Our journey to Kenya doesn’t begin in Nairobi, it doesn’t even begin in San Francisco. It begins in Oaxaca, Mexico, where Marjorie Tan, Fashion Director, and Nicole Wadlington, Textiles & Graphics Director, went to research for Tea’s Mexico-inspired collection. There they met the co-founder of Elimu Girls, a Kenyan-based non-profit, and learned about the organization’s mission. This meeting sparked an idea that eventually led to a two week trip to Kenya in the Fall of 2022.
This transformative trip took the team from bustling, wild Nairobi to the spotted plains of the Maasai Mara wildlife conservation area. From the Mara, they flew to Malindi, on the coast of Kenya, for four days of workshops and meetings with Elimu Girls. They ended their trip on the sandy beaches of Lamu Island to explore Swahili architecture and nautical life.
After the line was designed, the team returned to Kenya to photograph this season’s collection. In partnership with Kenyan-based creative team 199xorg, we were able to re-visit many of the sights that inspired the collection. We also met with the Elimu Girls team to see the final product of our limited-edition doll collaboration.
We’re thrilled to share just some of the stories and inspiration for spring’s Kenya line. We sat down with Marjorie Tan, Tea’s Fashion Director, to learn all about the inspiration behind the collection.
Why did you choose Kenya?
“During an artisan retreat in Mexico at La Cosa Buena, Nicole (Tea’s Textiles & Graphics Director), Tea’s and I connected with Cindy Rodriguez, co-founder of Elimu Girls, an international development organization in Kenya. Elimu Girls focuses on providing access to education and a healthy living environment for children, empowering young women and girls to become leaders and entrepreneurs. Inspired by shared experiences at La Cosa Buena and its alignment with Tea’s design philosophy, I sought a deeper connection to the countries and cultures that inspire us seasonally. The collaboration with Elimu was special, driven by the desire to contribute meaningfully to communities. Conversations with Cindy and learning about Elimu’s story convinced me of the uniqueness and significance of this partnership.
Kenya’s allure extended beyond this collaboration—offering the chance to witness the Big 5 on safari and encountering the warmth of its people balancing tribal heritage and modern life. East Africa is immersed in vibrant colors of textiles and crafts, youthful street style, and tribal chic. My fascination with Kenya was already established before the trip, making it an ideal choice for SS24.”
What designs are you most excited about?
“I’m particularly thrilled about the expansion of our family looks. For the upcoming spring collection, we’ve designed coordinating ensembles for the entire family. From coordinating sibling styles to inspired dresses for moms and even a stylish woven button-down for dads, it’s a collection that celebrates the essence of family fashion inspired by Kenya.”
What designs do you think captures the essence of Kenya the most?
“The essence of Kenya is truly captured in our special summer capsule, influenced by the vibrant “leso” or Kanga of Eastern Africa and the Indian “block print.” This collection features original prints with a modern Tea twist, combining the rich traditions of East African and Indian cultures found along the Kenyan coast.”
What was your favorite part about your inspiration trip?
“I have two favorite moments from the inspiration trip. The awe-inspiring safari in the Maasai Mara, witnessing incredible wildlife and landscapes up close, and the meaningful connections made at Heri Sewing School. Meeting first year students and reconnecting with second year students and graduates highlighted the positive impact of the Elimu organization, transforming young women and girls from shy beginners to confident, skilled individuals with newfound self-worth.”
What was your favorite part about your photography trip?
“Working with the local production company 199Xorg. Collaborating with these young Nairobi creatives brought so much creativity and fun to the photoshoot. I feel like Tea Creative Director Emily’s art direction translated through 199Xorg’s energy and style really shines through in the photo imagery.”
What was your favorite thing to do in Kenya?
“Sailing into the Lamu sunset on a traditional dhow was a breathtaking magical experience.”
What animals did you see while you were in Kenya?
“While on safari in Kenya, the wildlife experience was beyond words. Lions, zebras, cheetahs, elephants, and giraffes, all in their natural element, wild and free. And on the charming streets and beaches of Lamu, there were adorable encounters with baby donkeys, cats, and camels. It was truly an experience.”
How do you bring inspiration to your team in San Francisco? Do you bring them photos, stories, etc. ?
“I bring inspiration to my San Francisco team by capturing thousands of photos and sharing compelling stories and samples. I kickstart design concepts, weaving these stories and experiences into creative delivery ideas. You can see the video we created about our trip here.”
What motivates you to create inspired designs?
“Seeing kids in Tea, both locally and during my travels. Connecting with Tea families, hearing their stories, and understanding what motivates them to choose Tea and resonate with the designs fuels my creative energy.”
Shop our new Kenya inspired collection here.