KAHAARI: Extending African Print To The Boardroom & Beyond

Who says African print should be confined to special occasions? Certainly not Kahaari (ka-haa-ri). Originating from the Swahili word “Kifahari”, which means elegant, this Made in Kenya brand wants to make African prints and designs a staple in the casual and office wear too. The founder, Rebecca Muriuki, experienced the frustration of trying to find ready to wear (RTW) African outfits that reflected her personal style. So, when her friend began to sell fabrics she was directly sourcing from Nigeria and Ghana frequently, she decided to always buy one or two pieces and make her something for herself. Realising that there was a gap in the market, with many women experiencing the same dilemma, she launched Kahaari in June 2016.

Kahaari Zawadi African Print Coat Dress
Zawadi African Print Coat Dress [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

Reason behind Kahaari.

It reflected the style that I was looking to infuse into the brand. I take a lot of inspiration from my personal style, which is elegant but simple designs for the working-class lady who is also a mum. So, I try to make them designs that can fit into everyday living. But then I also try to put in some flair every now and then just in case it’s something that someone wants to wear to a function and they want to stand out in an elegant and classy way.

Kahaari REHEMA ruffled sleeve blazer
REHEMA ruffled sleeve blazer [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

Why is it such a priority to bring these prints and styles into the workplace or casual setting?

I think as an African we’ve obviously become westernised. Take for example, I am a full-time actuary working in an audit firm. In most white-collar workplaces you’ll find that African print or African inspired outfits are still not considered office wear or official. Yet, there are some looks that you can wear, and it still looks very professional. I feel like we need to stay true to who we are and appreciate where we come from, as well as, what we can come up with as Africans.

Kahaari Naserian Bustier Midi Dress
Naserian Bustier Midi Dress [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

Still sourcing the material from Nigeria and Ghana?

Yes. It’s solely from those two countries and all the fabric we source are from women-owned businesses. I’ve always been for women empowerment because I believe that if you empower a woman, you empower the community. They will always take it back to the community to raise and empower the lives of their families. For example, the women we work with dedicate most of their income to educating their children.

Kahaari Masolai Wrap Around Midi Dress
Masolai Wrap Around Midi Dress [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

Looking at your website, we noticed that you’re very particular about sizing…

Approximately 90 percent of our sales are online and thus we don’t meet many of our customers in person. Additionally, the fabrics we use don’t stretch a lot, so we make sure that whatever sizes our customers choose is correct. We provide the sizing chart to ensure that whatever they pick fits them as perfectly as possible.

Kahaari
Mambo African Print Hi Lo Top [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

From the sizing chart to your featured currency being US dollars, who is your target market?

Our market is predominantly based outside of Kenya, i.e. US and Europe. It wasn’t intentional. I think that’s just how it played out based on our price point. And I think it’s connected to what I was saying earlier, how as East Africans we have modernised a lot. So, you find that people abroad appreciate African design or African inspired fashion more than people do locally. We do have Kenyan customers who reach us through the website, or directly through our social media pages. But we’re actively trying to grow our home base as well. It’s something that we’re trying to actively market even with our style influences. Trying to engage local style influencers to increase our footprint locally.

Kahaari Zuri Peplum African Inspired Jacket
Zuri Peplum African Inspired Jacket [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

You also mention kids wear but the selection is very limited. Why is that?

The issue is, every time we take them to a pop up they sell out immediately. So, we’ve never really been able to update that section of the website because we end up selling it all before we can even photograph it. But it’s something that we’re planning. We’ve had a big support locally which is quite surprising because internationally I can count the number of kids clothes we’ve sold online. I guess you can say that there’s different preferences for different markets.

 

How often to you release collections?

And we also make sure that we switch up things as often as possible. For instance, having five to six collections in a year which is quite unique for a small brand like ours. we try to at least ensure that every two months someone visiting out website will find something new. Our international customer base likes to buy in terms of Spring/Summer (SS) and Autumn/Winter (AW), so we try to keep our designs within those two periods. For example, this year SS had three collections and AW will probably have two.

Bahari Bustier African Print Top [Image: Courtesy of Kaahari]

Yet each article has its own name, how don’t you run out of names?

I have a bank of East African names from local dialects. I usually look at the meaning of the word and choose the outfit that represents that. Sometimes it’s as simple as the name sounds nice for the outfit.

Kahaari Furahi Floral Maxi Skirt
Furahi Floral Maxi Skirt [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

What were the three collections in SS?

Our first SS collection was the plus size collection. That’s something that we tried out earlier this year. it worked very well for our customers abroad because the average size we sell to them, especially in the USA, is a UK18. It didn’t work too well with our local customers who range between UK10-12. The second SS collection was one we did for the Fashion High Tea here in Nairobi. And lastly our main SS2018 collection, which you’ll see on social media right now.

Fanaka African Pussy Bow Shirt & Fanaka Midi African Print Smart Dress [Image: Courtesy of Kahaari]

You’re work full time at an audit firm and run a business, there must be difficult.

I am a wife and mother as well. Its not easy to focus my mind on work, my business and my family. No one really warns you how involving it is. The process from pattern designing o final production can take quite a bit of time. I have hired people to help me manage it from a production point of view. But I do everything else, the marketing, designs, linking to international market places and networking. I also manage people, making sure that they meet timelines. However, it helps to have strong support systems at work and socially.

Another challenge would be people’s willingness to collaborate. I think that for small businesses one of the ways that we can all grow is through collaborations but there’s some fear attached to the idea. Though I’m seeing more of that between businesses there’s still room for improvement.

So, what keeps you going?

It’s that sparkle you get from customers when they wear one of our outfits and how they really appreciate what we do. That must be the most gratifying aspect that I’ve experienced in this business.

Any sneak peaks of what you’re releasing for AW18?

That’s under wraps. It’s been something that we’ve been working on since mid-July. Hopefully by the end of August we’ll have the final photoshoots done and you’ll be seeing it on our Social media pages.

 

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