Urban Live with Melissa Muraya

If there is anything to say about Melissa Muraya (pictured above right), the Managing Director of Urban Live, she is passionate about event planning, about exceeding standards and despite noting the seriousness of the work is able to find humor in her work. A perfect balance of work, professionalism and light heartedness is important to keep yourself going and alive. Urban Live is doing just that.

Officially registered in January 2011, Urban Live opened its offices in April 2011 under a wider umbrella with online music distribution and events, providing wholesome entertainment. With Melissa Muraya and Nadia Nyambura Kimani (pictured above left) as PR and Communications Manager, they restructured in 2012 getting out of the music distribution business to focus on event planning full time. They first started working with Enashipai Resort and Spa in Naivasha with planning the Jazz and Craft Fair which was held from 15th to 16th October 2011. With the success of that event, Enashipia ventured into a new event together with Urban Live to launch in 2012 what we now know as Naivasha Fashion Weekend. (See post on Naivasha Fashion Weekend 2013)

As event planners, they do everything for the client. This is how Melissa explained the process. “You come to us and give us your idea and what you are looking for, then we go with that. There are some clients who know exactly what they want so we plug and play closely with what they want.” Their best clients are those who come with a general idea leaving Urban Live with as much creative license, budget allowing, to get it done.

The most enjoyable and challenging event they plan is Naivasha Fashion Weekend, the only fashion event they take on due to its highly involving nature.

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In discussing fashion events in particular, Melissa has attended her fair share and takes in her experience to provide the service required for Naivasha Fashion Weekend. “Fashion people are picky.” The challenge is notable, more so nowadays, due to the number of fashion events that have increased in the span of one year in Kenya. “When you are entering the market, there is already a mentality and a standard that has been set. Pleasing a fashion crowd is a challenge.” Not shying away from criticism, she is then able to know what people are looking for and therefore able to ensure a competitive edge in all their events. “There is always space for growth and based on last year’s criticism, we planned this year [Naivasha Fashion Weekend] bearing in mind those things.”

From the last event, the criticism involved tightening the production and enhancing the VIP seating. Based on this years show, Urban live embraced those criticisms to give an improved fashion weekend experience. They also enhanced on what was previously working for them such as location, theme and entertainment. “I think people feel more comfortable when it has a homely feel. Classy but homely because that is always memorable.”

One of the things they had to compete with was a large number of fashion events taking place around the same period. This meant that in approaching sponsors, who are already saturated with such requests, more was needed to be done to show the uniqueness of this event. One of the advantages of Naivasha Fashion Weekend is the location. Situated approximately an hour and a half out of Nairobi, Naivasha Fashion Weekend is hosted at the Enashipai Resort and Spa. “Your venue dictates who is coming.” In terms of production, they worked with a different modeling, casting agency and choreographer, Surazuri Modeling and Casting Agency.

Seeing as though Naivasha Fashion Weekend is an out of town event, Urban Live and Enashipai factor in that the designers will have to pay for transport and accommodation. That fee is therefore waivered to ease their participation. “As a designer, you have to send your portfolio to see if it matches with what we want in the show. On our end, we do a lot of background research to ensure that a designer will be able to match the theme and deliver.”

Usually designers pay a fee to participate in the show. Melissa explained that the reason is simply because the organizer is going through a huge expense to put the event together to provide a marketing platform for the designer.  “Its in the best interest of the designer with the organizer going through all the marketing and advertising on their behalf.” The other benefit to the fee is commitment. Once a designer pays there is a lesser chance they will drop out at the last minute.

This year they had more shows at the Naivasha Fashion Weekend, three, with a different theme for each show named Flower Power, Free as a Bird and Something Wild. Most of the designers in Kenya are not to the same level as the major fashion designers who are able to manufacture a high number of garments. Designers are also spread quite thin because of being called for a number of events, which were taking place at the same time.

Naivasha Fashion Weekend is once a year and takes up all our time. For the event to take place in October, the planning begins from January. Starting with sponsors, dialogue with them, what packages do the organizers want, the theme, the choreographer, the number of shows, the budget, the marketing and many other factors.

There was a lot to be done for this one event. They needed to schedule the roadside banners the print work, radio adds, TV adds, interviews, meeting the designers, the fitting, work closely with the choreographer, effectively communicate with all parties in the planning, attend casting, fittings. “So it is very involving. Taking the focus away will compromise on the quality so we are remaining with this one event.”

“You cant please everybody” when asked about staging a fashion event. Melissa referred to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week as a benchmark for any event planner in Fashion, a kind of pacesetter.

Here are a few things that she would recommend in respect of the fashion industry in Kenya. She prefaced by saying that there are expectations from the designers for those organizing the show with some being realistic and some unrealistic.

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Firstly, it is important for designers to know that to be invited to an international fashion event as a designer, there are certain criteria that exist such as availability, productivity and accessibility. How will I get a hold of you, the designer, beyond the runway? Usually, most of the events in Kenya have a fashion market so as to interact with the designers. They may not buy at that point but they can create a contact with the designer.

She states however that a number of designers will showcase on the runway but not have stalls, which prevents that opportunity to create contacts. She keenly encourages people to take up space, within their budget of course. “There needs to be something that enables someone to connect with your designer after the show.” This year, Urban Live made sure that in the program for Naivasha Fashion Weekend, contact details were provided to enable people to contact the designers directly beyond the show. This availability and access is a task for both the designer and the event organizer to provide.

Secondly, she discussed accessibility. “If I want to invite you, how do I get to know about your portfolio if I cannot do a site visit?” A designer who is serious will have a proper website and a business card at the least. You have to have a location, a means to reach you and most importantly consistency in your designs. “They want to see how consistent you are you in your designs, if not you won’t be taken seriously.” She further exclaimed that the seriousness of a designer is evident in their work, their commitment to their brand and pushing it out there and their intensity in seeing their brand grow. (see post on Tips on staying relevant in the fashion industry)

“You have to have the passion to push your content and position your brand. That is how you get noticed.”

Melissa further described that she number of designers were upset by virtue of not being chosen to participate in Naivasha Fashion Weekend. “But how do we pick you when you are not serious about your brand.” There are those who have showcased for two years and their passion, growth and commitment is noticed. There is unfortunately a significant amount of others of which the same cannot be said. With repetition and lack of growth; that speaks volumes of the designer’s creativity and capabilities.

Its not that hard to be called to an international show but if you are not consistent and fail to have a collection, a means to communicate and a seriousness in your brand then you wont be called. It’s that simple.

Thirdly, she touched on the lack of a proper production. People, she said, seem to be more interested in casting models and designers. The music, the ambience, the set up, the theme, the stages, the flow of the choreography and the screening are all essential elements to production. The little things that are not coordinated and the lack of flow will detract from the garments and the point of the show. “You need to be deliberate with your production such as choreography, the designs, the stage and the preparation.” One should not be afraid to outsource for each aspect of the production. It makes people specialize on one aspect instead of trying to do everything.

“The backbone of any event is the production, the look and the feel of the whole event. There has to be a flow.”

Other important elements in the production, she cited, were entertainment and a flow. She explained that if you are going to have a show running for three hours then it must be spectacular throughout. If you have a break in between the shows, then it must be clear to those attending what to do during the break, an order of events. “What is the concentration span of a human being? Short.” Production is extremely important. “It is the little things that matter.”

“Not many people take time to focus on the little things, the flow of the production and the ability to get proper entertainment which can make or break an event.”

When asked about the reason behind fashion shows in Kenya, she replied saying that the real question is whether you are a serious designer, serious about the industry or going with the flow. For those who have been in the industry for a while, you can see the difference in the type of show they put on and how a designer presents their work. “You can feel the passion around the event. There are those who feel that because people are starting to spend in fashion, then they see it as a business opportunity. If you are a serious fashion follower, you will tell the difference.”

For fashion events there are many more details to consider when planning such an event. The choreography, the press kits, the gift packages, the marketing of the event to make it stand out, the sponsors and the higher expectations of those going to such events. You always have to take it seriously and always raise the bar no matter how many events you have planned.

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In her opinion, the fashion industry in Kenya is growing. There are things that definitely need to change, people need take it more seriously, designers to become more professional and tighten up in their brands with a functional website and the ability to contact them easily.
One of the things that Melissa looks forward to is, similar to international shows, is the ability to buy the goods backstage directly after a show. The ability to order 100 pieces is a reality but how many designers in Kenya can match up to such requirements? “Attending those events, buyers will request such numbers and if you can only produce two garments in one week then you wont be able to partner, grow and expand.”

Furthermore, she is looking forward to a time when designers are challenging themselves to grow their business, mass produce or partner to expand their business. Designers need to “stop thinking of themselves as a handbag business but as a serious fully grown business”.

“As a designer, if you see it a career, then take it up as one instead of a hobby.”

For promoters and organizers, she would like to see it expand and grow to the level of international recognition. Again, designers need to start moving their mindset from small designer to major designer committed to seeing their brand grow. “To have your goods readily available to purchase once they have seen them on the show is necessary” which at the moment is lacking.

She finally mentioned, “with experience comes knowledge”. Invest in experience.

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