Kenya's Internet club went up this Tuesday. Renowned fashion blogger Thisisess (Sharon Mundia) announced her engagement, and, as many have pointed out, she might as well have handed Kim Kardashian a pocket book titled: "How to break the Internet: A step-by-step guide". Her site has been difficult to access ever since, because her engagement story was as scenic as her fashion is, and everybody was trying to access the blogpost. In a tweet she explains: "Yesterday's numbers pretty much overwhelmed the server that it ended up affecting other services on it." I wrote a story a few months ago about what makes Thisisess such a phenomenon:
My friends and I joke that Thisisess can make anything look good. As a child growing up in Nairobi, gumboots were these mud-caked, clunky shoes that you were subjected to in May when it rained. You wore them to school, and removed them as soon as you were clear of the rain puddles. But in one of her blog posts, Thisisess convinced me that gumboots were not from the devil. She, with her smile that sets that cheerful mood in her blog, can make gumboots look good. You can imagine then how much like a goddess Thisisess must look when she wears an exquisite blue gown from Kung'ara Kenya. She has her hair pulled back and stands tall with a pensive look in her face. The sequins on her dress seem to know that they are in the presence of fashion royalty, and map her beautiful curves. This look reminds me so much of Beyoncé in her "I was here" video that for a moment I expect that the photo will come alive and Thisisess too will start singing, "I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here."
We insist that we are fans of Thisisess, but only because we don't want to admit that we are obsessive stalkers. My friends and I are fashion-crazy, broke Kenyan girls. Hunting for cheap clothes, we have often escaped the city council chasing away hawkers from the city centre, and the police throwing teargas at Ngara market. We cannot then end up in jail over something as flimsy as stalking the queen of fashion. That Thisisess is a fashion icon is indisputable, but I feel like maybe the reason we are all so taken by her is not just her sense of fashion, but that her enthusiasm for fashion motivates us to pursue our own passions. She dreams us up.
Thisisess' blog, apart from being beautiful to look at, reminds us to fight for our dreams, however unconventional.
Like me, a lot of my friends studied in an African country's education system. We were taught that the only legitimate careers are engineering or medicine or law. If your families are anything like ours, your mother stops calling you by your name in kindergarten and starts calling you by your anointed profession. (So conversations go something like this: "Engineer, si you pass me the salt." No pressure.) But Thisisess, through her immersion in fashion blogging, has shown us that Nairobi, as well as many African cities, has the capacity to take us all in--the photographers, the fashion designers, the make-up artists. The "oppressive lethargy of choicelessness" that Chimamanda Adichie describes in her novel Americanah, is fading. Thisisess, for my friends and for me, is the incarnation of this revolution--this craving to indulge in our passions, and to figure out a way to make money off of them. She has shown us that designing birthday cards and writing and baking can be more than side hustles.
Perhaps the increased interest in developing traditionally risky passions like fashion blogging is because Africa's growing consumer class, which my friends and I hope to be part of, is willing to spend more on luxurious goods like fashion. Or maybe this increased boldness is because of the rising significance of online presence. (Spending so much time on social media may be why my friends and I are not yet part of Africa's growing consumer class.) What we are sure about, though, is that we are less afraid to find what we love, to accept that we love it, and to pour our time and energy to have this love consume us, until we are this thing that we love and it is us.
Thisisess has shared with us so often that she is not a born-this-way fashionista. In her usual good humor, she posts two photos of herself side-by-side labeled "Trying too hard" and "Simplicity is key". She shares a photo where her fashion is not flawless, and it makes us think, "Hm, it does take trying and failing and trying again to get to where we want to be." If you read her blog from the oldest blog post to the most recent ones, you can see that her style has evolved significantly, and that she keeps getting better.
"It is never too late," she says when talking about her personal style journey. Now isn't that what every young adult wants to hear? In this world where social media has us believing that everyone is well put together, Thisisess says she became serious about style only 2 years ago. It is comforting, as much as I am sure she was pretty good before, to know that we could start pursuing our passions now.
In legends, our heroes were perfect. Now, we want our heroes and heroines to acknowledge that they struggle like we do to reach their dreams. Thisisess acknowledges that failing is a part of the climb. After failing to win the 2013 Bloggers Association of Kenya Award, she put up beautiful blog post after another, and won the award in 2014. Even in her retrospective yet lighthearted "Taking Stock" posts where she describes what she is wishing, wondering, wanting, you feel like you can relate with her experiences. My favorite is: "Feeling: like I need to put together a brag sheet. Something that I can read whenever necessary to remind myself what makes me awesome because sometimes life can get the best of you and you start (to) doubt yourself a little. You know?"
Following our passions is not about the promise of money. Victor Peace, an excellent photographer who works with Thisisess, describes their humble beginnings: "For us money was not really the end goal, it slowly would show up but during that starting point we just had to work with whatever we had to make real the picture we were painting." I have my fingers crossed that these running battles with hawkers in Nairobi will be something my friends and I will laugh about in future. Thisisess will be our BFF. We will be drinking rich Kenyan tea, in the patio, wearing beautiful African kente, with our BMW's parked in the garage. But we remain aware that this "following-your-dream" path is a financial risk, and that, like Victor says, money should not be the end goal. We hope that the happiness this path grants us is its own form of recompense.
My friends and I can tell you that Thisisess went to Rusinga School, that she started her blog after a bad break-up, that she went to university in South Africa, that although people keep suspecting it, it is unlikely that she is dating Victor Peace. No really, Victor Peace took a photo where she is on the phone with Friend (what she calls her boyfriend on the blog). Now would Victor Peace be taking her photo as well as having a telephone conversation with her? We have (perhaps unfairly) judged everyone who has left negative criticism on her blog. We appreciate the positive people like Vinnie O, popular on Twitter, for confessing to camping at her blog the whole weekend when he discovered it. We can tell when she wears an outfit a second or third time on the blog. If you ask us nicely, we can tell you how her grandparents met.
We admire Thisisess for loving what she does. We admire her for reaching for what she wanted. We admire her for getting a job at Capital, a reputable media house, tailored towards what she loves and what she is good at. But most of all, we appreciate that she is dreaming us up, and nudging us, even the scared ones, to take little steps towards fighting for our dreams.