How David Ochieng is using fashion to positively impact Kenyan communities

Born in the sprawling urban slums of Nairobi, David Ochieng, aka Avido, is a rising fashion designer whose work fuses African prints with modern, airy cuts. Her label, Lookslike Avido, is pretty commercial, with even an option to have custom clothing on the site. More than that, the label has a painstaking dedication to Kibera, the community from which Ochieng hails.

Her foray into fashion was not easy. The first-born in a family of four children, Ochieng’s childhood was marked by difficulties. Her mother was the sole breadwinner. She did laundry for other people and took odd jobs just to support him and his siblings. The lack of tuition has made her situation worse. Eventually, he dropped out of school in the first grade.

Photo credit: David Avido Ochieng

Later, he will move from one construction site to another in search of odd jobs to support his mother and his brothers and sisters. He found solace in the new friends he made. But, unfortunately, most of these friends had tragic ends: some started abusing drugs, others were killed and a good part started to engage in crime.

The fate of most of his friends caused Ochieng to do some soul-searching. He would find open and secluded places and practice unspoken words. He also moved from Silangi to the Olympic area. According to Ochieng, it was his way of facing his demons and starting a new life.

“I didn’t know who to confide in. You confide in someone and then they start telling people about your problems,” Ochieng told OkayAfrica. “So I started talking to nature. I talked to myself until I recited my problems, thanks to that, I was able to join a dance team. We practiced daily in Kibera at a place called Olympic offering spoken word performances at weddings, political rallies and other events. Many young people here are desperate. Most of them lose their lives to drugs and crime.

The dance crew dressed in hip clothes and donned dreadlocks. Little did they know their new hobby wouldn’t last long. The dance crew were mistaken for thugs, which resulted in the deaths of some. As a result, his mother pushed him to take a different path. One day she gave him two of the five dollars she earned at work. He decided to invest the money in fabrics and sewing thread. It was then that his life changed and he officially launched his career as a fashion designer, with Avido Fashion House debuting in 2018.

“I was inspired by my dance team. I would do sketches for our costumes. That’s when I realized that even though I was expressing myself through dance and speech, I felt like I could express myself more through colors,” Ochieng said. “I realized that showing an individual’s journey through fabrics while showing life lessons and struggles is breathtaking. Essentially, dancing pushed me towards fashion.

“Fashion allowed me to discover myself and understand life in a deeper way,” Ochieng continued. “Also, fashion became my therapy as a way to heal from my childhood trauma.”

u200b Avido Mode

Photo credit: David Avido Ochieng

Today, Ochieng is one of Kenya’s leading fashion designers. He says the streets of Kibera inspire his creativity. He also thinks Africa is very colorful and he wants the world to see that it’s not just crime that’s rampant in the urban slums.

“I try to show people the greatness of Kibera. I’m not the only talented one here because I know there are people who are more talented and much better than me, but they don’t have the opportunity to share it,” Ochieng said. “What I try to share is the positivity and hope we have here through the fabrics so that I don’t forget my roots.

Through his vocational training program he started, Ochieng equips young mothers and the hearing impaired with sewing skills. He believes that when you empower a woman, you build the whole nation. He has started mentoring fifteen trained women – eight are hearing impaired while seven are young mothers.

In addition to professional training, he took on the responsibility of paying the tuition fees for the bright students of his community. It mainly targets orphans whose parents have succumbed to the HIV/AIDS virus. He says these students, if not helped, could end up on the streets and succumb to peer pressure, leading to mistaken identities and even losing their lives.

David Avido Ochieng

Photo credit: David Avido Ochieng

“I wanted someone to pay my school fees, but no one came. For me, paying school fees to the needy is a form of therapy,” Ochieng said. “I feel like I’m healing the younger me.”

He also makes school uniforms for needy students in Kibera. So far, Ochieng has distributed 786 uniforms to students from different schools. The process begins with beneficiary identification, where he randomly visits schools and spots students with tattered uniforms and gives them new ones.

Filled with gratitude, Ochieng remembers the very first person he designed clothes for – the late Ken Okoth, who was an MP for his area. He wore his clothes in parliament attracting celebrities and other politicians to his work.

Afterwards, legendary reggae artist Don Carlos came to perform in Nairobi, and David approached the event organizer to allow him to make a personalized shirt for the artist. When Carlos saw the shirt, he was thrilled and promised Ochieng a partnership to promote his work in the Caribbean. Thanks to this meeting, Ochieng was able to work with artists like Romain Virgo, Usain Bolt, Bruno Mars, Ghanaian Stallion, Tarrus Riley, Connie, Inge-Lise Nielsen, Everton Blendah, etc. His biggest moment came when he was featured in Beyoncé’s album black king who founded his company.

Today, Ochieng’s clothes are worn all over the world, from Africa to Europe, to the United States and the Caribbean. But, for him, the African identity is what matters most, and this is reflected in his work and his creations.

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