Liz Ogumbo-Regisford is a creative entity. No, it’s not a buzzword that the Kenyan-born, South-Africa-based entrepreneur uses to draw you into her eponymous label. It’s that you sincerely can’t describe her as just one thing. Believe us, we tried. We were determined to only talk about her fashion design. However, that notion was soon impeded when we realised how intertwined all the facets of the Liz Ogumbo brand are. A living paragon of Oscar Wilde’s comments on Anti-mimesis, “the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realise that energy.” We caught up with the creative entrepreneur to discover how her life imitates art:
It all started with modelling?
Before starting the fashion brand, I model for a few years between New York, London, Milan and L.A. I learnt a lot of my skills when it comes to fashion and the business of fashion backstage as a model. I spent a lot of time nurturing relationships with designers. I then became a fashion designer under my brand name, Liz Ogumbo, in 2007. This is my 11th year playing in the fashion industry.
How did you make the transition from model to designer?
I think the biggest thing for me is my ability to rediscover, understand and adapt in this ever-changing world. And to be able to engage and understand the consumer, understanding how to be in business every day.
Your showroom is based in Johannesburg, but you’ve also mentioned that there’s a specific reason you insist on stocking in your home country. Why is that?
As a Kenyan who plays creatively outside of my country, you almost must remind people that you’re Kenyan and that you exist within the market. I think being able to stock with local brands such as TDS maintains my brand’s visibility.
The story around the music?
Music is my soul. I couldn’t find a genre for my style of music, so I created one an called in KenSoul. I’ve been in the music industry since 2010 when I released my first album also called KenSoul. This record represents my Kenyan Soul and life experiences. It’s also my reference point for the recently released album, KenSoul: The Lotus Chapter. I transverse multiple music influences by expressing my stories in Luo, Kiswahili, English and French.
How does the music coincide with your fashion?
When expressing ourselves creatively, we say one thing using different art forms. I’m linking music to the fashion so that people feel the synergy and understand the story beyond fashion. Additionally, the music consumers understand it beyond the music.
My business focuses on the fashion-savvy woman who is very self-aware, and is very powerful in whatever sphere of influence she plays in.
For example, the last collection I showed at S.A Fashion Week last year was called Denim Mania and there’s a track named after the collection as well. The track is basically the story of what Denim Mania means. There’s another track called ‘Safari’ on the new album which ties with the SS Safari collection that was before Denim Mania and showed at SA Fashion Week.
It’s for the bold, sassy woman who wants to express herself with a sort of ‘less is more’ attitude. Denim is beautiful, timeless and seasonless. But the Denim Mania collection is very-well tailored to add sophistication and chic. This is my first denim collection and it was manufactured by Ennui NYC based in New York. As much as I produce everything in the African market, as an African for Africa, there’s things that we just don’t have yet. I couldn’t get the different laundry systems and treatments to get this denim to where I wanted it in Africa.
Then there’s the wine…
It’s also called Liz Ogumbo under the brand. I started with two wines. The white wine is a Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay Blend 2017 and is named after one of the tracks on my album called ‘Msenangu’. The term makes you think about the easy Swahili coast and this sort of love story in Giriama that all comes to life when you think about the wine.
Every day is an opportunity to make our mark through what we wear.
Then there’s a Pinotage 2013 called ‘Mon Homme’ (Which translates to ‘My Man’) which also has a song by the same name on my album. This wine shares very similar characteristics with men, I don’t want to kiss and tell, but if you’re interested to find out more about my wine you can read it here. That’s what’s going on with wine. I mean, who knows what’s coming next…
Could there possibly be more? There’s already so much on your plate.
I do have a social responsibility to this continent. I have a fashion media company called Fashion Lab Africa that provides ‘a Radio, TV and Development Center platform where growth and development within the fashion industry is promoted and facilitated for sustainability and economic growth’. I also have a weekly show on Cliff Central since 2014 called Fashion Lab Africa. Every week, we discuss different topics around the fashion industry. We also plug-in different fashion professionals to share their feedback in the conversations in and around how we can develop this industry. From a TV angle I also cover fashion events.
I want to help women embrace their individuality.
Fashion is a trillion-dollar industry and Africa gets a very small piece of it. I found it necessary to do this Show to share information with individuals who want to help drive the industry forward. The idea is to get all this content and share it, so that you can take what you need from all these industry pros. Hopefully it can influence you in such a way that you smile all the way to the bank.
How would you describe your style to someone who’s never interacted with your fashion side of the brand?
A lot of people know me for being bold. I also spend a lot of time customizing pieces because I want to help women embrace their individuality. My business focuses on the fashion-savvy woman who is very self-aware, and is very powerful in whatever sphere of influence she plays in. She appreciates simple yet provocative design. And I want to make sure that whatever she wears from me brings out her attitude. You need to be a style savvy for me to elevate you to the next level. Every day is an opportunity to make our mark through what we wear.
You’ve mentioned that upcycling is a passion for you…
I upcycle my own wardrobe, but I wanted to offer this service to others. So many women have wardrobes with clothes that have never been worn and they’ve spent so much money on. I just felt like I was in a position where I could work these pieces and create a whole new wardrobe for them. It’s also eco-friendly.
Does that fall under styling?
In my opinion, that falls under hardcore design. For you to take an item in their wardrobe and give it a face-lift is the hardest part of design. You must think about the person’s style, the colours you’re going to incorporate, and the additional space or accessories required. I also spend time with clients advising them how and what to wear, as well as, the best pairings.Furthermore, I help my clients successfully change their identity. For instance, I’ve got a client who’s been recently promoted to CEO and now she wants to upgrade her style. For me to understand exactly what that means, I need to understand her industry and personality, put that all together so her appearance is an actual upgrade, not just changing her look. There’s a very big difference between changing and upgrading.
Denim mania came out last year, are you planning to release another runway collection this year?
It’s been 11 years of designing and I promise, if you walk into my showroom and I show you my archives, you would have a heart attack. Being forty years old has encouraged me to be honest with myself. I’m happy to showcase at the next Fashion Week, whatever it may be, but it would be mixed and matched from various previous collections. Collections that are as far back as 2007 that people don’t remember anymore. Designing collections can get exhausting and I couldn’t add another collection into my showroom.
How many collections HAVE you done?
About 50 collections. That includes capsule collections which I normally do for specific times, themes or events. In a month, I can come up with two capsule collections. Just a few months ago I was supplying 14 stores and I would create a collection that were in-line with the mood and feel of the store. For example, I was stocking at an environmentally-friendly store and I had to create a collection that was in line with that.
That’s extensive, but why commit yourself to that?
I like to take big risks. However, from a fashion business perspective, some of the decisions that I’ve made were bad. I was drowning in the creating-process. I had to ask myself how much time I spend creating and how much am I earning in return? It made me realise that it’s the wrong business model. I’m a creative junkie and I need to learn how to balance my creative energy. You can’t just create, you’ve got to match and balance.
Having worked here and in south Africa, what would you say needs to happen to help the fashion industry grow stronger on the continent?
Creatives create because we are inspired. However, we must pay attention to what the market is asking for. It’s also adapting to the fact that we live in a digital world. Take advantage of social commerce by setting up our apps and the online stores. We also need to pay attention to our narrative. The difference between your dress and any other designer’s dress is if the narrative of the story can convince the customer to buy it. There’s got to be something more that we offer the consumer.