This month, Afritorial spoke with two young women – Wanyika and Wangari – modern, urban professionals and Afro creatives living in Sydney, Australia, who are proud of their African heritage and are hell bent on re-imagining head turning style and fashion for their peers.

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1. Who are Wanyika and Wangari – what’s their story?

Wangari: I refer to myself as a modern African woman. I am a melting pot of various experiences and cultures which influence my outlook on life and I love to represent the cultures I was immersed in as a child. I see myself as a confident go getter who challenges the norm in both social and business settings. Stemming from my proud African heritage, I love to blog about natural hair and I’m one of the founders of Different Strands, an online resource catering to women of colour all over the world.

Wanyika: I’d describe myself as an Afro-creative, an avid reader with a very curious mind! I love to immerse myself in things that capture my interest, be it  business, style, documentaries, dancing, etc. I’m very passionate about my culture and what it stands for and in that I admire and respect other cultures and believe it’s these similarities and differences that make the world such an exciting place to explore!

2. What is your career background? And what inspired you to move into the fashion and hair blogging business?

Wangari: By day, I’m an Engineer specialising in Renewable Energy Systems and Energy.  I have a Masters in Engineering focusing on Energy Planning and Policy. I was inspired to move into the hair/blogging business when I first moved out to Australia and found it difficult getting information and products for my newly natural hair. I was inspired to learn more about Afro-textured hair and share my findings with women all around the country.

Wanyika: My career for the last 7 years has been in Finance and currently working at an Investment bank. Prior to that I was in Uni where I did a double degree of Marketing and Industrial Relations. My move into fashion I’d say has been fairly organic. From a very young age I was creative, I used to dance and act all through primary and high school, and did one man shows at the National Theatre and a few performances with the group during my school holidays. After high school I did an International Baccalaureate course in Nairobi where I studied Theatre Arts for 2 years . I then came to Australia and while at university, I taught dance classes and performed in quite a few groups too. In that time I also brought bits and pieces of jewellery and sandals from Maasai Market in Nairobi to Sydney, Australia where I’d sell them. One day a friend suggested for me to design my own pieces and I thought, why not? And that’s how I got into fashion.

3. What’s your cultural background? What brought you to Australia?  We’re originally from  Kenya and we both came here at different times to study:

WangariAs a young Kenyan–Australian, I grew up in various countries in Africa, including Tanzania, Botswana and Kenya. I speak 7 languages including, Kiswahili, French and Kikuyu (a tribal language in Kenya).

Wanyika: I came here in 2011 as a student and I was so convinced that as soon as my studies were over I’d head straight back home, because  the culture was very different back then. There were hardly any Africans around so it was difficult to get things which we now take for granted like spices but after a while all that changed and I’m glad I stuck it out.

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4. Is there a story behind the movement, The Headwrap Challenge? 

Wanyika: Well the HWC started out quite casually actually, I loved doing headwraps  and styling and was talking to a friend about looking for a new way to establish myself in this space, and she suggested that I do a 30 day headwrap challenge in which entailed doing a different headwrap style/fabric etc. And without thinking about it I jumped in! The first few days were fairly cruisey, but by the 10th day or so it started getting a little tough. But I stuck it out and made it through all the 30 days without repeating a look or referring to a YouTube tutorial. The idea then evolved when people asked for tutorials,and that’s when I met Wangari. We teamed up to create a 10 episode mini series. It has evolved to become a space where we are encouraging women to embrace their uniqueness and individuality and challenging them to step outside their comfort zones and try something new.

WangariThe headwrap challenge is a movement aimed to inspire all women to experiment with headwraps in their everyday lives. To us the headwrap is a symbol of power and beauty, like a crown. It makes one stand out from the crowd and adds funk and sophistication to any outfit. We have also hope to educate women about how to tie headwrap for various reasons i.e. religion, cancer, natural hair management or fashion and change the belief that headwraps are only for African women or special occasions.

5. Who’s else is behind The Headwrap Challenge?

We have 4 phenominal ladies who have joined us on this journey Niwa, Faduma, Khadija and Babsy.

Faduma:My background is Somali and I am living in Australia. My love for headwraps started when I was young seeing my mother and aunts wearing different headwraps to cultural gatherings and events. I wear headwraps as an extension of my culture and heritage. I love the versatility of the different looks you can create and expressing my personality through fashion. My interests include fashion, women’s rights, social justice and human rights.

Niwa Mburuja: I’m a Tanzanian born Australian based in Sydney. An accountant by trade and spend my spare time mentoring and serving the youth, writing, dancing, baking, soaking up the sun, supporting and celebrating black (and indigenous) spaces. I’m passionate about creating a society that affirms and embraces humanity.

Khadija:I’m from Kenya. My family lives in Nairobi and I moved to Australia for studies and experience something new.I work as a nurse and enjoy indulging in all kinds of the african communities and culture.I’m  a hardworking strong woman. A feminist too and a proud AFRICAN.

Babsy Bee: From Ethiopia, been in OZ almost 30 years, mother of two, health professional by training, dancer and headwrap queen by passion!!!

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6. Do you have someone in mind when you came up with the idea and why is it important to you to appeal to this person in particular?

Wangari: We wanted to appeal to modern women all around the world, not just African women. Headwraps are fabulous and we think everyone should get a chance to rock one. That’s right even the men. (smiles)

WanyikaI think the headwrap movement appeals to a broad category of women in particular – making a statement, religious purposes, fashion staple, stepping out of comfort zone, girls just wanting to have fun and the bad hair day girl.

7. What’s the message behind The Headwrap Challenge?

Wangari: The key message behind the headwrap challenge is that it’s easy to rock a headwrap. It’s for everyone and we should embrace diversity through the headwrap. Another message we would love to communicate to everyone out there is that headwraps are versatile and can be as big and as colourful as you like, the sky is the limit.

Wanyika: Embrace your identity, love who you are, step out , step outside your comfort zone, it’s funny sometimes how something that feels as small as wearing a headwrap can change your perception of who you are, it makes you realise you can do and be anything. I know I feel quite regal when I wear my headwrap. But other than that we want to encourage people to immerse themselves in our culture and try something new. I think the message I’d like to give is,give it a go.

8. What do you want people to say/act/believe when they come in touch with your message?

WangariPeople who have come across the headwrap challenge LOVE the idea of the headwrap. With large media houses like the Huffington post sharing tutorials about headwrap and how to rock them, people are becoming more accustomed to wearing headwraps and want to try one on for themselves.

WanyikaEmpowered, inspired, sense of identity and a sense of fun too….we are having an absolute ball doing this.

9. How has The Headwrap Challenge been received so far?

Wangari:The reception to the headwrap has been amazing, We receive hundreds of likes weekly on our facebook page and numerous invitations to demonstrate how to tie a headwrap at various functions. Its amazing how people of different races, cultures and religions are embracing the headwrap.

10. Where and how far do you want it to go/reach?

WanyikaWe are not placing any limitations on ourselves, we’d like it to reach as far as possible and create a sisterhood with anyone who resonates with us and what we are doing.

11. What are your favourite headwrap styles? 

 We rock these looks as our best:

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12. Tell us a little bit about your brands, Wa-Nyika and Different Strands? What do they represent?

Wa-NyikaWa-Nyika is a boutique label that specialises in Bags and apparel. The inspiration for the brand is drawn from the beautiful African Landscape, the vast wilderness, the bold unapologetic colours and the fresh vibrancy and elegance that can only be found in Africa. Our signature items are sophisticated, luxurious and classic leather bags and accessories, designed and made in Australia, Africa and Asia, And apparel made from exotic fabrics sourced from all over Africa and made in Kenya. My brand is a representation of the global woman, one who isn’t afraid to take risks in how she represents herself and what she stands for, a woman comfortable in her own skin, who isn’t afraid to be sexy, because confidence is sexy. My Vision is to use the universal language of creativity to transcend limitations of thought, inspire and create change. Through my fashion brand, styling, writing or speaking. At this stage the most active creative channel has been in my brand WaNyika. I used the hyphen in the brand name to emphasize the meaning of my name which is Wa – ‘from’ and Nyika – ‘plataeu’ or African landscape. Loosely translated, it means “from the Motherland’.

Different Strands: This is an e-publication where two friends who are based in Sydney (Australia) explore and discover natural hair, health, fashion, music, dance, film, lifestyle and the hub of different cultures growing in Australia. We hope to grow the resource to help women all around the world share tip and trick about hair and more. “Different Strands” represents the various textures of Afro hair as we celebrate all textures, lengths and hair types.

13. Wanyika, how do you come up with your fashion pieces – what’s the design process, inspiration, etc

I don’t have a set process of design as such. I’m a self taught designer, so my process is very organic. I draw inspiration from a lot of things around me. Something that I’ve observed about myself , is I watch movies and look at the styling and try and figure out why the costume designer dressed the character that way? Does the costume enhance or take away from the character? And on and on. For example Game of Thrones has been really fascinating for me, aside from storyline and all the other things- the styling has held me captive. Many times I’d watch people and start restyling them in my head , but always using an item they have worn because I believe they chose the pieces for a reason, I begin looking at how I can enhance their look to best flatter their body and I guess that’s how my inspiration process is birthed.

14. Wangari, what inspired your blog and natural hair journey?

Our posts are inspired by what is happening around us, events, questions asked by our followers and anything we discover that has impacted or benefitted our natural hair regimen.

15. Ladies, what’s your passion and purpose for everything you do?

WangariThe purpose for everything I do is to educate people about my culture and the different aspects of my life that make me who I am today. I have a passion for anything African and love sharing these passions with those around me.

WanyikaI’m passionate about following my dreams and constantly driving myself to do and be better, not perfect, just better than I was yesterday. Small incremental growth. And in so doing learning lessons along the way and sharing them in a way that adds value and inspires people to do and be more.

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16. From an African perspective, what’s your hope/thoughts/heart for Africa? And for Africans living out of the continent?

Wangari: My hope for Africa is that we learn to speak up for ourselves and share our beautiful stories. A lot of the time western media houses tell the world about “the African Story” and portray Africa as a continent with poor suffering people and amazing wildlife. We are so much more than that. We are as vibrant as the colour in our traditions fabrics, as rich as the precious stones and metals mined on the continent, and we are the future. I also hope that as Africa grows, opportunities arise that bring the African diaspora back to the continent and reverse the brain drain that has been occurring for decades.

WanyikaAfrica is such a rich continent, yes we have our setbacks and hardships, but every emerging economy went through the same. I have alot of hope for Africa and in the last few years we can see lots of amazing things emerging, inspiring stories. I love that small ideas  have a platform to grow and thrive, people are resourceful and any idea that meets a need has the capacity to become very profitable.

For the Africans in Diaspora, I hope that we don’t lose the essence of who we are because that’s what makes us unique, we have a distinctive perspective on life, and have the power to make anything of our lives that we choose to. Especially in Australia, I look at it as plain canvas and we have the opportunity to become the Michelangelos of our own lives, create stories that the Africans who will come after us will be proud to call their African Australian identity, and it’s up to each and every one of us.

17. What’s next for The Headwrap Challenge?

We’d like to go around doing shows, helping cancer patients feel great about themselves, we want to use this a platform to launch other topics that are close to our hearts such as identity, style, challenges facing the modern woman in this century. So watch out for out for the tag line: Wangari and Wanyika Present:……..

18. What’s next for Wanyika and Wangari?

Wanyika :I’m looking forward to releasing more collections. I have started a men’s wear range ‘Sir Ethan’ still in its infancy stages. I’m looking to do some styling for artists and shows and get into the speaking circuit, I used to Mcee a while back and slowly getting back into it, and all this fits into my vision.

Wangari: I am looking forward to growing the blog and doing a few collaborations to get the brand out there. I also hope to launch my hair product line soon. We have a few events coming up as well both in Australia and Kenya and I are looking forward to meeting the Different Strands and The Headwrap Challenge followers. So watch this space! J

19. How can people find you?

THE HEADWRAP CHALLENGE PAGE:: https://www.facebook.com/theheadwrapchallenge

WANGARI’S BLOG:: www.different-strands.com

FACEBOOK:: https://www.facebook.com/Differentstrands

INSTAGRAM:: @Tangotini , @DifferentStrands

WANYIKA’S FASHION WEBSITE:: www.wa-nyika.com

FACEBOOK:: https://www.facebook.com/AfroLuxe

INSTAGRAM:: wanyikamshila

About The Author

Afritorial

Neva is a storyteller and media strategist with a background in PR, film, advertising and digital marketing who is passionate about technology, new media and the endless possibilities of the social and mobile sphere. Read more about her on our 'About Us' page.

One Response

  1. Muthoni

    This is lovely! The head wraps are actually quite easy to do and so pretty! I always thought they were such a time consuming thing but the HWC has show me otherwise! Keep it up ladies! :)

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