Photo by Mucyo Gasana
Creative Director of KikoRomeo
Iona McCreath was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1996. She has a Foundation in Art and Design from UAL Central St Martin’s and a degree in Sociology from London School of Economics. Growing up as daughter of renowned fashion designer Ann McCreath, Iona has apprenticed in the fashion industry from birth.
With time, she began to take a keener interest in her own role in fashion, exploring her talents and putting to practice the skills she had picked up along the way. In 2013, aged 17, she refashioned KikoRomeo subsidiary Kikoti, taking charge of designing and positioning the line. Kikoti was an affordable fashion forward line aimed at youth. Passionate about animals, she decided to use fast fashion, to highlight the plight of animals facing extinction from poaching. This work was highlighted in a feature in i-D. magazine https://id.vice.com/en_au/article/mbe3dv/sorry-for-the-inconvenience-were-trying-to-save-the-world
Whilst maintaining her role as Creative Director at KikoRomeo, Iona has decided to rebrand Kikoti and launch under the name Ziwa. A fully sustainable and ethical brand, Ziwa is a brand that seeks to capture the inner beauty and magic that we all hold within us. Rooted in what it is to be African, through the brand, she will explore the dichotomy, many of us now find ourselves in as we navigate a highly globalised world.
Did you always want to pursue a career in fashion and when did you first know for sure?
Growing up with my mum as a fashion designer, I have always been surrounded by highly skilled tailors and artisans, playing dress up with the clothes in the shop and claiming the bargain box in the corner of the shop as my designated spot after school. With time, I began to take a keener interest in my role in fashion and exploring my talents and putting to practice the skills I had picked up along the way.
You and your Mum, Ann McCreath are a fashion duo, to what extent would you say that relationship shaped your interests in fashion and what is it like working together?
It definitely played a massive role in my fashion interests. From a very young age I’ve been mesmerised by the world of fashion. Not just the glitz and the glamour that it is hyped up to be but the nitty gritty of running around backstage during the chaos, as well as the long road trips up and down the country to visit artisans and do photoshoots. The process of taking a piece of cloth and turning it into a garment never ceases to amaze me. Another thing that I live for is first seeing photos after a photoshoot. That feeling to me is what has been marketed for years as the “Christmas morning feeling”, the excitement is unparalleled.
Working with family is always stressful but I am so grateful to be able to learn so much from my mum. She is truly a legend in her field and I am honoured that I’ve been able to apprentice alongside her for so many years.
Photo by Reed Davis
KikoRomeo: “Adam’s apple”; this is a very striking brand name, what’s the story behind it?
KikoRomeo originally began as a menswear brand and that is where the name was derived from.
Quite early on, the demand for womenswear in the market meant that it could not solely have a menswear focus and thus we became a brand that did both. More recently, as the menswear market has begun to emerge much stronger again, we too, have re-found our flair for menswear and taken an approach to silhouettes that can be worn by anyone but still make you stand out and look amazing.
You have also been able to stand out in your career with fashion for the future with your sustainable fashion brand, ‘Kikoti’. What was the motivation behind Kikoti and your emphasis on sustainability?
In 2013 I launched Kikoti, a brand aimed at global youth, making it a younger, more accessible version of KikoRomeo for all my contemporaries to be able to fulfil our desires to be on trend and in tune with global pop-culture, but at the same time, honouring our African heritage and forming a fusion between the culture that we consumed through media and that which we come from.
Together with fashion, I have always been very passionate about wildlife, thus, the line served to raise awareness around conservation, with a primary focus on Elephants, with an aim at selling into the Far-East concentrating on the markets with the highest demand and consumption of Ivory, to provide a product that would fulfil materialistic desires and serve as an alternative status symbol, which Ivory has been. Although this seemed like a tall task, I felt that I would be able to make a change by educating the younger generation on the real life consequences.
Photo by Reed Davis
What do you consider to be the most important facets of the fashion industry and what’s the most important lesson you carry with you as a young designer?
I honestly believe that all parts of the industry are important and shouldn’t be overlooked. The reason I say this is that we often look to place the most value on only one aspect and thus neglect the rest. However, when you look at it like a machine, you need all the components to get it to work.
It’s incredibly important for me to tell the story of the entirety of the fashion value chain. Most often the fashion designer is looked at as the end all, be all. Yet, we are nothing without our teams. I like to use the analogy of music. A fashion designer is like a composer and conductor, you have the vision and the know-how of how to execute it yet you need a multiplicity or different instruments to bring your vision to life. You may be able to play some of those instruments but there’s no way you can compose, conduct and fill the place of a whole orchestra, all at the same time.
The people behind the face of the brand are equally as important as its face. We all need each other in order to function, right from the farmer to the end consumer. I would like to be in an industry where someone has as great a passion to be a tailor as they do a designer and both professions looking at each other with the same amount of respect.
KikoRomeo’s pieces are distinct, even in the modernity, there is an authenticity that is rooted in the African culture, could you speak more on this please? What inspires these pieces?
So KikoRomeo, who we are, as you can see, is deeply embedded in our clothes. And we’ve been able to build this brand aesthetic that can transcends time, you always be able to see a KikoRomeo piece and knows it’s a KikoRomeo piece. And there’s something about our brand, that it doesn’t matter when you wear it, or how you wear it, it always be relevant. Now, I think this is the authenticity rooted in African culture; if you look at the textiles that we use, they are the mainly African textiles, we try to use a lot of traditional textiles, even if you look from the beginning of the brand. Now, of course, there’s times when we’ve deviated and that tends to happen. But from the beginning of the brand, the use of aso-oke, of mud cloth and of adire has been very prominent, now and then, as well as the textiles that are available in Kenya. And now as we move into when I’m taking over, it’s important for me to go back to what I knew of the brand when I was growing up. Personifying it, who KikoRomeo was and who KikoRomeo is and that is, what I’ve seen from when I was a child, so going back to being deeply rooted in the textiles that we use and making sure that the textiles are from the African continent, and really being able to produce in the African continent. And I think that’s what’s really kept us rooted in our tradition, I think as well, looking at our use of adornment, and how we work with different artisans within Kenya and around the African continent, there will always be that sense of being rooted in our culture, if we’re working to build from that point; building from what we know, and what’s inherent to us, and translating it into how we live our life now.
So someone may not want to be completely adorned in their full beadwork with a full traditional dress. But if you can carry that forward into a more modern, shall we say, silhouette, that’s a great way of still being rooted in your culture but also being able to transcend into a modern world where it may not be practical to be dressed up in your traditional regalia all the time.
And I think this comes from working with artisans; it’s not about “oh, I want this done like this”. When you’re working, at least personally, when I’m working with artisans, it’s a collaborative effort like, “I this is the idea that I have, what do you think?” “What do you want to do when you see this piece of fabric? How do you want to paint?” “This is the direction I was thinking, but if you have another idea, let’s go for it.”
Although that can get a bit tricky, because sometimes people are so stuck in their tradition that they don’t know how to then push forward, I think it’s important to have these conversations and really communicate and have a bit of process. So that even though someone may be just stuck in, “I have to bead it like this”, if you have that conversation, then it opens people’s minds up and shows that you can use your traditional skills but in a different way.
When people think about you as a designer and your brand, what ideas do you want them to associate with you?
When people think of me as a designer, I want people to think of me as being innovative, of being fashion forward, of being able to marry tradition with where we’re going; the future and looking at how we can acknowledge and honour our roots and use them to forge us forward and to really build strong and powerful relationships through the work that we do. I want them to think about having an ability to innovate in any sort of circumstance, and to unite across boundaries and borders that we have between us that keep us away from each other. So I’d like to be able to kind of bridge our divides through the work that I do and through what I put out and how I design.
I think that’s one of the most important things, like building community and building a better understanding of each other. But also, it’s important for me to build a better understanding between human beings and our natural world and understanding better why we have to be conscious of the things we’re doing and how we’re interacting with the environment around us and conserving what we have and being able to use our resources in a sustainable way for good and to create more positive than we do negative.
How would you describe your experience at the Arise Fashion Week in Lagos? What new thing would you say your brand has shared with the fashion industry from showcasing?
It has been great to be showcasing alongside so many amazing young designers. It’s great to have a spotlight on the new generation and how we’re doing things. I’ve loved being surrounded by so much talent and most importantly having the opportunity to be creative and showcase my collection in a year when I was not expecting to do so in the traditional fashion format.
It has been amazing to be able to show the new direction of KikoRomeo that although remains within the traditional KikoRomeo brand aesthetic, my interpretation of that is different to my mother’s. Thus, this show serves to further showcase the next generation of KikoRomeo. I have also loved being able to show the beautiful textiles that are made in Kenya. Many people are unaware of the textiles made in Kenya and our capabilities and so it’s incredible being able to put this at the fore.
Could you describe your creative process? What gets you in “the zone” as a designer and how do you feel about the work you do?
Right, my creative process. Honestly, it’s really random. Inspiration can strike at any point and you may not even realize that that’s where the inspiration struck from with this specific collection. It may just be this sort of inner feeling that you have and then that inspires you to design something or it could be something you’ve seen or the way a shadow falls. I know that’s for me one of the strongest things about this latest collection; it was the shadow that was created by the object, the necklace that I’ve used a lot in this
Photo by Reed Davis
collection. So that’s where it came from, looking at that shadow and just seeing this object every day and then the ideas just floated to me.
I’ll be doing the most random thing like lying in bed at night, trying to fall asleep and then all of a sudden, I’m like “Oh! that would be nice as a shirt” or “Oh! I could do the shirt this way and fix it that way.” So it’s not kind of like a sit down at a table and I’m like, “right I’m going to draw”, like that is definitely not what’s going to work for me, it’d go in the complete opposite direction and then I start to get worried. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t do this”. It’s just like the if the environment isn’t right for you, then it’s not going to work out.
So what gets me in “the zone”, I think it’s always important to have that comfort. So for me having the right kind of music, the right kind of atmosphere, being relaxed, being inspired, and just going out and doing things. I might go for a walk or go out to see friends; pre 2020. That’s what inspires me, just having human interaction and having that physical interaction with the natural world, like being able to be present in the moment and that’s where I derive most of my inspiration from.
And then having said all of that, I may think I may design something and say I want it like this, and it doesn’t work out at all. But then it’s being able to step outside and be like “Okay, this isn’t exactly how I wanted it, but look at it for what it is now, does it work? How can I make it work?” Something that my mom’s always told me is that genius strikes in the most obscure places, you think something is a complete disaster, but it’s actually one of the greatest moments of genius.
I think for me, at least being a designer or creating my designs, is about me being fluid and flexible, and just allowing myself to be in the world and be receptive to what’s happening around me and how I’m responding to it.