When Jessica ‘Jess’ Olago (26) made an uncomfortable matatu commute from Donholm to Westlands to attend her first cosplay event at NAICCON back in 2014 dressed up as the DC supervillain Joker, she had no idea that she would one day become one of Kenya’s most popular and respected cosplayers. In a conversation with Angela ‘Angie’ Kemo (26) and Julius ‘Jeulz’ Mokaya (31) at the Nairobi Design Week cosplay booth, we reminisced on how far they’ve come and how much the cosplay scene has grown and evolved in Nairobi.
“It wasn’t even face paint. It was just regular paint. It was terrible!” Jess recalls her first public cosplay attempt. But her dedication and passion for the art form paid off, and she’s now an ‘OG’ in the Kenyan cosplay community, admired and respected by her peers.
As we catch up, I’m holding Julius’ intricately designed One Piece cardboard gauntlet. A nod to Captain Kid. He’s been working on it for weeks. He always makes his costumes from scratch. His craft has only gotten better since I met him as Denji at NAICCON back in 2018.
While we chat, Angie, dressed in her Ochaco Uraraka costume from My Hero Academia interjects to point out that Jess is her senpai, and that she’s proud to be part of such a passionate and creative community. Jess, dressed as Mirko, the rabbit hero from the superhero manga series, is hosting her first cosplay workshop in Nairobi. She recently had a successful one in Mombasa, and the upcoming Nairobi workshop is guaranteed to attract an even bigger crowd.
The trio has been active in Nairobi’s cosplay scene for close to a decade now, and they’ve witnessed firsthand how the community has grown and evolved. In the early days, they had to go to great lengths to source everything themselves, but now, people have taken up prop-making, costume designing, and make-up artistry as professions.
The Japanese Embassy in Nairobi has also been a great supporter of the subculture in Kenya, providing platforms for cosplayers to come together and interact. Jess even learnt to speak Japanese this way!
Julius, who works as a property manager when he’s not cosplaying, hopes that he and others in the community can cosplay professionally like their counterparts in the Global North in the near future.
“We’ll be attending international conventions and getting the recognition we deserve!” Angie adds. She has a way with those anime cosplay costumes that she puts together effortlessly in no time. Her Jabami cosplay was really something, in fact, her all-time favorite.
As we continue chatting, we discuss the possibility of having an African Cosmology themed cosplay party or event for Africa Liberation Day coming up in May. The trio geek-out on the possibilities of making Oshun and Shango costumes, and our conversation segues to one day holding Kenyan-themed cosplay conventions in high schools. Think: Shakes Makena, Machachari , heck, even Vitimbi characters. The possibilities are endless!
I also learned that there are monthly ‘cosdates’ where Nairobi cosplayers meet and mingle.
“They’re not conventions. Just fun, casual meetups at a club or something. The next one’s coming up on the 18th of March,” Julius informs me.
The growth of the cosplay scene in Nairobi is a testament to the community’s passion and dedication. With more people joining in and pushing the boundaries of creativity, it’s exciting to see where the scene will go in the future.
As I watch the cosplayers mingle, take photos and exchange tips and tricks, I realize that cosplay has become more than just a hobby or a niche interest. It is a form of art, a means of self-expression, and a way to connect with like-minded people.
And as the cosplay scene in Kenya continues to grow, it will inspire more people to embrace their creativity and imagination and be proud of who they are. Jess, Angie, and Julius are optimistic, and their enthusiasm for the culture is infectious.