Mvoo Wanje : ” I aim to tell the African , Nairobi story from my perspective”
Published on Wednesday, July 8 2020 : Mvoo Wanje by theSystem *
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at bonkerz?
My Name is Mvoo Wanje I am the owner and head designer /curator for Bonkerz.
How long has Bonkerz been in operation and what is the idea behind it?
Bonkerz has been operational for 8 years this past April . We aim to be a blank canvas for the African youth to express themselves . With love , dopeness ,collaboration, community and God being at the center of it all.
From my point of view you seem to bend towards fashion , is Bonkerz primarily a fashion brand?
Fashion is our core business . But the eco system around us has allowed me to venture into music (DJing) as a space for expression . We hold parties that serve the purpose of building this community of like minded individuals.
How would you describe Bonkerz as a fashion brand , you’ve been dropping dope Tees and Hats lately , would you describe it as a street wear brand?
Bonkerz is definitely a street wear brand . This being the first successful collection of t shirts . I kinda have never been inspired to do t shirts before . But I guess covid came with a lot of transformation.
What have you learned from Covid , did it inspire a different approach in you or your brands direction?
Covid brought many revelations . As a brand I realised how important in-house production is . Plus alot more coming in the near future . Greatfull for the times we are living in.
You talked about DJing does it help you in any way to elevate the status of Bonkerz ?
Ummm not necessarily I think bonkerz as a brand stands on its own. The DJing is more for me as an artistic expression .
And the eco system I exist in.
When you talk about the eco system , do you mean the creatives that surround you only or the entire culture as an eco system?
The entire culture created by the creatives around me and people who consume the products we offer.
Talk to us about your current collection and what inspired it?
“Just Smile” is a statement I coined and used everytime I needed to inspire myself and the people around me out of a negative space . . The visual representation is a combination of two iconic mantras. The smiley face and the Nike just do it . The smiley face was used during the second world war a symbol of hope . With all that is going on the angst and anger around I saw it a good time to drop it . A mantra that speaks for the times but also traverses time.
Are you a political artist and or do you aspire to use your brand for social commentary?
Nah politics is not my space . My brand speaks for the fun lighter side of life . That’s definitely not for me .
You talked about symbols. What brought you to that symbolism?
I love symbols because they have a way of lasting in your subconscious memory . The smiley face is something I have always loved and Nike is Goals .
What inspires you the most about Nike , would you love to work for or with them?
With not for !!!! I love the story the transitions from Blue ribbon sports to Nike as we know it today . There adaptability and ability to innovate for the times I fell in love back in the 90’s after my first pair of Nike air Barrage ….
Are you a sneaker head or a hype-beast or both ? do you care about those categories? or do they resonate with you?
I am a sneaker head for sure . Hype Beast not so much . I just like what I like …..
I wouldn’t cop just based on it being what’s new and trendy . I think individuality in fashion is super important.
Since the internet the world has become a global village , i know that’s a cliche but it makes sense since as we are having this conversation both of us could be anywhere in the world and still have this dialogue, how does global culture inform your values and philosophy as an artist and brand owner?
I think in pursuit of a strong African voice I aim to tell the African , Nairobi story from my perspective . I think the fact that the world is now a dot. It is easy to get swallowed by the loudest voice . So for me it’s important to remain steadfast in representing my people in global conversation how ever best I can.
How do you stay grounded without having your process interfered with by what is happening elsewhere ?
I know what my purpose is , I know why I am here now. Despite my moments of doubt . But God remains the flexer in my life always holding me down.
I also have a solid group of people around me that do the most to make sure we all win.
Talking about global conversations, there’s a conversation going on right now about streetwear versus mainstream fashion, but I have a feeling that you guys exist in a third dimension. How do you see Bonkerz relative to the fashion conversation at large? Or do you even care about the fashion conversation at large?
The global fashion conversation is interesting to hear and see because it gives me a mind map of how to move. I think as a Brand based in Nairobi we still have a journey to travel in order to get consumers understanding why we do what we do and how we do . So I listen but I don’t care . We still are defining street fashion here and the term street fashion is just used to imply the kind of canvas / apparel style used to tell the stories . The story for me being the most important part . At the point where I am doing a just smile wedding dress then maybe we can rethink that definition.
When you say ‘consumer understanding’ Do you mean to say that Nairobians are yet to be street-wear savvy or do you mean local fashion still hasn’t been embraced properly by Kenyans?
I think the term local fashion first is a NO ,NO . Brands based in Nairobi/ Africa aren’t being consumed and embraced like those from the west/Asia. They definitely have the power of a larger fashion survey online presence.
But all problems that I and the “eco” system aim to solve .
I have a product I am working on that aims to do exactly that sell African cool by Africans to Africans and the world.
Your brand definitely speaks to the youth who are fashion savvy , how does thrifting and fake fashion affect this market and are you yourself a consumer of fake LVs and do you Thrift items?
Lol never . I have bought a pair of fake Jordans that deeply disappointed me . Never doing that shit again . I am a supporter of thrifting I would rather own a second hand original garment than cop a fake piece. Thrifting has also served as a resource to understand garment construction and how to make your shit timeless as far as the craftsmanship.
I think thrifting has its pros and cons. We definitely are fighting the battle of educating the consumer . Competing with the price range for thrifted clothes. But once the people know whats up . It may seize to be a burden . As for the fake clothes I think that’s a battle for self. It’s a battle of understanding self . All I can tell that kind of consumer is it’s not that important to fit in .
Which region is most influential to your aesthetic: Asia , Europe, America and why?
Currently America . I was raised on black American sitcoms and my dad studied in the states so that influenced alot of what I know . I am falling in love with Asian aesthetics coz of their garment construction and of center way of doing things .
How do you see your brand evolving in the next ten years?
Haha they say a wise man keeps his cards close to his chest . All I can say is the story will be told . The avenues of expression will grow .
How much more time do you think we have to win that consumer war and what are the ingredients that are lacking to win this consumer , coz i don’t think the pricing is necessarily such a conundrum but i get your angle, yet we have Nike , Adidas , Boss , Levis and the likes of Platform and Waikiki here who are doing really well , not to mention the myriad of local established designers whose prices are of the roof , i mean should we seek balance or do we need an actual market revolution ?
I think as brands we need to build value and relatability . The price isn’t the problem persay once the value is established guys will save to buy .
You talked about American influence and Asian aesthetics , who are you looking into at the moment for inspiration as far as brands and designers ?
I am currently big on 90’s sports wear. Different teams starter wear and in game drip . In that space Don C is king . I love fear of God Jerry Lorenzo is one of my forever mentors.
Takashi Murakami’s way of thought is one that really inspired me . Also influenced my current just smile collection . Evisu denim is a brand I have loved from the early 2000’s in I hope to do a Collab with them . I love Nigo of human made and formerly of bape . His aesthetic is just amazing.
Yeah i mean it’d be a crime for any streetwear designer to not mention Nigo in their moodboard , never quit looked into Evisu properly i’m aware of the brand though quite some good stuff their branding is quite overt though, Both Don C and Jerry have work for Ye , i don’t want to assume that you stan but what do you thing of this new Yeezy Gap partnership and the appointment of Nigerian designer Mowalola as design director , does it mean anything to you?
I love Ye as a brain . His resilience and ability to will his preferred life into existence .
I think that collab is such a big statement . Gap is quintessentially Caucasian. So this Collab is big . I think it is a big step towards black representation in those spaces . Let’s see what she does I am super proud of Mowalola it is definite fleeeeex.
I am moving away from the place of western recognition in order to pop . I want and wish for a time where popping in Africa is all that matters.
Have you as a street wear designer been embraced by the local fashion industry , do you feel acknowledged by your more established designers?
They know I exist . Whether they acknowledge me verbally is a whole different story . I’m not too moved by the idea of them recognizing me. When and if they do then dope .
You are one of the players who are big on collaboration , we seen you work with individuals like Akiba Haiozi and designers like Rey Mungai , how does that come by and what is fundamentally interesting about this collabs to you?
I think we are in a space in time where we need to merge consumers . No one is moving numbers as they should . So for me collaboration works one as an opportunity to share my canvas but also for both parties to grow their markets.
Very valuable proposition indeed , finally, what other projects are you working on at the moment , in the beginning of this conversation you alluded to curating , could you talk a bit about that as we finish?
Since covid I took a step back to meditate on how to better engage my clients and those I haven’t met . In collaboration with some stakeholders we are working on a platform for Africans by Africans . That encompasses the whole eco system. Fashion ,music and tech being the fore front of this new project . That’s all I can say for now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for purpose of clarity and precision, we value your time.