“Our mandate is to continuously add positively to the contemporary African narrative, because for a long time our stories have been told for us,” said Papa Petit, one half of the brother and sister duo 2MNYSBLNGS. Since 2013, the Nairobi-based pair and self-styled “creative disruptors” Petit and Velma Rossa have been taking pictures that document an emerging young fashion community in Kenya and across the African continent on their influential Tumblr.
Art directed by Rossa, their editorial images feature the siblings and their creative peers styled up in thrifted finds and makes full use of the urban Kenyan landscape. Piles of dried salt fish at the market, towers of blue and red oil barrels, turquoise palm fronds, dusky parking lots, and bright wax block print fabrics are as likely to feature as galleries and stores. “We grew up in the bustle and hustle of city life in Nairobi. We definitely tapped into our mother’s fashion vein – colourful trips to the thrifting markets make up our childhood memories,” recalls Rossa. “Gikomba thrift market in Nairobi is my favourite place to shop, it gives us a sense of a ‘treasure hunt’, you just never know what you will find. I’m currently the proud owner of a pair of Rick Owens and Raf Simons sneaks!” continued Petit.
Petit and Rossa’s photography caught the eye of curators of the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition, who commissioned new work for the show, opening on April 30th at the Brighton Museum. As well as their own editorial images, 2MNYSBLNGS make an impact by connecting creatives across the continent through collaborations with blogs, photographers, artists and stylists. According to Petit, “A new generation of digital influencers are shaping fashion in Africa now. Social digital platforms have made it easy for people to connect, spark conversations and share content which is re-shared with the rest of the world, so there are more eyes on the continent and people's perspective and perceptions of Africa are being positively altered.” His favourite collaboration is the set they did with rapper Mos Def (now named Yesiin Bey) when he visited Nairobi for a performance, shot by Ugandan born, Kenyan based photographer Sarah Waiswa.
Their proudest achievements so far, though, have been their ‘Thrift Social’ shopping events – the latest in collaboration with African news site Okayafrica. “It’s our evolving fashion philanthropy project that we founded to promote young creative entrepreneurs and at the same time giving back to the community,” said Rossa. “The idea of putting things that we like together has always been with us, thus the name ‘thrift’ – the way we thrift for clothes when we shop looking for gems is the same way we put the event together. Everyone involved in the event – designers, DJs, food vendors and photographers – are people who inspire us, so having them in one place collaborating is really dope,” added Petit.
Their ambitions lie in playing a part in making African fashion a major force in the fashion world – on its own terms. “Our hope is that that Africa stops aping international fashion stories and creates its own continental fashion power centre that suits our seasons and our fashion,” reflected Petit. “We want local designer labels to have a ‘to-die-for’ factor so that they can generate enough revenue to become million dollar businesses,” concluded Rossa.