Designer David Ochieng aka Avido

In 2017, Don Carlos was in Kenya for a much-celebrated second visit, and during his tour, he visited Kibera. In the crowds gathered to see him was a young man on his way home from the market, and he had joined the crowds for a glimpse of the legendary reggae artiste.

Don Carlos saw him and shouted out to him, “Yout!  That shirt is nice!” He was referring to the shirt the young man was wearing. It might have been just a passing glance and a passing comment to some, but to David Ochieng, more commonly known as Avido, it was everything. He had made the shirt himself.

He was so moved by the comment that he ran home and sewed another shirt. He went back, succeeded in getting Don Carlos’ attention again amidst the crowd, and gave him the newly-made shirt as a gift.

In a moment of great pride for Avido, Don Carlos performed while wearing the shirt. That was the first celebrity he ever designed for, yet he was not even focused on fashion design at the time.

The next day, Don Carlos’ people called asking him to meet the artiste at the hotel he was staying at.

“He asked me what I was doing in life and I told him I was a footballer, I had been doing Muay Thai to have discipline within me, music, dancing, running in marathons and sewing clothes. He told me I was doing too many things in life and I needed to pick one thing that gave me peace and freedom in life and stop doing everything,” Avido tells Sunday.

Up until then, everything he had done, and it was a lot, was purely for survival. He was not doing any of it because he liked it, so how could he choose?

Avido had dropped out of school at 11 because when he lost the football scholarship, his single mother could not afford the fees. She was a casual worker who did housework for people for a pittance. At some point, she wasn’t around at all, so it was the street life for him for about 10 years, on and off.

Street life was the ninth circle of hell. He watched his friends die. Some committed suicide, but many were chopped up and burned alive by vigilantes or killed by police. Some were criminals, but others, it was often a case of mistaken identity.

He started out teaching himself English, writing down his problems and reciting them, not knowing it was poetic until the day Soko Ugali held a roadshow to advertise the then-new maize flour.

"They would call artists to perform on top of the trucks and the prize was a packet of Soko Ugali. I used to sleep hungry for days so I really wanted it. I didn’t know what to do with the beat, so I just started speaking my problems," Avido says.

“Afterwards, the guy with the mic was like, ‘Wow, you’re so good at spoken word!’ I didn’t know even what that meant.”

He did it for about seven months but then stopped because it wasn’t giving him what he needed from it. So he joined some music groups and a dance team.

“Poetry helped me to accept myself, music helped me speak out my problems, then dance gave me a smile, because for me to perform in front of people, I had to smile. It made me feel like myself and made me understand how to smile again and enjoy life,” says Avido.

Dancing would then give birth to fashion.

His dance crew started getting invited for competitions like Sakata, and because they did not have uniforms, Avido took it upon himself to make some. He was also the only one with the time to do it since everyone else was going to school.

After he complained he never got any money from her, his mum gave him Sh200 she had earned as a tip.

“I didn’t even know what to do with it. Yes, it was little money, but it carried so much weight,” he says.

He went to Gikomba and bought bedsheets he used to make costumes.

From then on, he would spend time with tailors, learning how to sew and was undeterred by people telling him he was doing a woman’s job.

Shortly after that, he had an encounter with Don Carlos, who gave him around 300 dollars for the shirt. At the time, they would get around Sh5,000 to split among about 16 dance crew members.

“I was so confused when I went home. I did not know where to start. I started to review why was I doing all those things. I decided that if I chose something it had to be something that could help my mum earn a living. I thought about martial arts and I decided she couldn’t do that because she couldn’t be hired as a security guard, she couldn’t keep up with music or dance, but if I taught her how to sew clothes, she could be hired as a tailor,” he says.

It took him a long time to understand what Don Carlos had told him, but once he did. he settled on fashion. It was also where he felt he could express himself best, and while the other arts had all taught him something, fashion gave him purpose.

He took a year off from everything, but fashion and dance. People would see what he’d worn while dancing and ask him to get them something that looked like that, hence the name ‘Lookslike Avido’ was born.

 Avido with reggae star Don Carlos.

A friend called Japheth Ochieng took him in as he didn’t have somewhere to stay, and after a year he was able to save enough to get himself a bedsitter. “I had a sewing machine and bed in that bedsitter. I’d sew and sleep, sew and sleep,” he says.

He would post his work on Facebook and Instagram, which ended up being a major boon, he was soon invited to Berlin Fashion Week.

“When Berlin Fashion Week invited me, I think they knew of my work through Instagram. It was like an online portfolio, they did not have to look for another portfolio because everything I was doing was evident. Many, including global universities, have found me the same way,” he says.

That catapulted him onto the international scene, leading to friendships and collaborations with global icons such as Beyoncé for her 'Black is King' album, Bruno Mars, Chronixx, Ty Dolla $ign, Alaine, Ce'cile, Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, Jah Cure and many more, in addition to being featured on international platforms like Vogue Italia.

Despite his international success, Avido has remained deeply connected to his roots in Kibera.

His fashion brand, LookslikeAvido, is not just about clothing, but also about community empowerment. He trains deaf women and young women in Kibera, providing them with skills that can help them secure stable employment.

"Some of the women that I trained are working at Sandstorm in Karen," he says proudly. He also makes school uniforms for students in need and sponsors the education of several children.

Kibera Fashion Week, which he founded, is also not just a fashion show but a platform to communicate the problems that the community goes through. It is also one of the few in Kenya where the models and designers are fairly compensated.

“We plan for it to be more like an experience, not just a show, and on par with shows like New York Fashion Week,” he says.

He has achieved success quite fast, having been in the fashion business for less than seven years now, as he turns 27 in June. His advice for people looking up to him, therefore, is a bit unexpected.

“People should not be in a hurry to achieve success. It’s like coming from, say, Dagoretti and going to town, but you’re in such a hurry that you forget your bus fare. The bus conductor will mess you up!” he says, laughing.

“Being in such a hurry to achieve success that you overtake your happiness on the road is really crazy. One step at a time. As long as you can go back home and sleep peacefully, that is success.”