Wangari Kariuki, the Designer behind the brand Iquira, began her designing journey with one client; herself. Dissatisfied with what she saw in the market, she decided to make earrings for herself, bought the necessary supplies and began designing. After a number of people started taking the earrings off her ears, she realized this could be a business. After her first degree in public health in 2011, she went ahead and took up studies in fashion designing to really put knowledge behind her passion in Vera Beauty and Fashion College. She realized that she needed to know how to design, how to cut, how to draft, pattern making to make clothes and other necessary tools for designing. Initially she wanted to design clothes but went ahead with jewelry first.
She started her jewelry line in 2009 while she was in Kenyatta University studying public health. But it was in 2011 that she really dropped everything and went full force into fashion. Iquira is Kariuki spelt backwards without the K. The Iquira brand, she explained, is unique and bold. Her earrings are made to be worn by a person who is not afraid to stand out from the crowd.
Wangari did not stop there. She also started designing bags in August 2013, to have something to complement her jewelry with the leather and fabric combination. Her yoga bags began as a personal need. Being a yogi, doing Bikram Yoga, she explains how you need to carry two towels, your change of clothes, water, your mat among many other things, which can easily end up being divided in two bags. Cumbersome indeed. So the yoga bag was specifically made to fit all these things in one carry all bag. (pictured below) Eventually, she is thinking of designing clothes particularly separates and ready-to-wear collections.
Her favorite materials to use are African fabric with a combination of leather. “As common and as cliché as African print is, you can always find something different to do with it.” She strives to combine African fabric and leather, which is her signature trait in her bags, jewelry and will inevitably transcend into her clothes. The only problem she has faced with in using leather is its availability in the market. For her jewelry, she has been able to find small strips but with bags and clothes, she will need larger amounts of treated leather, which at the moment is quite an expense. She explained how numerous leather accessory brands in Kenya are using leather from Bata that is priced quite high. By virtue of Bata being one of the only sources, the set price is one of her biggest hurdles.
“The fashion industry is not as simple, fleeting and as easy as some may think. It is both an emotional ride, a financial ride and a creative journey.”
The industry is improving, she does admit, but there is still some hesitation from people to embrace their own local talent. “There is definitely a long way to go with the industry”. In 2011, when she was still a first year in college, she did participate in numerous fashion shows but now she is hesitant. The fashion shows are chaotic, she says, where the standardization is lacking and Kenyan designers have not really understood the idea behind a collection. “There is no thought and no research into some of the collections.”
“People don’t take the industry seriously.” She further explained that in some fashion shows she went to some models are picky and chose what they wanted to wear on the basis of what suited them and pleased them, which shouldn’t take place. This is not to say that there are no good designers in the market, however the majority of those who are unprofessional are unfortunately tainting the industry. Passion and creativity, she exclaimed, is the most important distinction between the real designers who will stand the test of time and those who will be there for a season (no pun intended).
“Designs don’t come from the air. So what has already been done are meant to be a form of inspiration not a means to copy the exact same thing.” As a designer, she emphasized that there needs to be a representative element of their particular brand.
Looking into the state of the fashion industry in Kenya and its need to improve, she stated, “everyone is a designer. The rest of us designers putting so much work into it are making it a laughable industry.” “Kenyan fashion shows are a joke,” she says. Firstly there is no possibility of buying any garment straight from the runway and secondly the designs are all the same cut and designs through and through.
On the form of it, the fashion shows can look good but the content is lacking. “People forget that fashion design is work. Pulling designs from the past for a fashion show is just lazy.” She says that if you are going to call yourself a designer, you need do the work. There is more to being a designer than being featured in magazines and attending countless fashion shows.
The Tebazile show, a Ghanaian accessory design that took place on 19 September 2013 was to launch one of her collections. The show was at Sankara and the audience had the ability to purchase the goods backstage. The whole show was only accessories and lasted more than an hour. “It was amazing and fabulous. She knows that whatever went down the runway is a reflection of her.” Another issue in fashion shows is the inconsistency in dress for an accessories fashion show. But in the Tebazile show, she remarked that the show was well staged, well thought out and consistent. “You felt that energy and that connection in the show.” She concluded that fashion shows in Kenya need more structuring, consistency, content, planning and organization.
Another point she made was that fashion events for the past two years are always attended by the same crowd. There does not seem to be a filtering through to the consumer. “The consumer could be least bothered. The day you are able to bring a non-fashion person to attend a fashion out of town is a sign it is being effective.” By virtue of having the same fashion professionals in the shows constantly is not a true reflection of buying power seeing as though for those professionals it’s a work event not for purchase. “They need to think about how to get consumers interested and willing to buy.”
“I think we should stop with these fashion shows.” In her opinion, it’s time for designers to work on their designers, the quality, the collections and getting people to buy then start again with fashion shows. She also explained that the fashion shows are more a social event than anything else. For her brand, she has decided to focus on craft fairs and a select few at that to really work on getting buyers, consumers and building her company rather than attending endless fashion events to no end.
For Wangari, in terms of making custom made goods, she is not running away from such requests so as to train herself. Eventually, however, she is looking to make sustainable collections that are ready to wear therefore moving away from custom made.
“The issue with Kenyans is that we want to start at the very top instead of doing the leg work.”
She looks forward to the time when she can enter a mall and see 50% of the stores being Kenyan fashion brands. Unfortunately, as much as people are keen to be at the same level as the international fashion capitals, the effort and work put into the Kenyan industry is not enough to get us there.
Designers, in her view, need to constantly reassess their designs and what is working for them or not working for them. There needs to be higher level of seriousness in the industry for Kenya to move up. “The issue with Kenyans is that we want to start at the very top instead of doing the leg work.” She further explains that designers need to take into account the market that exists, the purchasing power and find ways to translate that to numbers.
Fashion is something that she is passionate. Although she has experienced some few moments of frustration by the state of the industry, she however makes it a point to keep pressing on. The fashion industry is not as simple, fleeting and as easy as some may think. It is both an emotional ride, a financial ride and a creative journey. Persistence is definitely required and we look forward to see how Iquira will grow.
Take a look at some of her pieces.