AS YOU WILL come to learn, Five Fits With is a series that will present to you an array of individuals who are at the forefront of fashion. They might play an integral role in the shaping of fashion’s hottest trends, or maybe they’re someone with an innate sense of style. Above all else, you’ll discover how fashion and style shapes them; how it inspires them.
In the case of this week’s interview with Maleik Njoroge Muito, he’ll be the first person to tell you how fashion has profoundly impacted his life. And it goes to show. If you’re a Melburnian reading this, you might come to recognise Maleik — one of the city’s most stylish men. A purveyor of all things that entail craftsmanship and provenance, Maleik is representative of the modern man: he exhibits style effortlessly, is humble amid all his accolades and a mover and shaker with an intention on changing the world.
Maleik tells Esquire how, through the creation All Tribes Are Beautiful, he has created an experiential space to share in his personal journey — and one way of doing so is through the universally-loved game of chess. Designing the world’s first Chess Dhurrie, Maleik interweaves fashion and design with a beautifully human element.
Below, Maleik also discusses his upbringing in Kenya and how it influenced his personal style, his favourite stores to shop in Melbourne, plus much, much more.
Let’s get you acquainted with our readers. Can you tell us about where you grew up?
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, where I spent half of my life. Nairobi is a cool bustling city. I would describe it as chaotically beautiful and I recall fond memories of the vibrant sights and sounds and activity around every corner.
With over 52 tribes, the country is a great melting pot of culture, food, rhymes, and unique stories and there is something about a place that lets you experience a wonderful city adventure, go on a magical safari and maybe finish with a dip in the Indian ocean of the coast.
And where do you live now?
I mostly call Melbourne home now but I do see myself wanting to spend more time in Kenya and around the African continent.
What was considered ‘cool’ in Nairobi growing up?
‘Matatus’ definitely comes to mind. These are graffiti-covered minibuses that have the most hectic sound systems. Hard to miss, they capture the city’s character, loud, faster, and always interesting. I lived in Langata and our route was 15, often people would let several cars pass by as they patiently waited for their favourite Matatu to pull up.
Growing up, did you ever look to anybody in particular as a style icon?
Three come to mind; my parents and my neighbour, Ng’ethe. I didn’t always realise it but my earliest expression of coolness was embodied in these three people in different ways.
My dad, a pragmatic teacher who discovered Van Heusen shirts on a work trip and fell in love. He proceeded over the course of every trip to buy as many of these “perfect” shirts as he could. I have fond memories of receiving a new shirt on birthdays.
My mum did many things but I remember her being a photographer and designer. Spending time with her in her creative spirit was the best foundation I could have asked for. Anything cool I wear she did it first.
Ng’ethe, my cool neighbour and friend who would share snacks, hip-hop CDs and anything cool with me. We wore many matching Fubu and Karl Kani outfits.
And today, who is the most stylish person in your life right now?
This one is hard to pick but I am lucky to know some of the most stylish and dapper gents so in no particular order, here are a few of them: Nick from Keoma; Tim at Modern Classic Shop; and Nami from Namiman.
What do you do for work?
I’m a creative, technologist and strategist.
And ‘All Tribes Are Beautiful Design Lab’ — can you tell us about it?
I wanted to make something but I knew it wasn’t clothes. A dream and love affair with chess brought worlds of design and fabrics birthing my design studio ATAB.Lab. I mostly make really cool unique chess sets like the handmade chess dhurrie chess rug that comes with XBLOX pieces. I also curate experiences that share this love of chess and design with different communities.
Who or what informs the way you dress?
The creative impulse (in myself or others) inspires how I see my world and how I dress. I’m drawn to stories of craftsmanship and inspiration coming together to make things. Finding things that have joy in how they look, feel, and age, as they are lived, could be like chess pieces. You don’t need many and with the right ones, an endless possibility of options and experiences awaits.
What’s the most practical or functional thing you wear for work?
Denim is always on heavy rotation. It can take a beating and looks better with age.
Where is your favourite place in the world to go shopping?
Do you have a favourite fashion brand right now?
And is there anything you’re currently on the hunt for?
A Fortela Western Shirt in Suede
Where is your favourite place in Australia to go shopping?
Fitzroy, Melbourne. You can walk for blocks and blocks and always find something different, something unique. You’re likely to catch me at Modern Classic Shop for some records, whisky or chess.
In your opinion, what’s the most over-hyped trend in the world right now?
Impulse buying. Take your time, find things made well that have some character and that will last (and look better on you) as you wear them through the years.
Is there any item in your wardrobe you pretty much couldn’t live without?
Corduroys! As much as I love denim, I keep coming back to cords as they look cool and get better with every wear.
If you could go back to any era in history, when would it be?
Probably sometime when the Café de la Regénce — located on rue Saint-Honoré near the Louvre on la Place du Palais-Royal — first opened its doors in 1670. That part became the chess mecca of the world.
“Paris is the place in the world, and the Café de la Regence is the place in Paris where this game is played best.” – Diderot
What’s the most sentimental piece of clothing or accessory you own, and why is it special?
A few of my father’s ties. I think they are probably older than me. Every time I wear one, I am reminded of how cool my dad was and still is.
Check back for another edition of ‘Five Fits With’ next week.
See more of Esquire Australia’s style coverage here.