces and events, incorporating non-fashion stuff into my production and giving them a platform to showcase, sell and resell their Kenyan designs. “