Wearing his signature red beret, Stephen Okoth does not go unnoticed when he walks the streets of Kibera, a vast slum in Nairobi. He stops outside a shop selling household items: buckets, gas cylinders, and mattresses decorated in flowery motifs. “You see, the background is full of color. It matches my outfit,” he tells me as he poses against the busy, multicolor backdrop. “Take a photo.”
Okoth, popularly known as Ondivow (local slang for “on the go”), is a filmmaker, photographer, self-styled street model, and local celebrity. Born and raised in Kibera, the 26-year-old artist has made it his mission to transform the bleak image of his neighborhood through his vibrant vintage-fashion shoots, which he refers to as picha marangi (slang for “colorful pictures”)
“I come from a place that many have painted as a hotbed of disease, despair, and disorder,” he says. “But most of these stories about Kibera don’t reflect the reality of life here.”
He continues, “Despite the harsh reality of daily life, there are moments of joy and happiness. My mission is to bring light and joy to Kibera—and from Kibera to the world.”
Okoth assembles his looks from the piles of clothing at the local secondhand Gikomba and Toi markets. He’s friendly with the vendors and asks the owners to call him whenever something new and interesting arrives.
His unmistakable style has made him a local fixture. “I believe in being unique,” says Okoth. “I always wanted to be different and to stand out. If the colors of my outfits make heads turn, I know I have made the right choice.”