Meet Cynthia Allela: Bata Designers’ Apprentice Competition Winner

Fashion is the most powerful art out there. It shows the world who we are and who we’d like to be.

Cynthia Allela is becoming who she’d like to be all thanks to her designs. The University of Nairobi graduate won this year’s Bata Designers Apprentice Competition beating so many applicants. Oh how i love seeing young millennials making moves!

Blogger Sharon Mundia and Susan Wong were at the Bata store in Nairobi where they announced Cynthia’s victory. How big a deal is that? She was presented with a trophy and a cash prize of Ksh.50,000. The shoe that she designed also gets to sell in select Bata outlets.

Wow guys, this makes me want to do major things too. I had a chat with the creative designer and here is what she told me.

If you had to walk around with a banner that says who you are, what would it read? 

A banner would read; innovative, experimental, strong, calm and hands on person with an inquisitive mind that questions why things are structured in a certain way and one who finds great satisfaction in learning about form and function of any object and how all this related to the environment around me.

Take us through your journey: from the time you applied for the program to the time you won

I was nominated by the Director of arts and Design, University of Nairobi, DR. Lilac Osanjo to take part in the competition. This came as a surprise since I had just graduated from the University six months earlier. This was also shortly after the Nairobi Innovation Week (where I was in second position for the student innovation award) and TICAD VI where I had exhibited my final year project. I was however quite thrilled by the nomination. I thereafter went to Bata Limuru to submit my portfolio to the Bata panel that was tasked with selecting designers for the competition. My portfolio presentation entailed shoe design concepts that reflect my inclination to functional pragmatism and aesthetic appeal. This seemed to get their attention.

Thereafter, I made it through the first stage during which we were provided with a design brief which stipulated the creation of classy, new, original shoes using available Bata equipment. I usually start my process with a mood board, so I compiled sketches and concept designs that I felt answered the brief quest. I sought to solve as many problems faced by rubber and canvas shoe lovers as much as I could. I decided to create a versatile pair that can be combined in varied ways to create twelve shoes. With the guidance from Bata product development manager, Esther Kute, I made a few iterations to the design which I thereafter presented to Bata panel and the ‘Na Bado’ pair was selected as an ideal shoe to prototype.


I then worked with the product development team and artisan in the realization of the shoes (Na Bado). A shoe that comes with a few additional components that can be flipped, taken apart and worn in different forms to suit various occasions. After prototyping we presented our shoe to the judging panel and thereafter waited eagerly for about a month to know the outcome of the competition, all the while hoping I would get a positive review of it.

In what way has the Bata Designer’s Apprentice Program changed your outlook on designs and the business side of things?

In previous engagements at a jua kali metal workshop and a leather factory, I have had the opportunity to appreciate the value of apprenticeship. The experience at the Bata program was quite rich and rewarding. It nurtured a fairly formal learning forum in which creativity is realized and thoughts take tangible form through critical examination. As a Bata apprentice, I got to get a hands-on experience on product development at industry level and came to understand the manufacturing process and how the costing and marketing of products is done. These are aspects that I wouldn’t have learnt had I not been in an enabling space. With regards to design, I felt a sense of validation of my creativity and I feel more confident about my skills as a product designer and creating designs that can compete locally and internationally.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years? 

A Masters and a PhD should be on my sleeve in the next five years. I should have my own brand fully setup by then and most importantly I would continue to mentor at design schools and be in a position to mobilize a team of talented but disadvantaged individuals, and use the skills I have learnt. I would also engage them in collaborative efforts towards the development of products using locally sourced materials. I want to help initiate a team in Kenya that will work relentlessly in churning design ideas that respond to the day to day needs of the rapidly changing environment in a way that is at par with the rest of the world. I want to someday help project a positive design narrative about Africa, about my country Kenya.

You run a design startup called Yugi Allela. What is the concept behind it?  

Yugi Allela makes customized leather bags. We also use waste(from fabric,leather,saw dust, paper, fallen twigs etc)in the making of unique versatile and totally custom furniture designs like the podi table that can be a bed,chair, reading table, dinning table and a coffee table. An element of an unexpected use defines my work which are often minimal but outstanding pieces.

What is the one thing you can’t resist even if you wanted to?

I am a tinkerer. I live to dismantle things and reassemble them. In most instances, I love to play the part of a reverse architect, dismantling an object in order to discern its form vis-a-vis function. It’s always interesting to study an object in pieces, for then am I able to understand how it works. I relish tearing apart a leather bag or shoe or a piece of furniture to understand its structure.

Which designers do you look up to? 

Melisa Allela, Ludwig Mies van de Rohe,Walter Gropious and Magdalene Odundo. They all have challenged the status quo in design in their specializations and have gone to the lengths of shaping the design field in ways that are outstanding. I will always look up-to and strive to be like them.

If you had a time machine, what would you change? 

I wouldn’t change anything about myself. My life experiences have shaped me to become the person I am today.

Which words always ring in your mind every day as you strive to get to the top?  

I would with ease point at Robert Frost lines from Road Less Traveled to define my actions but Langston Hughes.
‘‘Hold fast to dreams
Because when dreams die
Life becomes a broken winged bird
That cannot fly.’’
Those lines have defined my being for the longest time. It is to my dreams that I cling in as much as I have no price at hand. I often perceive these lines as a summary of the essence to life — pursuing a dream, reaching a goal, attaining my zenith. For it is only in doing so that I will become truly happy and satisfied with myself.

About Anthony Mbugua

Blogger, writer and a millennial trying to figure it all out. I also like sharing the success of other millennials. Welcome to my world.

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