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Why tattoos are fast becoming fashion statements in Kenya

Having a tattoo was once considered alien in Kenya; often relegated to the realm of counterculture and seen as a surefire way to fail a job interview.

But how times change! Tattoos have started to go mainstream and are building ubiquitous presence in the fashion industry.

In what is perhaps the greatest fashion shift for a generation, they are now displayed and admired like a Celine bag or a Prada shoe.

A tattoo depicting the image of a spider on a woman's back.
A tattoo depicting the image of a spider on a woman’s back.

They are no longer subversive or transgressive; neither are they a mark of the outsider, gang members or criminals.

What was once the mark of sailors, bikers and rockers is now commonplace with consulting managers, advertising executives and stay-at-home moms.

These days in the Kenya’s showbiz industry, you would be hard-pressed to find a celebrity who doesn’t sport a tattoo or two.


The gradual cultural shift towards the acceptance of tattoos conveys the need to tell our stories, reveal ourselves and live in a flow of art-directed personal information.

Tattoos are no longer viewed as just body art – they are a form of self-expression, which can often reveal intimate, personal histories, our heritage and our values.

“Before working on details of a tattoo design, I first listen to someone’s stories; like what they’ve gone through in their life, including their innermost thoughts, secrets and trauma. Communicating and understanding is key in my work process,” said George Ouko a tattoo artist based in Nairobi’s CBD.

“I think it’s a matter of personal taste, like cigarettes. You can’t say it’s right or wrong to smoke or get a tattoo. You don’t have to fully understand them, but you should at least respect people’s choices,” he said.

“Whatever caused you to dislike something or someone, you must have a clear reason for why. If it’s just ingrained prejudice, well, all I can say is, poor you, because you will never get out of it.”