Meet Underdogs United's Lead Designer Mariam Naipanoi

  • By Underdogs United

Meet Underdogs United's Lead Designer Mariam Naipanoi

EMBULBUL, KENYA - July 10, 2019 

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Embul-bul. A small town in the outskirts of Nairobi in Kajiado County.

What were some of your creative outlets as a kid? 

I was always fascinated by fashion and I felt like I could truly express myself through. I would regularly play around with my clothes, trying to create outfits from my closet. My energetic personality made my teachers suggest I join the music and drama club from my early years till I cleared high school.

When did you get interested in fashion design?

I was inspired to be a fashion designer when I realized that when it comes to plus size fashion, good options do not abound. Excuses range from a belief that plus-size women won't spend more money on clothes or that plus size women won’t invest in higher quality pieces. I got into design with intentions of designing for larger women.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

Sara Karay, a young Kenyan designer whose style is unpredictable as she aims to stand out. The inspirations behind her collections are the classic elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Katungulu Mwendwa, among the local designers who have been showcased in New York, her captivating designs reflect her eclectic personality. Gabi Fresh is one of my favorite curvy influencers since she started her blog almost a decade ago.

What sort of hobbies do you like outside of work?

DIY (I’m always learning new valuable skills while saving money), watching documentaries, going to events, playing board games and listening to music.

Can you share any interesting stories about your grandparents, their professions, or where they grew up?

My grandmother had a tailor and fabric shop, where she employed close to 5 tailors at any given time and it was the go to shop when anyone needed a garment around our hometown. I would go there and see the seamless work going on and learn a few things or two whenever I got a chance and that’s where I’d like to think my love for fashion and apparel making started.

What influence did your grandparents or parents have on you?

Having come from a Muslim background, my parents allowed me to be as liberal as I could when it came to fashion, which I think has played a huge part in my life and fashion career.

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

I have an older brother, who is a cop and a smaller sister who is still in high school.

Which Underdogs United design is your favorite?

I’d have to say Umeme. The vibrant colors on the African fabric used on it are so aesthetically pleasing and it does justice to its name which means “Electric” in Swahili.

What has been the highlight of your time with Underdogs so far?

Getting some recognition back home in Kenya, it’s a heartwarming experience and I can see all the hard work we’ve put in Underdogs United is paying off. I’ve gotten a chance to sensitize people on what our project and initiative is all about and I can see a sparked interest. Also, seeing the athletes rocking my designs is mind-blowing and still is so surreal.


What has been the funniest moment working with UU or the tailors?

One of our lead tailors is an upcoming dancehall artist, and we got a chance to get featured on his first music video. It was a beautiful experience, full of laughter and fun. Seeing our co-founder tapping his inner dance self was very special* hehe you can change this bit.


What’s your biggest challenge as a designer?

It is hard for up-and-coming designers to find a platform to showcase their work. It is all about being well connected in the fashion industry, who you know counts. Getting your work out there let alone your name may be difficult if you do not have the right connections. While there is a growing interest in African fashion and African fashion designers based in Europe and America, designers within Africa are still trying to find a sustainable market locally.

What is the most unique or beautiful part of Maasai culture to you?

The fact that we’ve been able to preserve and cling to our traditional way of life, making it a symbol of Kenyan culture. With our distinctive culture and dress style, it has made us one of East Africa’s most internationally famous tourist attractions.

Who is your favorite NBA player?

Draymond Green. He has amazing energy, great defense and extraordinary basketball intellect.

What has been your proudest achievement working with Underdogs?

Having been featured on some of the biggest publications in the world including Forbes and getting to see the world’s top athletes wearing something I’ve designed has been a life changing experience. Knowing all the hard work is paying off is such a huge highlight in my career.

What is your favorite part of Embulbul?

The things I love about my hometown are countless, its diversity. Melting pot does not even come close to describe the vast array of people in Embul-bul. With a great diversity in people comes fantastic food and wonderful customs. The sense of community that is so evident and the view of the Ngong Hills is simply breathtaking.

What is your favorite aspect of living near Nairobi?

As a thriving metropolis, Nairobi has everything to offer the world. It has beautiful tropical weather that just makes you want to smile. The people are very friendly, the skyline is a spectacle to marvel at and the best part is that it is authentically African with a blend of western culture, eastern culture and everything in between. Nairobi has the unique qualities of a metropolis, demonstrating the urban life and how beautiful it is. The city improves people’s social lives, individuality and confidence; thus, making them feel more alive.

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