Kanaiza founder Vanessa Onalo was raised in the buzzing East African city of Nairobi. She was always surrounded by strong, playful and nurturing women. As a child she loved to sit and listen in on stories shared amongst groups of women about their past, their childhood and their lovers. Vanessa left Kenya to study stories abroad in London (she literally studied Literature to feed her fascination with stories and culture). She started to identify and fall in to the world of the diaspora. Those who belong to two or more places but seek to maintain their original stories and heritage wherever they go. Kanaiza is a name that was passed down to Vanessa in remembrance of her great great grandmother.
All the women from her mothers side of the family are given a middle name of one of their foremothers. This is how they honour each other, it is their spin on the societal tradition of taking on the surnames of fathers. It is their way of carrying on the legacy of the women that raised their mothers. The brand KANAIZA is named after Vanessa’s great great grandmother Kanaiza was said to be the most beautiful old woman anyone had ever seen.
Beauty and old age are rarely positioned together and it is juxtapositions like this that are normal in the culture in which Kanaiza grew up in. Embracing age in all its phases and appreciating all it has to offer is a mark of respect to self and to those who came before you. Kanaiza seeks to uncover new progressive narratives that can exist alongside the heritage of the rich cultural history of the diaspora’s varied communities.
Kanaiza remains a loved matriarch because of her warm and joyous personality and how it infected all that encountered her. Kanaiza’s youthfulness and playful nature chased away old age. "Kufukuza uzee" It means she had the wisdom and heart of a grandmother and the curiosity and joy of a child. Kanaiza will live on through her children. In her memory the Kanaiza brand seeks to create a platform for dialogue amongst the creative diaspora community as a means of documenting the work that will one day become history. We also will not physically be here forever but what we document and spread amongst our communities will be.
Kanaiza champions the pioneers who influence culture and society through their art.