“Its been a learning curve ever since and we are still learning” says Wambui Mukenyi. Initially trained as an accountant, her love for fashion took her on a new path. “I love fashion. All of it, the stress and the highs, all of it.” The Wambui Mukenyi brand started in 2009, with her first collection being 6 pieces received well in the market, which was a good encouragement. She did not have a store yet, but after the success of the first collection, which was primarily Africa wear, she invested in a store. When Wambui Mukenyi was started, it took time to determine their market so as to get to what they are doing now.
The Wambui Mukenyi brand is a Kenyan fashion house that mainly deals with office wear and weddings. For her, wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses “are just glamorous” and she enjoys doing them.
Having come from an accounting background, for Wambui Mukenyi, reading was her means to learn all there was and more about the fashion industry and what it takes to be a designer. “I read a lot. Most of my morning is spent online reading about PR and business strategy.” Wambui Mukenyi spends her mornings reading Fashion Trends, Fashion Focus, PR articles from all over the world. She ensures to be aware of what is happening internationally in fashion so that she is able to find a way to translate that locally. Her favorite reads are Business of Fashion and PR Couture.
“People do not wear African wear to work Monday to Friday. They wear formal clothes.”
In the Fall/Winter 2014 collection, Wambui Mukenyi used mostly stretch fabric, focusing on color blocking with black and white and splashes of red. Wambui Mukenyi’s Fall/Winter 2014 was inspired by street style and geometrical shapes to make up the closet essentials. “Black is one of those colors every woman has in her closet, so its easy to sell that.” At the moment, African wear is not the primary focus because, as she explains, “people do not wear African wear to work Monday to Friday. They wear formal clothes.”
The choice of fabric changes from collection to collection, she explains, depending on the pieces they are doing, the designs and the price tag she wants to put on the pieces. “There are so many types of fabric. You can find cheap places and the more expensive places so it’s a matter of looking.” She is now working on the wedding collection coming out in July/August to be featured in Samantha’s Bridal Wedding Fair.
“You can have great ideas but if you don’t have a great team to work with, it doesn’t make sense at the end of the day.”
Wambui Mukenyi, the brand, is a work in progress and she is learning new ways to make her clients happy everyday. Speaking of the fashion industry, she explains that now people are beginning to appreciate more Kenyan fashion than it was 5 years ago. “It’s a growing industry so we can see right now that people are appreciating local fashion.” When she started in 2009, the greatest challenge was getting a good team. “You can have great ideas but if you don’t have a great team to work with, it doesn’t make sense at the end of the day.”
“Everyone has their own business model, for each fashion house to decide which is best for them.” Last year, Wambui Mukenyi did not participate in any fashion show, which was intentional, but this year she will only be featuring her wedding collection on bridesmaids in Samantha’s Bridal July/August Wedding Fair. “At the end of the day, it has to make economical sense participating in runways. Are you doing it for the show or are you doing it for the show and making money. The cost of doing and making the garments is expensive and there are so many of them.”
In the past, Wambui Mukenyi has only participated in Samantha’s Bridal Shows and Ethiopia Fashion Hub of Africa. Wambui Mukenyi participated in the Hub of Africa Fashion Week in Addis Ababa in 2012 and described it as a learning experience. She met other designers from different countries who were open to share information about being a designer, their experiences, what they learnt and what one needs to know about the business of fashion.
See photos below from Wambui Mukenyi’s Collection presented at the Hub of Africa Fashion Week in Addis Ababa.
“They tell you things that you can apply to help you grow like quality control, grading and trends.” Quality control requires the ability to ensure a garment is perfectly tailored, cut and finished. Grading, according to international standards, she explains, involves your pieces being inspected to determine the quality control such as the consistency of the hemline. “Essentially quality control and grading is all about checking how good your piece is and whether it can be mass produced.”One of the designers she met from Ethiopia is a Zimbabwean designer who has been helping get tailors form Congo who, in her opinion, “do a better job” in terms of quality consistency.
She has been seeing designers complaining about the industry and their challenges but she feels that “it really depends on your business model, your target market and whether they are able to afford your clothes. Are you giving them what they need. Its just about how you set up your business structure.” Wambui Mukenyi prefers not to get involved in those discussions because she is not aware of each designers business structure. “Do we need to revisit the way we do fashion in Kenya or do we need to improve something in Kenya?-those forums are important.”
“Your business model dictates the result and success of your business.”
Pricing is also an important factor to incorporate in your business model, says Wambui Mukenyi. To explain how this works she describes one scenario: a designer takes 40 hours to make one garment or piece which at then end of the day costs 30,000Ksh to produce. Selling that garment, with your mark-up would be at 60-70,000Ksh for it to make economic sense. “Who are you selling that to? I think costing is important to consider. There is a certain group of people who can afford to buy a piece for 70,000 but I don’t know how many.
WM Mantra: “work smart!”
At the end of the day, if you market well, no matter the price, you can sell, she concludes. “It all depends on your business model and your marketing. If someone targets the 70,000ksh market then there is a reason for it.”
Wambui Mukenyi does three collections a year: Fall/Winter, July/August Weddings and Holiday Collection in November/December. She is excited for the July/August Weddings collection which is her project right now.
Her advice for upcoming designers is to have the passion for it. “Have the right people around you, to advise you and to help you grow. Read everything. Have a team of advisors and have a business structure/model.
Take a look at her Fall/Winter 2014 collection. (Photos courtesy of Wambui Mukenyi)
WM Fall 2014 Closet staples
Models: Sarah Hassan and Sision Torome
Photographer : Thandiwe Muriu
Stylist: Sunny Dolat
Make up: Steve Koby