“Mzuri,” the Swahili word for “good,” provides a simple, five-letter summary of all Sandra Zhao and Ashleigh Gersh Miller aim to do.
Originally from NYC, the entrepreneurs met at a Nairobi wedding in 2016, where Miller—struck especially by its fit, breathable fabric, and fun print—noticed Zhao’s unique dress. Zhao, who was living in Kenya at the time, had designed it herself in preparation for a trip to South Sudan earlier that year. Parallel aesthetic sensibilities bonded the two women together, and what began as one dress quickly turned into a business venture known as Zuri. Since its launch, the brand has expanded to include shirts, baskets, and bags, but ethical production and a healthy work environment remain consistent priorities. Now, after a combined eight years in Nairobi, Zhao and Miller continue to promote comfortable and sustainable fashion as well as the wonders of their beloved Kenya.
A rack of dresses by Zuri. Photo by @zurikenya
Tell me about the genesis of Zuri and how Kenya inspired your aesthetic.
SZ: I was going on a trip to South Sudan, where it would be over 100 degrees, and I needed clothing that would be both culturally appropriate and breathable. Using African wax fabrics was a given since it's in markets and on women all over Nairobi, plus it's 100 percent cotton—durable enough for rigorous handwashing and perfect for hot weather. I worked with a tailor to make the dress, shoved it in a backpack, and was off! I ended up wearing it to a wedding a few months later where I met Ashleigh, and the rest is history.
Behind the scenes at a Zuri shoot. Photo by @zurikenya
How does Zuri give back to the community in Nairobi?
SZ: We work with ethical manufacturers who ensure fair pay and safe, healthy, and supportive work environments—it's a priority that we support the formal labor market, where workers have access to rights and protections. Because Ashleigh is based in Nairobi full-time, we are able to work directly with our producers, source all of our materials and manage all of logistics ourselves, which means we can pay each person directly and know everyone is being paid fairly.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully raised over 150 orphaned elephants since its establishment in 1977.
Photo by @dswt
What's the most ethical way to check out the wildlife in Nairobi?
SZ: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has an elephant orphanage where you can see baby elephants who've been orphaned because of poaching. It is an incredible organization with a massive impact on elephant conservation across Kenya, and by visiting, you are supporting their work.
A shot from inside The Alchemist. Photo by @ndivoh_
Describe your ideal night out in the city.
Ashleigh Gersh Miller: The Alchemist is always a great place to start (and end) the night. It's an open-air bar, and it's become a hub for the art, fashion, music and food scene in Nairobi. Grabbing a beer and a burger at Mama Rocks—a food truck parked inside the Alchemist's campus—and hanging out with whoever I meet there that evening is the most fun and interesting way to spend a night out in Nairobi.
A traditional Ethiopian mixed platter from Abyssinia. Photo by @mywaytobelieve
Where do you take visiting friends for dinner?
AGM: My favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Abyssinia. This place is next level. They always have fantastic Ethiopian jazz playing, which sounds exactly like 1960s spy music and makes me feel much cooler than I am. I order the mixed platter and eat like it's my last meal. After dinner, we do the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and all of a sudden, and I feel like I'm sitting in Addis Ababa.
Work on display at the Kuona Artist Collective. Photo by @kuonaartistcollective
Where do you go to see art?
SZ: The Kuona Collective. It's been a launching pad for many young, now-famous Kenyan artists including Cyrus Kabiru and Paul Onditi and is home to artists helping to define contemporary African art.
Nairobi's Wasp and Sprout doubles as a craft shop and a cafe.
Photo by @out_of_afrikkaa
Best craft shopping?
AGM: Wasp and Sprout. The cafe began as a showroom for furniture made by the owner, which you can order there. They've also got a really lovely shop that carries one of the best-curated collections of crafts available in the region, mostly made by independent, women-run businesses.
Giraffes join two guests for breakfast at the Giraffe Manor. Photo by @giraffemanorkenya
What hotel do you recommend and why?
AGM: The Giraffe Manor is a hotel in the Karen neighborhood where giraffes walking around will literally stick their heads through your bedroom window. As a visitor to Nairobi, one of the coolest possible experiences is having your breakfast stolen out of your hand by a cheeky giraffe. The whole scene is just delightfully whimsical.
Digging into a delicious lunch at Ranalo Foods. Photo by @zurikenya
What are some popular Kenyan dishes, and where in Nairobi can you find them?
SZ: My go-to is always Ranalo's. They serve the most amazing fried tilapia, ugali (a Kenyan staple), yummy chapatis and a variety of greens. I personally love going to Kenyatta Market for nyama choma (roast goat meat). Most people eat it with ugali or chips, but I like it with mukimo, which is mashed potatoes with maize kernels and spinach. Get kachumbari with it, and you've basically got a perfect meal.
Mama Rocks offers specials on burger and beer combos for brunch.
Photo by @mamarocksgbk
What's the most exciting new addition to the food scene in Nairobi?
SZ: The food truck culture in the city is really exciting, especially at the Alchemist, where you can get insanely delicious burgers from Mama Rocks and ramen from Cheka. There are also some amazing Chinese restaurants in Kilimani—hit up Silk Noodles for the noodles of your dreams.
The tea fields of Tigoni, Kenya. Photo by @bindyanajones_
Where do you go to get inspired?
AGM: When I need to feel inspired, I usually head to Tigoni. I grab my bike, ride through the tea fields, and then stop at one of the farms for a vegetable basket to take home. It's an easy way to clear my head, which gives way to more creative thoughts.
Ashleigh and her son relaxing together in their garden. Photo by @zurikenya
How do you get away, everyday?
AGM: Each morning after I drop my son at school, I make my coffee and give myself one hour outside in my garden to mentally free-fall. It's just space for me to entertain my own thoughts, before dealing with the everyday chaos that inevitably happens as soon as I plug back in.