Rey Mungai : “There is a bit of elitism in fashion but it’s Bullshit!“
Tue, May 19 2020 | Rey Mungai By theSystemMagazine *
Please tell us who or what Rey Mungai is ?
Rey Mungai is, above all else, a creative. I’m a Product Designer by profession. I dabble in a lot of different ventures and these are all consolidated under the Rey Mungai Group.
Could you tell us what some of those services and products are ?
Sure, There are 3 main brands under the Rey Mungai Group:
- Rey Mungai Nairobi which is a luxury streetwear brand which started in 2015
- Rey Mungai & Partners which is a design agency offering Africa’s first unlimited design and digital marketing service to individuals and brands.
- Rey Mungai Sanaa which is a brand and marketing consultancy especially for creatives.
Yeah so its really a 360 Product and service brand, interesting , but lets first talk about Rey Mungai Nairobi what led you to get into fashion and especially Luxury street wear ?
That’s basically it.
With RMN, starting it was more of a necessity. I have always loved fashion; more so the intersection between streetwear and high fashion and I realized there weren’t any formidable Kenyan brands in the space.
Most of the Kenyan brands at that time were doing more of merch with repetitive graphics etc.
This led me to start RMN and fill that gap while still building a brand that has not been seen before in Kenya.
I notice you don’t just play the graphics card , your work actually have a narrative to it , talk to us a bit about that and do you struggle with being understood by the market ?
Yeah man, I rarely just wake up and design a collection. A bunch of factors come together and inspire me towards a particular theme. It could be music, it could be a book I’m reading, or something that’s just on my mind.
About being understood by the market, trust me, it’s something I’ve struggled with over the past 5 years.
You’ll notice RMN as a brand has a leaning towards darker graphics with skulls etc. and that’s how I love seeing the brand.
The market has been surprisingly open to this philosophy and I’m happy about that.
However, in the past 2 years I had an identity issue whereby a number of the people around me would tell me they can’t buy my apparel because it had my name on it and that’s ‘weird’ or because it had a lot of dark imagery and they didn’t want that.
After a while I noticed I lost my grip on what the brand was intended to be and I noticed I didn’t particularly like the clothes I was making. So in 2020 I decided to go back to core of RMN and that’s how we got here.
Lets talk about RMN being eponymous , what does that mean to you, is there any particular values you want to communicate with that and whats the inspiration behind it?
RMN has had a bunch of other names before I settled on it being eponymous. I did that because it’s an extension of myself. It’s basically a medium for me to speak my truth and tell people what I’m thinking about and what I stand for.
I know that there’s a lot of guys out there with a similar mindset and this is for them.
Basically, RMN is for people who have conviction in what they believe in regardless of what the society may think.
Interesting, so personality plays a lot in your brand ethos, besides T-Shirts what other product lines do you produce or aim to get into that defines your brand beyond a graphic?
Personality is everything.
T-shirts are dear to me, they’re like a canvas so they’ll always be a staple. However, my very first collection actually didn’t have any t-shirts on it.
We have a lot in store with the next 3 deliveries of our 2020 Collection from sweatshirts, jackets, hoodies, pants etc.
Apart from that, there’s RMN Activewear which is launching later this year but we are having a bit of a go-slow with that due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are also getting into more cut and sew apparel which is something I have always wanted to do.
Wow, do you think we have a fashion Industry in Kenya and what do you make of it?
We have a very young fashion industry in Kenya. Very young.
If you compare the Kenyan industry to Nigeria or SA, we have a long way to go. You can check out the Forbes Africa 30 under 30 and you’ll see fashion designers from Nigeria or SA on the list often but rarely (if ever) a Kenyan.
One of the things fashion designers and brands in Kenya need to realize is that collaboration is key. We live in an age where a heritage brand such as Louis Vuitton collabs with Supreme. We have to work together in this industry.
For Streetwear brands, this is happening with collabs such as NAD and Metamorphosized or Bonkerz and RMN.
My prediction is that streetwear brands in Kenya will surpass the more ‘high fashion’ brands we have here.
Apart from that, as designers we also need to up our game and not just in terms of quality but also the brand and business side.
Yes we definitely need to work together but how necessary is collaboration between brands , whats the value proposition behind that, for the brands and industry at large? and why do you think Streetwear is the next big frontier in the fashion industry in Kenya, is this based on the global fashion climate or do you just see high fashion in kenya losing its cachet in the near future?
There’s a lot of ways to collaborate. It could be on a capsule collection, on an event or pop-up, or even by sharing knowledge, reosurces and skills to build each other up. This will help us build a concrete industry here as well.
My reasoning behind streetwear being bigger is partly because of the global climate as well as the culture here. Majority of the population is young and they have been exposed to the global view of fashion.
“High fashion” Brands in Kenya are also not exposing themselves to the youth as they should be. This is another reason why.
That brings us to the question of elitism , what do you make of the perceived elitism in the fashion industry?
There is a bit of elitism in the fashion realm but it’s bullshit coz you can’t have that much pride without something concrete to back it up.
The good thing with streetwear is that streetwear brands in Kenya are coming together to build each other up instead of all of us doing our own small things in our corners.
And even if you have something concrete , elitism still is retrogressive, we are past that, i realize the enthusiasm that the street wear scene has which is dope but that really is the spirit of an Industry so i have no doubt street wear is taking over the building , has the media embraced you , your comrades or the industry and what do you think our role as media is in the larger narrative ?
That’s true, were past that.
In terms of media, there’s also a Renaissance of sorts in the media space especially with digital media gaining more traction with the youth.
With guys like you, The Address etc., the scene is getting the visibility it deserves and I love it honestly.
About the traditional media, I honestly don’t care about it that much so I can’t really speak on it.
Lest segue to your work , talk to us a little bit about your current collection …
Cool, this current collection is basically me going back to the roots of the brand. I wanted to go back to the philosophy and vision I had when starting in 2015 hence the Made In Kenya (for the world) title.
It’s an ode to the uniqueness of creatives in Kenya and more specifically in Nairobi. How passionate we get about our work and how we go hard regardless of the obstacles we face daily.
Nice nice , Rey, talking about made in Kenya, what concerns do you have about the industry today?
I think my biggest concern would be that most brand invest heavily in creating dope products and getting the love from supporters but we forget about the brand as a business.
The love of our art sometimes gets to our heads and costs us the opportunity to build viable and financially sustainable brands.
True i see that a lot, so what do you propose creatives to focus on , the creativity or the economics or a mix , and how do you yourself go about it ?
With RMG, I work on it as a mix. I make sure that the two co-exist in a way that one does not negatively impact the other.
Creatives need to define their vision for their brand as well as a solid business plan.l for it. This should include all the nitty gritty details such as whether you envision the brand being independent forever or do you plan to get investors or be acquired etc.
The holistic vision , i think creatives focus a lot on the creating aspect and neglect the business aspect of building an actual brand/company usually because most creatives start young and the brand is not their main source of livelihood and we are yet to see any creatives within fashion breaking it big in terms of financial worth , not that thats what matters , but its a good motivator for creatives to take what they do as seriously as the next business , don’t you think?
I believe so. I think most creatives do have the vision in some way but actually working on it scares most people as it’s hard and also not as fun as creating.
100% , Do you think creativity and culture play a role in redefining the future of Africa?
They really do. Actually, the RMG slogan is “Building Africa through creative entrepreneurship”. This is because we believe that our African creativity and culture have a huge role in the future of the continent. For this to work, we all need to invest in it any way we can. Whether you’re a customer, an investor or the government. We have to invest in creative entrepreneurship.
True , I could not agree more, who are the creatives that inspire you the most?
I think for me Kanye is my biggest inspiration as well as Jay-Z, Virgil Abloh, Raf Simons, Rei Kawakubo etc. There’s so many to honestly list but anyone who has found a way to build a viable business off of their creative skills is a winner in my eyes.
Yeah I reasonate with Rei the most, thats a good moodboard though, What advice would you offer someone just starting out in fashion today in Kenya?
Rei is a legend man.
I think I’d only tell them two things:
- Never compromise on your vision and philosophy.
- If you’re not doing it as a hobby, just know that building a company is hard work and you better be ready to out in the work
True, how far do you think we are from an actual fashion industry explotion in Nairobi?
I don’t think we are that far actually. If it wasn’t for this pandemic, we’d be very far ahead. But as I keep telling people: pandemic or not, 2020 is the year.
We’re about to see some big moves.
I know that for sure.
I’m excited about this.
Aren’t we all man , what can we expect from RMN in the near future?
Well, we have the next 3 deliveries of our 2020 collection which will honestly be pure fire and unseen before.
We’ll also have a lot of collaborations with other fashion brands, creatives and other brands not necessarily in the fashions space.
Oh wow can wait to see that, hope it’s something we can cover as well, just let as know as it drops.…
I will. We’ll be putting together press kits for you guys ahead of drops.
Most definitely. Do you do product seeding ? And how do you do it and how do you determine who to?
We have done it before but with the 2020 collection, we’re now doing it more deliberately with people who we think reflect the brand in the best way. For me, it also has to be an organic choice whereby the individual has a legit love for the brand. That’s how we linked with Chiki Kuruka.
Oh yes I saw that, well we definitely need some Merch from RMN as well, we are true fans haha , where are you based and how do you distribute your products?
For sure we’ll link up man.
I’m base in Nairobi currently and I mostly work from home . In terms of distribution, we have an online store (https://rmnairobi.goby.shop)