Pauline Macharia is the brains behind the Otenge accessories. Created from recycled kitenge material, Pauline has established a brand with her trademark kitenge button earrings. Her journey to Otenge stemmed from a Communication and Social Education background. After campus, she travelled to Dar es Salaam to work for some time transitioning thereafter into sales and management. Returning to Kenya, she went to work for Multichoice DSTV until she thereafter worked with the Villagers Band in the music industry. Pauline’s journey has been an interesting one, from communication and social education, sales and management and the music industry and finally into accessory design.
Despite the diversity in her journey, Pauline has always been interested in “making things, accessories in particular.” “I used to do a lot of beading, I would see a pair of earring’s and wonder how they are made. Look at it and try to make it. That is how I began, making stuff at home and wearing it.” During her experimental days, still working full time with the Villagers Band, she started creating earrings, wore them and eventually started selling them to friends and eventually at small events. She explained that when it comes to beading in Nairobi, most people tend to shop for supplies at the same place downtown. This is when she started to feel that her products were not so unique. Stumbling upon button earrings on social media made from Kitenge, she was hooked. She then sought out how to make them locally. “I was intrigued and determined to make it for myself. I was not making it to sell” she says.
“Making the kitenge button earrings was not that easy bearing in mind the difficulty in available supplies particularly the kind of buttons she needed”
Pauline explained that making the kitenge button earrings was not that easy bearing in mind the difficulty in available supplies particularly the kind of buttons she needed. She therefore worked with what she could get in the beginning and over time she has been able to improve on the quality and consistency of her products. She teamed with Njeri Gikera from Chilli Mango in sharing a stall to sell her products at Nairobi Fashion Market. “That is when I made a batch of products and realized I was on to something. As I went on, I started using better materials and selling them with a distinct packaging.”
What attracted her to make these accessories, Pauline states, was her love of use of color in the kitenge print that was not too loud and yet added some pop to an everyday wardrobe. She wanted an accessory that would easily incorporate into everyday. Her products have expanded from the button earrings to kitenge bracelets, rings, headbands, cufflinks, bowties, bobby pins and even home accessories such as lampshades. “Although I cannot claim the kitenge bracelets because they are so easy to make and everyone is making them now.” By the time the Otenge brand picked up and she became more involved in selling in the craft fairs, she stopped working with the Villagers Band to pursue her accessory line full time.
“If you are in a place where different designers can meet and talk, there is a less likelihood of clashing taking place.”
One of her major challenges in the industry is copying, she says. “The ideas of what I do, I cannot claim as originally mine but having put them out there and created a brand, its not cool when people try to copy you to a point of even copying the packaging.” To counter this particular challenge, Pauline finds herself ensuring to staying one step ahead, in terms of the material used, quality assurance and creating new designs.
With the increase in fashion events and people coming together to forge a way ahead in the fashion industry, Pauline is encouraged because people are beginning to unify to address the challenges. “If you are in a place where different designers can meet and talk, there is a less likelihood of clashing taking place.”
In discussing the matter of the second-hand market, Pauline admits that it is indeed much easier and cheaper to buy into those markets as we, designers, are more expensive simply because of the availability and cost of the raw products. “The designers I know make quality products and I wear their goods as well.” Her experience is that the designers she has met in the craft fairs are making high quality products but unfortunately the reality is that the people buying and attending these craft fairs are expats, foreign tourists or foreign residents.
“We should support our own”
Pauline looks forward to the day when she can go downtown and find Kenyan designers with shops where she can walk in and buy and not go to Mr Price and other foreign brands. “At the moment, I wish I could say that I am dressed head to toe in Kenyan made apparel and accessories. We should support our own.” This generation, she states, are more open to wearing Kenyan designers but it is the accessibility that is the major problem.
The reason we love Otenge accessories is the simplicity, consistency in quality and the little touch and pop of color that can accessorize with any wardrobe, day or night. Take a look at some of her pieces and you will see why the Otenge brand is here to stay.