Koya Nyangi Brings African Designers to Denver With Fashion Show at ReelWorks

Do you know about African fashion? When Kenyan-born stylist and fashion blogger Koya Nyangi moved to Denver, she found that most people weren’t aware of the vibrant, creative fashion scene in Africa.

“There’s so much good stuff happening there,” she says, “and no one knows about it.”

Nyangi lived in London, Dubai and Bangalore before coming to Denver in 2018. After writing a series of articles called “A Hundred Days of Denver Fashion” on her website, Let Me Show You Different, and scrolling through Instagram looking at local fashion scene-makers, she saw an opportunity to bring awareness to what was missing.

She took it upon herself to become what she calls a “cultural ambassador” and bring African culture and fashion to Denver, starting with a shop-and-sip event in 2021 with Kenyan luxury jewelry designer Adele Dejak.

Nyangi, who now bills herself as CEO, founder and style curator of her fashion website, says her mission is to work with African brands to usher them into the global market. “People would say, ‘I want to help Africa. I’m going to donate money to build a dam.’ And I’m like, ‘You could buy a dress from an African designer,'” Nyangi says. “We don’t need more dams, okay? We need to create sustainable jobs and to expand the market. When a designer gets an order, they can increase the number of people they can hire, and that makes an economic impact.”

Her biggest project yet is a fashion show on Saturday, June 3, showcasing four African designers at ReelWorks. “The idea started small in my head, and it just got bigger!” she laughs.

click to enlarge african woman in white suit

Koya Nyangi

Photo by Zach Hammer

Nyangi says she planned to do another shop-and-sip, but it turned into a full-fledged runway show when she found that every African designer she contacted was eager to participate and even fly to Denver to show. “We have all these designers willing to deal with visa issues and fly 28 hours to show us their fashion and for us to celebrate African culture,” she says.

Show attendees can expect to see a mix of traditional textiles mixed with modern design and examples of sustainability that meet today’s demand for brands to be environmentally responsible. “The designers are inherently sustainable because of the lack of resources in Africa,” Nyangi notes.

She also wants these designers to take back their story, which has been borrowed, copied and appropriated by more prominent names and brands, which hurts the culture and economy of where it comes from. “African stories have often been told through a European or somebody else’s lens. I want to break down the stereotypes and show the new age of what these amazing designers are doing,” she explains. “This show is not African-inspired. It’s African-led.”

If you ever see Nyangi around town, you can’t miss her stylish, colorful outfits. She says fashion is like the air she breathes. “I honestly feel every single day is a celebration,” she says. “Don’t wait to give yourself permission to dress up only on certain days. I dress up every single day!”

That permission is what she teaches in her work as a stylist. “To me, it’s like therapy,” she says. “When you come to me to help you with your style, you’re giving yourself permission to lose any inhibitions you may have.” Nyangi works to reflect her clients’ personalities in style, and then puts “the cherries on top” with layers that add interest to a look.

She adds that it’s important for people to know they don’t have to stick with one particular look to have a certain style. “As individuals, I don’t think we’re just one thing. I teach people to look within, not copy and paste something they saw,” she explains. “Do what you want, what you like. Then you are honoring the full you that is inside you.”

click to enlarge a woman in a blue sweater

Preview of the African Designer Fashion Show.

Photo by Rogers Ouma

Nyangi hopes that by bringing African designers to Denver, people will consider buying from them. In an age of political correctness and cultural-appropriation call-outs, she often gets asked, “Can I wear it?”

She finds this surprising. “Yes, you can wear it and should flaunt it! They’re making it for you to wear it,” she says.

For Nyangi, the cultural appropriation issue is centered on who you bought it from. “I get upset when I see anybody using African designs and monetizing it. Like when a big brand makes copies and they take the money. The wrong people are telling the story, and the wrong people are making money from it,” she explains. “We have to think about who we’re supporting and who is telling the story.”

Designers appearing at the African Designer Fashion Show include:

Savaria by Jamie Kimani and Maganga Mwagogo from Kenya — a collection that explores the nomad tribes in East Africa with rich textures of the hand-loom fabrics.

Laani Raani, by designer Shamyra Moodley from South Africa — colorful, wearable art made from reclaimed vintage fabric and off-cuts.

Lafalaise Dion, by designer Dion Dewand Marcia Lafalaise from Côte d’Ivoire — unique, handcrafted pieces made with cowrie shells.

Kiko Romeo, by designer Iona McCreath from Kenya — a heritage brand using handmade and hand-dyed fabrics and hand-carved trims.

The African Designer Fashion Show, 5-10 p.m. Saturday, June 3, ReelWorks, 1399 35th Street. Find tickets, $35-$95, at letmeshowyoudifferent.com.

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