The world couldn't help but love these four unique Kenyan brands so much that it even tried to 'steal' them
Leso, Shuka, Kiondo and Kikoi are some of the globally recognized Kenyan brands, proudly made in Kenya.
Every country in the globe has at least one unique brand it can identify itself with, and Kenyans are not any different.
The kiondo and kikoi for instance are hot brands globally, especially in western countries where they continue to pull female buyers smitten with the fine African touch and style.
Sometimes however because of weak intellectual property, brands can be copied, stolen and even owned without the origin’s country’s knowledge, Kenyans brands knows this too well.
Nothing speaks more Kenyan than the Maasai Shuka, it is one of the most unique Kenyan brand that is known globally.
This colourful and bright piece of clothing is worn by the Plain Nilotes of Kenya, the Maasai as their traditional form of dressing.
It’s like a piece of ‘light blanket’ made of cotton and worn in different forms from strapping on one's shoulder to tying it on your waist depending on the occasion.
It perfectly suits the changing harsh weather patterns found at the Maasai plains. When it is blazing hot, maasai simply strap it on their shoulder and when it gets cold they use it as a blanket to cover themselves.
Fashion brands have long salivated over this unique brand and In recent times have even incorporated the Maasai shuka in their designs, completely transforming it and fetching top prizes.
Hollywood blockbusters movies have followed suit and have also started using the maasai shuka as props and customs in their production.
Leso is a colourful cotton fabric about 1.5 m by 1 m worn by women and occasionally by men throughout the African great lakes region.
Wedding/engagements in Kenya are never complete until colorful lesos with well thought out messages has been handed out to eager women who sometimes may even fight tooth and nail to get one.
You see this product made of cotton is so dear to Kenyans that every home you walk into must have at least one, a child is born and until she/he learns how to walk they will be strapped with one on their mothers back as she goes up and down doing one chore after another.
After a girl comes of age she will be handed one by her mother to wrap herself in whenever it gets cold, use it to support a Jerrican of water, basically whatever task she undertakes a leso would be nearby.
Sometimes when these girls are admitted to far-away boarding schools, the leso would be the only thing they can remember their mother’s with.
The culmination of the leso would be when they (girls) are getting married. It is a ritual that every woman in their village must get at least one as a gift, failure to do so they will take great offence and even miss the said wedding and engagement party ‘roracio’.
Down at the Kenyan coast, leso or Khanga in Swahili is a lifestyle on its own you dare not mess with, women rely on lesos to pass messages between themselves and even to a potential admirer/lover, all they have to do is carefully select a Khanga with their desired message and wear it or give out as a gift and whoever sees and read it would get the message.
Leso and Kenyans is one thing and inseparable, in recent times however models have strutted on international stage glad in leso inspired dresses, whether they credit Kenyans for the dress is not known.
Kenyans erupted in anger in 2010 – 2012 when reports started surfacing that Japan had stolen one of Kenya’s most beautiful handcrafted brands, Kiondo.
A kiondoo is a hand woven handbag made from sisal and then finished with leather trimmings. It is an indigenous product used by the Kikuyus and Kamba tribes of Kenya.
Kenyan women while out shopping would always carry a Kiondo with them, seeing five women beautifully dressed armed with different kiondo’s was such a sight!
Due to its uniqueness and fine African touch (two Kiondoos are never the same), they are normally exported to western countries where they are hot brands and fetch top prizes.
Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), the State-run parastatal mandated to protect four elements of intellectual property rights – patents, utility models, industrial designs and technovations later come out and said that was not the case.
Chinese are now making kiondos from recycled plastics using machines but it would of course never compare to the originally made in Kenya hand-woven sisal Kiondo.
In early 2008, a British company tried to register “Kikoy” as its trademark. The application would have given the company sole commercial rights to the term “Kikoy” – a corruption of “Kikoi”, the Kiswahili word for the distinctive colourful wrap skirts worn by men and women in East Africa.
If the applications had sailed through, Kenyans would not have been able to export any Kikoi products to Europeans countries unless done through Kikoy UK Ltd, losing not just their identity but a huge chunk of resources as well.
Kikoi which is made from cotton and slightly heavier than leso come in different colors, sizes and styles. when out on the beach you can wrap yourself in one, while out on a picnic it can come in handy and now there are even Kikoi Yoga Pants.
As I am writing this article, my kikoi is hanging on the bathroom door after a day out swimming, i feel so Kenyan right now.
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