A Kenyan designer has scored a major breakthrough by getting a top international rap artiste to wear one of his designer T-shirts. Rapper Jay-Z, recently voted by Time magazine as one of the most influential musicians in the world today, is the second celebrity to sign onto the Jamhuri Wear clothing line. It's the brainchild of the New York-based Jeffrey Kimathi, who was born and brought up in Nairobi. The first was the latest Rhythm and Blues sensation, Akon, the Senegalese-born superstar now based in the US. Akon, who has made a great international impact with his version of the popular song, Lonely, and his own composition, Ghetto, wore a Jamhuri Wear hood when he recorded his video clip of the latter song. The clip has been featured on MTV.
Jay-Z, the composer of the song Encore, and who is romantically linked to diva Beyonce Knowles, formerly of Destiny's Child, appeared recently at a show in Philadelphia, wearing a brown Jamhuri Wear T-shirt with Nelson Mandela's portrait.
He was at the show televised to millions of American viewers, as part of the recent Live8 concerts held around the world to pressure the group of the eight richest (G8) nations' leaders who met in Gleneagles, Scotland, last month, to cancel Africa's debts.
Jay-Z performed the song, Encore, alongside rock music sensation Linkin Park. In a world where the fashion industry is driven by what the celebrities wear, the appearance was a big boost to Kimathi's label.
Says Kimathi: "When he wore my T-shirt, he did not only make a fashion statement, but also displayed his awareness and pride in his African heritage and culture. He also wore his crown."
The New York Metro newspaper on July 4, touted Jay-Z as having made the strongest fashion statement at the concert.
Other American celebrities who Jamhuri Wear can't resist picking Jamhuri clothing items, include 50 Cent, the hard-core hip-hop duo Dead Prez, Wu Tang Clan and actor Keith Murray. Kimathi also acknowledged that for Jay-Z to wear one of his creations was a major boost.
His contemporary urbanwear includes T-shirts and hoods, which retail on his website, Jamhuriwear.com.
"Our best-sellers are the badge of honour T-shirt, which carries the emblem and colours of the Kenyan flag, the Dedan Kimathi T-shirt, in honour of a man who gave up his own life for us to gain freedom, and the Mandela T-shirt, a tribute to a living icon," says Kimathi.
But he says he won't enjoy the fruits of his hard work alone. Part of the proceeds from the sale of his merchandise will go to charity.
"I intend to help Aids orphans in Africa because we cannot celebrate Africa without tackling the scourge. Our aim is to make the world a better place."
Attracting international celebrities is the dream of even the top international designers. The artistes are big spenders who live lavishly.
But Kimathi is already living that dream and nowhere else but in America. In a span of only two years, the 29-year-old designer has managed to get among his clients some of the biggest names on the vibrant American hip-hop music scene.
Born in Nairobi's South 'B' estate, Kimathi's dream was to become a top clothes designer. But he did not know where to begin until about two years ago.
But since he started, his success has not gone unnoticed in the US. He has also been featured in two top American entertainment magazines, Vibe and XXL, which often carry the stories of leading artistes like the late Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, R. Kelly, Nas, Fat Joe, Eminem, Russel Simmons, and P. Diddy.
Vibe, in its annual fashion issue, picked Jamhuri Wear as one of its favourite brands, while XXL declared it a "fashion item to look for in their brand new flavour page" in April last year.
Says Kimathi: "Jamhuri Wear is a trendsetter in African-inspired street wear whose primary mission is to introduce African culture to modern pop culture."
He is determined to have the clothes in some leading stores to give his designs more visibility in the US market and beyond.