A t-shirt brand with a message? Promoting African values and representing a lifestyle that reflects Africa? What do all of these have in common? They are the values and morale behind the company founded by Thomas Mwicigi. Presenting Uhuru Clothing.
Founded in 2007, Uhuru Clothing is a brand of t-shirts that spreads messages of hope and a future for Africa. Due to the lack of African representation in clothing in the United States back then, Thomas Mwicigi created a brand that would encapsulate African essence and give people a sense of ownership and identification with home.
“We would wear a lot of American apparel…so when I went to look for African stuff I couldn’t find it. It was very limited.” That is when Thomas started designing t-shirts with profound and inspirational messages. People started buying it and it grew with great support from not only Kenyans but nationals from other African countries living in the United States.
Some of the quotes on Uhuru Clothing t-shirts have been the following: “music is a voice to the people”; “Close your eyes, feel the freedom”; “My future is so bright it blinds my eyes”; “Give Africa Hope.”
Having gone to the United States to study economics, Thomas Mwicigi later quit his job as a Financial Consultant to pursue Uhuru Clothing full time. As the company started growing, he began a suitcase tour by driving to neighboring states in the summer with t-shirts. He would set up a barbeque, sell t-shirts and speak to his clients in different states. “Some of the times it was successful and other times it was a learning experience.”
Having returned to Kenya in 2012, bringing his company here, compromising on quality was non negotiable. Uhuru Clothing still produces some of the shirts in the States until they are able to find a factory/manufacturer locally that can provide the service they need. “What I have seen is in order to make maximum profit, a lot of people will compromise on quality.” Although the cost is expensive in the US, the quality available in Kenya is not the same so far as Thomas has seen.
“What I have seen is in order to make maximum profit, a lot of people will compromise on quality.”
Where Uhuru Clothing t-shirts are in weight 170 grams (6 ounces), locally available t-shirts are only 107 grams (3.8 ounces). A significant difference in quality and durability. Just to explain a little further on t-shirts and their weight, the weight of the t-shirt determines the quality. They range from the very light (5.3-ounces) to a more standard (5.5-ounces) on up to the perceived value of a heavier (6.1-ounces or even 7.1-ounces) shirt. A heavier weight does have its advantages as it is considered more durable, meaning it will hold its shape and substance under repeated wear and washes.
When seeking an explanation as to the dearth of quality material locally manufactured, Thomas Mwicigi was told that company’s who buy most of the t-shirts are bought for short-term use. These companies are not requesting long lasting high quality t-shirts so the factories do not produce what is not in demand. “You can find good quality locally but you just have to keep looking hard enough. We believe it is there though.”
With regard to fashion, Thomas found that people are mostly buying from stalls, second-hand clothing and not fashion designers. “A lot of people go to China, Turkey buy shoes and bags and shirts and sell because people buy.” When he came back to Nairobi, he realized that in Kenya, in terms of retail, people don’t spend that much money on clothing. Thomas has found that people would rather spend 10,000ksh on a night out and spend as little as possible on clothes, which they will wear for a considerable amount of time.
“Upcoming designers try to sell as much as they can and please everyone but you lose yourself in it.”
With regard to fashion designing, branding is important, says Thomas. “Upcoming designers try to sell as much as they can and please everyone but you lose yourself in it.” One of the traits of Uhuru Clothing is the uniqueness of each range of products. Uhuru Clothing operates on limited edition collections so rest assured that the t-shirt you buy will not be mass-produced. Uhuru Clothing has a t-shirt range primarily but has also produced sweaters, polo shirts, caps, shorts and shoes.
“As a designer you need to know your target market and how you are going to position your brand.” It’s important to realize that people work on perceptions and where you position yourself will influence the perception associated with your brand.
Uhuru Clothing has been working closely with charity events and designing special collection for those charities. The brand has been worn and appeared in music videos for the likes of Camp Mulla, STL (Stella Mwangi) and Jaguar.
After being in business for about four years, Uhuru Clothing wanted to give back so they began organizing Charity Events.
“You have to give back.”
One of them being ‘The Give Africa Hope” movement where Uhuru Clothing organized benefit concerts, designed a special line of clothing with proceeds going to the campaign. They had a benefit concert with different artists from Jamaica such as Morgan Heritage, Jboog and Peter Morgan donating their time and sponsors raising funds for the cause. “Freedom is having the power to do what is right. Helping our African brothers and sisters in their time of need is what “Give Africa Hope” is all about.”
The mission of Give Africa Hope is
“To rally Africans & friends of Africa in the diaspora to help with the relief efforts. This movement is far greater then just providing some food and water to residents living in Africa’s horn region. To prevent this horrible famine cycle that seems to happen about every three years, there needs to be advancements in agriculture, education improvements for locals, and creation of new sustainable industries in the area.”
As a result of the Give Africa Hope movement, they managed to purchase mosquito nets and water purifiers in partnership with Project Maisha and UNICEF. “We raised 1.2 million Kenya Shillings and towards the end of this year, we would like to do the same.”
“If you don’t have the passion for it…you’re doing this for the money, the girls, the fame… it will die very quickly. The first time you get that objection, you will give up.”
Uhuru Clothing is more than just a t-shirt company with inspirational messages about Africa; they also give back to the community. Thomas Mwicigi has created a brand that will make anyone fall in love with Africa, give back and inspire others. Take a look at some of their pieces. More of Uhuru Clothing- check out their Facebook page.