Art & Culture

Episode 1: An Interview With Project Huru

Art for impact

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THISNAIROBI: Welcome to the ThisNairobi podcast, where we interview the city’s hottest creatives and tastemakers. This week we’re talking to Shelia Kimathi, founder of Project Huru — an impact driven platform that aimed at uplifting plus sized women. I’m your host, Alexandria Sahai Williams, let’s get started. 

Photo Credit: Project Huru

TN: Hi Sheila, thanks for chatting with me today. Please introduce yourself to our listeners. 

SHELIA KIMATHI: A little bit about myself. Well, my name is Sheila Kimathi, I am a filmmaker, a creative and an impact producer. And, being a filmmaker, I’ve been around for quite a while. I’ve done a couple of advertisements of that series of done movies. So I’m just debuting my first documentary as an impact producer now. Yep.

TN: So, what’s an Impact producer?

SK: Being an impact producer means I, I do films or I do film projects that elevate their community, or make the society a better place. Yep. So it enables a lot of community work speaking to individuals, bringing people together, basically, for an objective.

TN: Ok now that we’ve uncovered the woman behind the magic, tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind Project Huru?

SK: Project Huru was born because I felt there was a need to, there was a need, to create a platform to speak out. So I figured that the platform would be for me first. And then for the rest of the people. Where I was in the first place, I was working at an agency. And it felt very confined, it felt very controlled and toxic. I needed to get out of that environment and figure out who I was. So in the process of that, I got a project. And they asked me if I wanted to participate in an exhibition in Israel. I was the only filmmaker. So I was asked to pitch something that would work in that context.

But, previously, before I started this project, I was selling swimsuits for plus size women. So with the selling of the suits of plus sized women, it was a bit frustrated. No, it was it was a it wasn’t even a bit frustrating. It was frustrating, because the women were not buying the pieces

I only sold like five pieces.. And this is with a lot of drumming and Facebook and a lot of  advertisements. Nothing was moving.. And now I had this project in my hand, I’m thinking I have to work backwards now, I have to go back into the psyche of the plus sized woman and see the reason why she’s not putting on a swimsuit and bring it all the way out.

Photo Credit: Project Huru

TN: How did you begin to draw out the manner and medium through which you were going to portray plus sized women?

SHELIA: So because the first thing that we do when you see a plus a woman is judge from the outside in. But with this project, what I realized is that being a plus size woman is not a is not a condition, it’s a symptom of something. So we I started working backwards and started working from the inside out. When I started selling the swimsuits In the beginning I met this lady called Sarah Mukabana on Instagram. Our first shot was swimsuit shots. She was actually my first plus size model and she came through we did the shorts and I was confident that everyone else since they will see her and her being plus sized they will be confident enough to want to share in that experience…still nothing. So I started talking to Sarah and I was like “Yo! Why don’t plus size women wear swimsuits? What is going on?”. And she’s like “Yo! Girl. Which part do you want to being with? The unpacking part or the reasons?”.

So I’m like okay, I need to find out why this is happening. But then again, you can just go and ask “You! Why are you not wearing swimsuits?” or “What’s wrong with you?”  You see, it has to be a journey you have to work together you have to you have to you have to walk in the waters together. You have to get wet together for you to see what is happening.

So as I was creating my project for Israel, I broke it down in such a way that there was the visual aspect of it where there was photography and then the fashion pieces that will make the plus size women comfortable together to get out of the box.

And then the film itself. First how to go about the film was having the women vlog about the experience of Project Huru. So and the photography itself, I will use my garments to create pieces that these women can model and they can photograph.

And then when I approached these women, I got a manifesto called RUHCUS. A radically unapologetic healing challenge for us. It’s by a lady called Sonia Renae Taylor.

So once I put them with the RUCUS Manifesto, they were in. And then after that, that’s how Project Huru was born.

We started off with counseling sessions a week after that. And then we had our first photography session a month after that. 

TN: How would you define Project Huru? 

SK: Oh, I would I would define it as a very ambitious, daring project. Yes. Because  this means entering into people’s lives and trying to change how they think and how they see themselves and how the world sees them. I’m not the first trying to change the perspective. However, my ways are different. I had the audacity to enter people’s lives and control and tell them what to do.  

TN: Why did you want Project Huru specifically to be a space or a platform of expression for plus sized women? 

SK: See what happens is not even being the plus as women and as people so much, it’s their perspective of how it’s portrayed. You see, if, if this is what happens or if you’re a plus size woman, you’re advised to hang out with fellow plus size women. Because the smaller women are going to make you get body dysmorphia, you’re going to have a lot of issues if you start comparing yourselves to them. You see. And, the problems are not the same.

 And what we’re trying to do is create a small society for plus size women where they can have, they can come in have a conversation, it’s a safe space to talk, to dance to cry, you know, and just form a small community of support.

TN: So you’ve done all this amazing work, and you’ve gotten together this amazing group of women. What do you hope that people learn from Project Huru? 

Photo Credit: Project Huru

SK: Use your talents. Like just be brave enough to lose whatever is inside. Be brave enough to speak and have your voice heard somehow. Even if it I don’t know, even if you’re going to tap it out on a piano or something. Just have a way to be heard.

And then, seek help. It’s okay to seek help. Speak up and may be someone will hear you. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you say someone is going to hear.

And if you’re an artist, just write come out and do whatever your art is calling you to do. Someone somewhere you’re going to speak to someone somewhere. It doesn’t matter what you do you’re going to speak to someone and they speak if you speak to that one individual, you’re probably you’ve done you’ve done your work. And I think that this is the three women that I’ve worked with . I am humbled that they actually allowed me into their lives like that. Because all I had was a manifesto. I didn’t have anything else.

TN: In addition to Project Huru Shelia is developing a three part 20 minute documentary about the entire journey called unwrapped. Project Huru has also inspired Shelia to create a makeover show called Fits and Misfits. She is currently seeking sponsorship and hopes to shoot in December. If you’d like to see more from  Project Huru, follow their account on instagram at projecthuru ‘ p-r-o-j-e-c-t-h-u-r-u ‘. There’s also a website in the works, so keep a look out for that. Sending love and gratitude to Shelia for taking time out of her busy schedule to interview with This Nairobi.

Thanks for tuning into the first episode of the ThisNairobi podcast. If you liked this interview, give it a share. We’ll be dropping our next episode in two weeks. To find out as soon as it goes live, follow us on Instagram, Youtube and twitter at thisnairobi, that’s t-h-i-s-n-a-i-r-o-b-i. Also, check out our website to read all of our awesome articles, where we review Nairobi’s hottest restaurants, activities, getaways and offer general tips for living better in the hustle and bustle of the city we all love. We have a ton of things coming up in December so stay tuned, you definitely don’t want to miss it. I’m your host Alexandria Sahai Williams, chat soon! 

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