Another day, another zine in fashion is published. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, zines are having a moment, and more specifically, a fashion moment. Yes, you've probably guessed it by now - this is another article about zines and yes, Fashion Scout's latest collaboration project Wauzine only proves that the much-needed voices of the underground press are on the rise once again, and thank god they are. Yesterday, just in time for the arrival of London Fashion Week this Friday, Wauzine saw the launch of their third issue Matatu; a digital zine that showcases 11 Kenyan fashion designers. The designers in question are ones who have partaken in the British Council's creative DNA programme in partnership with consultancy and talent nurturer, Fashion Scout. So, all we're saying is that our expectations are high.
On the need to focus on the young talent coming out of Kenya's fashion scene in Nairobi specifically, Helen Jennings, features editor of Wauzine, suggested that 'there is a lot of international attention on contemporary fashion from Africa right now, but precious little of it reaches east Africa. Kenya's fashion industry is nascent and deserves the support that the Creative DNA programme and Wauzine offers.' Through focusing on collaborations with as many designers, stylists, illustrators, writers and photographers as possible, Wauzine aims to unite talent from London and Nairobi in the form of a zine, making the project a cross-collaboration for all creatives involved.
Deriving from Nairobi's streets, the first part of the zine's name 'Wau' means 'wow' in English and Wauzine have made it clear that this is no subtle 'wow' but more of a 'wowee.' Wauzine's editor-in-chief, Martyn Roberts, puts it as: 'not a reserved and quiet "wow" either but a full Nairobian "wow"'. He goes on to explain, 'that was exactly the aim of the zine, to shake up audiences and make a powerful impact on what creative Kenya has to offer.' Looking further into the cultural undercurrents shaping fashion's future, Wauzine helps document and explore the newest and stirring talents that are kicking up a storm in both the capitals. Considering fashion, like many other industries, has been completely turned on its head over the last year due to the pandemic, big fashion houses, as well as newer and lesser-known names, are being forced to rethink their approach to the traditional fashion show concept. Imagine Fashion Scout at Freemasons' Hall taking place like it would during any other London Fashion Week, but this time, it's splattered over the pages of Wauzine, bursting with life, creativity and most importantly, talent.
The first issue of Wauzine titled Neighbourhood was released last month, which explored Nairobi's cultural landscape through a fashion story by photographer Maganga Mwagogo, featuring the Kenyan designers' work and two different (but equally significant) areas of Nairobi. This issue also starred a think piece by artist Awuor Onyango, revealing the relationship between Kenya's colonial past and it's contemporary creativity. Wauzine's second issue, Joy and Rebellion, took the origins of zine culture and, quite literally, ran with it, while imprinting its own stamp. Made to be a reflection on how many Nairobians have to go against the law just to have a good time, the editor's letter for issue two blatantly and honestly states: 'This issue joins thousands of other funny stories and love letters by defiant Nairobians to their city as part of their overarching super narrative of joy, mischief and rebellion' - tropes the zine scene have always been familiar with, (you only have to look at some of the pages of Australian's 1970s OZ magazine to know what we're on about).
In recent months, zines have slowly but surely started to become the favoured approach amongst the fashion crowd when looking for an alternative to the traditional fashion show concept. Upon being asked why Fashion Scout decided to present Wauzine as a zine, Roberts suggested it was this very reason (an alternative to a fashion show) that saw Wauzine manifest into a new digital format. 'Having to rethink how to showcase innovative, creative content with the physical limitations of COVID-19 is what made us think of using a zine format,' Roberts confirms. 'Referencing the origins of zines and the powerful statements and messages they used to carry whilst representing the new digital era was a welcomed challenge we undertook, feeling it was the most appropriate way to reveal this creative project.' Designer Nava from Enda Sportswear declared that zines allow space for designers to comment on and explain their concepts; something they wouldn't usually be able to do if part of a regular fashion show. 'Zines are known for their originality, brevity and mix of text and images.' Referring to the explicit pairing of text and images, Nava said 'because the zine format is often presented in this way, it easily captures our originality as designers. By having a text and image format, zines are ideal because, not only do you get to see the visuals of the ultimate creations, but they give you an explanation of the inspirations behind the work.' Nava continued, 'Lastly, zines are powerful because they give everyone a chance to showcase their work, especially in fashion, without having to go through real and perceived gatekeepers of the industries. It's a proactive way of asserting oneself, and in this case, our designs, with pride and confidence in our work, regardless of alternative opinions. I love that we were able to do that through Wauzine.'
The underground press has undeniably played a vital part in the history and culture of fandom and magazines. Long before the advent of the internet, there were fanzines and in one form or another; they have been around since the invention of print. A living archive and undoubtedly a nod to the physicality of print as well as creativity, many of the publications we know and love today once started off as staple-bound mini documentations in the form of a zine. Timeout? A zine. Private Eye? A zine. i-D magazine? A zine.
Long associated with the music industry - who embraced them long before fashion - zines used to dominate the underground press. Music zines in the 20th century (then commonly known and referred to as fanzines) kick-started the early days of music writing thanks to the birth of Mark Perry's seminal Sniffin' Glue in 1976 (its name a reference to a line in a song by The Ramones, 'now I wanna sniff some glue'). Many other fanzines around the same time simultaneously attracted large fan bases - a prime example being the Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the UK - but often never came close in terms of popularity. The difference was that Sniffin' Glue was written by a fan for other fans of The Ramones (consider it an early form of chat forums so to speak, only typewriter-heavy and ink so fresh it would clear your head) whereas Anarchy in the UK was created by the band itself and in producing their own zine for their fans, they hoped to attract a similar cult-like quality. Since those early days, when the DIY punk aesthetic infiltrated zine culture, propelling fanzines to stardom where they ruled supreme in their knowledge and overall look, the easy-to-produce A5 format has continued its love affair with the creative industries, and we don't see it stopping anytime soon.
Since fanzines became 'hip', each decade has had its own era-defining zine. The 90s saw Riot Grrrl bounce onto the zine scene and the 2010's - the beginning of a fashion revolution amongst the underground press - saw young creatives pawn over Buffalo Zine. After years of flirtation, it's now the 2020s, and fashion is still certainly no stranger to zine culture. More a lover than a friend, the industry has gradually become further obsessed with the format as the years have passed by. It was only last week that SHOWstudio published an article on Palm Angels' new zine and creative director Francesco Ragazzi's reasoning on wanting to work with the unique and intimate book format. So, mark our word, zines, amongst the fashion crowd at least, are on a steep rise, and they're certainly not looking to plateau any time soon. By choosing to abandon the traditional catwalk concept and showcase designers' work through a zine format, Wauzine is reaching an audience they may not have reached previously, contributing to the resurgence in zine culture while offering a modern take on it too.
Acknowledging the steady rise in the number of zines being made and the numerous makers behind them, writer and contributor to issue three of Wauzine Wanjeri Gakaru believes that the reason zines are becoming more and more favoured by young creatives is because they're unambiguously freeing. Tone, presentation, subject matter, you name it - the zine world is and hopefully always will be ruleless (and that's the beauty of it). 'Zines are, without a doubt, incredibly accessible for a variety of audiences while also being of the time,' Gakaru admits. 'Perhaps in some ways, I think zines best match the energy and ambition of young creatives simply because the rules are far less rigid than their mainstream counterparts - there's certainly a sense of freedom in this form.' Appreciating the overall aesthetic and presentation of Wauzine in general, Gakaru mentions that 'from the hilarious, colloquial term Wauzine derives its name from, to the kind of images and texts included within its pages, Wauzine has made a space for the playful and edgy, considering various approaches it could take without ever compromising on the quality of work.' Michael Kimanthi of We Are NBO added, 'digital magazines are great because they are limitless; you can share it in whatever format you feel would do justice for your products.'
As with all zines, the nature of cross-collaboration became essential for everyone involved at Wauzine and even more so because of the threat of COVID-19, keeping everyone physically apart. Designer Nava reflected on this by observing that 'one of the downside effects of the covid-19 pandemic has been the inability to showcase fashion products in a physical store.' Going on to relay the importance of unity when collaborating Nava stated that 'Wauzine provides a great opportunity to not only showcase our work digitally to audiences around the world, but to do so in collaboration with other Kenyan designers, who also happen to now be my friends, and in a way that is beautiful, artistic and captures the way of life in Nairobi.' Managing director of Fashion Scout and editor-in-chief of Wauzine Biljana Roberts admitted that everyone was determined to continue through with the making of Wauzine despite the pandemic and its disruption. 'Whilst planned activities were no longer possible, we, together with everyone involved, did not let this deter us. Working together in Kenya and the UK, we became part of one big family, experiencing the power of cross-collaboration,' Roberts tells me. Indeed, cross-collaboration is a very powerful tool, arguably more so when the only thing keeping you in contact is a reliable internet connection. 'Cross-cultural collaboration was at the forefront of the project and has maintained its importance all the way through,' Roberts states. 'We explored this element on multiple levels, from involving creative teams of writers and illustrators from both the UK and Kenya, through to internationally recognised media collaborations.'
Not only does Wauzine celebrate the origins of zine culture through its haphazard layouts, rebellious spirit and underground voices, but the zine is also presented through a contemporary lens. It's not a pastiche but a much-needed piece of art that exists in its own right. Wauzine's digital format allows more people than ever before to access its content; and with nothing much else to do during LFW thanks to COVID-19, we're sure it'll reach countless creatives in London, Nairobi and beyond.
You can read the latest issue of Wauzine, Matatu, here.