Collective Conversations... talking to designer Sandra Githinji!!

Sandra wears the Sura A-Line dress (was $270, now $150)

At Collective Closets, we believe in individuality, authenticity, and celebrating the power of a woman. As businesswomen, we share the story of our influences and upbringing through our designs and the beautiful textiles we grew up with. We created Collective Conversations to spotlight the amazing women in our community and find out how they share their own stories. This series spotlights members of our tribe, gaining insight into their values, passions, and the drive behind what they do.

Sandra wears the Buhle T-shirt (was $69, now $45) and the Mkali mini skirt (was $200, now $110)

This month, we're talking to Kenyan-born and Naarm-based designer, Sandra Githinji.

Passionate about historical memory, sculpture and spatial expression, Sandra's work weaves a depth of cross-cultural storytelling. Running her own independent practice, Sandra strives to connect people through meaningful art, architecture and objects. An incredibly gifted designer and a warm, wonderful person, Sanda works "to preserve historical memory and pay tribute to phenomenal African female figures through sculpture."

For this edition of Collective Conversations, we stepped into the beautifully curated space she shares with her partner, Chacha. We talked about traditions, Malick Sidibé and personal growth.

Follow Sandra here and shop her designs here.

Describe yourselves in three words?

Creative, empathetic, idealist.

Why is music such an important medium in your life?

Music connects me to my heritage; it is sonic ancestral joy. No wonder our ancestors used song to document our history for centuries. Beyond transporting one to the past, or representing the present, music enables us to dream of alternate realities, individually and as a collective.

How do you express your creative identity?

Whether in a creative industry or not, we all have an identity we cultivate and hope to steer towards authenticity. I’ve learned over the years that the world will make multiple attempts to tell you who you are. It will force you to readjust yourself so you can fit into little boxes.

I express my creative identity through defiance, by refusing to be categorised. I always return to myself and look inward to find that which is true. We must allow ourselves to express all facets of who we are outside labels.

What are some things that you are leaving behind, letting go of, or unlearning in order to move forward?

This year has been a pivotal one for me. A few months ago, I was consumed within the narrative that success could only be acquired through the 24/7 hustle, being habitually busy whilst striving for unattainable perfection. This left me battling chronic fatigue, anxiety, and the morning dread of logging in. I looked around and realised I hadn’t consciously chosen any of this.

I was passively living, planning how I’d recover from my next burnout and feeling unfulfilled. The irony of it all is I had to step back, in fact fully shut down, to charter a new path forward. A path I was consciously choosing daily. The things that I am leaving behind, letting go of and unlearning are:

Perfectionism; it's a mirage that hinders learning through that wonderful thing people often call “failure”. The all or nothing hustle; Life is a marathon, not a sprint and we need to be cultivating a sustainable lifestyle that enriches our whole selves (mentally, physically and spiritually).

You are not your output; I had to re-evaluate my value metrics that were deeply rooted in my work. You are whole and abundant in your simple existence. External validation; do not spend your life chasing things you never truly cared for.

A quote that has stuck with me reads, “Do you care more about how your life looks or how your life feels?” It’s been a difficult road, but I am grateful for all my lessons and those to come. Growth means leaving the things that no longer serve you behind.

Sandra wears the Billowy Shirt top (was $180, now $90) and the Nguvu High waisted shorts (were $200, now $110)

How does music contribute to your sense of self?

It releases me from the idea that I can only be one type of person. Music helps me embrace all facets of self. I can love a tear-jerking Ballard and an Afrobeat banger in the same measure, and I too can see myself in spectrum. I am every genre and I am none.

What’s a hard lesson that you were grateful to learn?

You are entirely up to you.

Sandra wears the Buhle T-shirt (was $69, now $45) and the Mkali mini skirt (was $200, now $110)

What relationships are you grateful for?

I recently read a tweet that said ‘Ten years ago I met a man in his 70s on a train in Kerala. When I asked if he minded travelling alone, he replied: “I am not alone, I’m by myself"'. The relationship with myself is the longest one I’ll ever have, and I nurture it every day.

I am eternally grateful for the people closest to me. My partner Chacha, my mum, brother, sister and my friendship circle. I honestly don’t believe I would be here without them. Ever present, with words to uplift and encourage. I love them deeply.

How would you style a look from the Songa Pamoja collection?

Firstly, I am in awe of this collection! The Senegalese batik fabrics remind me of portraiture by the renowned Malian photographer Malick Sidibé in the 1960-70s. His black and white photographs captured lively portraits and scenes of celebration, music and dance.

He showcased a vibrant and proud West-African middle-class responsible for their own identity and appearance outside of the pitying or fetishized Western gaze. In this spirit of newfound freedom, I would pair the Muziki crop top and Sufuria shoulder bag with a pair of flared pants, a large chunky belt, pointy boots and larger-than-life sunnies. A throwback to the “cultural decade”.

Sandra and Chacha both wear the Mdunao shirt (was $180, now $140) Sandra wears the Urafiki High waisted pants (were $230, now $120)

Do you have a happy memory you associate with a particular song?

'Nii Nigwenda Ngai Umenyage'. It’s a gospel Kikuyu song and it was my late cucu’s (grandmother) favourite. Whenever I think of this song it takes me back to being a young girl, on the Kenyan coast, seated on the floor of our playroom with my little sister.

Sliding doors that lead to a cobblestoned terrace wide open and that humid air wafting in. I can feel the warmth of the sun, and just as radiant that of my cucu; seated beside us and singing along to this song. I miss her dearly.

Is there a particular song that has become a mantra to your life? Can I pick two?

'Fetch Your Life' – Prince Kaybee ft. Msaki

Outside of what we know, have you fostered any hobbies/interests over the past year? Tell us about it.

I have developed an addiction to Facebook Marketplace over the pandemic. It is one I’m happy to admit publicly; well and thriving with no intention of departure.

I’ve found some lovely vintage pieces, but I am now interested in acquiring free items and transforming them into something a little less ordinary through some DIY. We will see how it unfolds.