FABL’STYLE is proud to introduce Black Masaai a luxury handmade leather bag brand based in Kenya. Here with us today is Gillian the lead creative behind the brand.
FAB: Who is the person behind the brand?
GILLIAN: The person behind Black Masaai is Gillian Okombo
FAB: You say your passion for creating the Black Masaai springs from your love for bags. This love stems from a passion ignited 21 years ago when your father gave you a leather satchel. How did this experience invoke such a sentimental devotion? Tell us a bit more about it please…
GILLIAN: Prior to my father giving me a leather Satchel, I did not know what real leather or that of a quality leather bag felt like. So, when I got this bag as a gift, I was over joyed. It was simple bag but it felt and looked really good. It was my precious travel bag. I used it sparsely because I did not want it to grow old and get torn. As years went by my fear lessened because I realized, the more it aged the more beautiful it became and that it’s shape and stitching still remained intact. I developed an intense love for leather bags so much so that before I began working, I would save my pocket money go to the thrift market/store and buy leather bags. Collecting and creating leather bags became a hobby that I continue to express to date. Fast forward I still use the leather Satchel my dad gave me till this day. I look at this bag as a “family heirloom” something that I too can pass down to my children or nieces God willing.
It bothers me when I see people pay a fortune for pleather bags that will last you a year and you have to throw it away and get another one. I believe in buying quality things that last. Another reason for my love for simplicity and classics. Owning a piece of fashion that no matter when or what year you put it on you still look trendy.
FAB: Is this passion for designing luxurious, high quality hand bags based on a pure desire to bring long lasting functional fashion to the world or is there also a studious background to your story?
GILLIAN: Well, I would say both. I am blessed to have parents who I consider to be pretty fashionable and hence my love for fashion. My late father loved being smart and believed in quality. His suits were always tailor made and his shoes had to be Italian leather. My mom is a very stylish lady who has a knack for mixing old and new fashion. I guess having been raised by these wonderful human beings contributes to my passion and values when it comes to quality products.
FAB: What kind of statement do your bags represent? And what makes your bags so unique?
GILLIAN: Love, quality, class and heritage. Every bag I produce has an item that tells a story of a particular African culture, be it something as small as the accessory used, the leather or even something as simple as the lining. There is always a story. There is a lot of beauty in Africa. Some of it is hidden, and some is right in front of us. You just have to take the time to find out and learn about it.
FAB: You have been on the market since, one year. What has been the feedback so far, locally and international?
GILLIAN: I have not gotten into the international market yet… I am working towards that. However, locally it is quite a challenge convincing people to buy your leather bag for a tad more when they can get a pleather bag for a lot less. In short, competing with fast fashion.
FAB: Where do you source your products materials from? And are they sustainable?
GILLIAN: I source my materials from different parts of Africa and I try as much as possible for them to be sustainable.
FAB: As a creative, what do you want to be known for?
GILLIAN: Quality and giving value for money
FAB: Masaai, is a well-known tribe in Kenya.
GILLIAN: Yes, it is
FAB: Why the name Black Masaai?
GILLIAN: Black because that is what I am and when one thinks of black they automatically think of Africa where I largely draw my inspiration from and also want to tell the modern African story. Masaai because for me it is a strong representation of the love for culture, tradition and heritage.
FAB: Does your product have a message to relay?
GILLIAN: There is beauty in culture and quality, which does not grow old but evolves.
FAB: Do you see your product as an accessory or a necessity?
GILLIAN: I see them as both an accessory and necessity. An accessory, because a bag has a way of lifting up an outfit. A necessity because let’s face it, everyone needs to have at least one good bag in their wardrobe to lift their spirits.
FAB: What are your aspirations for the brand, as the leading creative?
GILLIAN: To one day be the go to brand on everybody’s lips not just locally but internationally as well.
FAB: What do you think of corona and its effects on the entire fashion industry?
GILLIAN: In my opinion corona has had both positive and negative effects on the fashion industry. The negative is that people are holding back on spending and not going for what they deserve. On the positive, with the rise of online sales people seem to spend more on accessories which is are a “cheap” way of glamorizing your outfit not to mention the rise of lounge-wear which did not exist previously. For me personally corona has given me more time to experiment, make mistakes and improve my products.
FAB: If you had a super power to change the world, what would you do with it?
GILLIAN: Put a smile on people’s faces. I believe if people are happy there would be more-good in the world.
FAB: Any tips to give our readers on how to identify a quality bag?
GILLIAN: Look at the materials used and the finishing.
Thank you! It was a real pleasure to talk with you and learn more about the Black Masaai brand and luxury handmade leather bags!