By Ben Oduor
The African fashion industry has seen growing interest over the past decades. African fashion weeks are now popping up in almost all the popular cities in the continent. Johannesburg, Cape town, Lagos, Accra, Dakar, Cairo and Nairobi all have fashion weeks; this in addition to African diaspora fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris and Rotterdam.
This growing wave has inspired new and dynamic fashion designers. Nairobi, for instance, is exhibiting its wealth in fashion trends, with designs made from popular prints such as the Maasai shukas taking centre-stage.
As the world steers its focus on Africa’s fashion industry, local designers are upping their game to compete for space with international peers, with the hope that the industry will continue to open up more opportunities.
Nairobi-based fashion designer Morine Aringo has been following the market trends keenly. And she is now trendsetting the local industry, developing quality designs befit for various classes of the republic.
Her company, Hando Afrikan Designs, started in 2016, has dressed the who’s who in Kenya’s showbiz, political and corporate space. Songbird Akothee, news anchor Betty Kyalo, gospel singer Kambua and TV presenter Willis Raburu are among the many celebrities the company has so far served.
Such personalities, Aringo says, have had a huge impact on the business, giving referrals to many more clients who are interested in the trending outfits. The business deals in ladies’ clothes, male outfits, Ankara table mats and Ankara clutch bags. She also makes bomba jackets for both men and women, each going for Ksh3500.
“Hando Afrikan Designs specializes in making African print dresses. The prints we make tell an African story that is easy to relate to and associate with. I am extremely passionate about African outfits; the colour blends, the confidence they give and the mark of identity. This is why I’m inspired to be in this business,” Aringo says.
For a business that has attracted such big names, one would be tempted to think Hando Afrikan Designs was founded from owner’s professional background. You’d be wrong.
According to Aringo, fashion design is a field she plunged in out of passion, mainly developed from a tender age. Like any other child growing up, she visualized herself becoming a lawyer. But as fate would have it, she dropped the dream owing to the fact that she realised she is too shy to manage extreme public attention.
Then there was her mother, a woman she reckons had a passionate taste for trendy fashion. Her mom, she recalls, spent most of her time with the tailor working on details of trendy African print collections. And the outcome of her dresses, which she’d design almost every week, was attractive.
But Aringo would only rediscover her passion for fashion years later while in third year at Moi University, where she was taking a Bachelors degree in Horticultural Science.
“Naturally, my signature dress-code was hoodies and casuals. But while vying for a student leadership position in campus during my third year, I changed my dressing to more of African-themed prints,” says the third born in a family of four girls.
“I realized that many students loved the new look. But it was clear there were few designers who would make such quality outfits. It is here that I saw the gap.”
Upon graduation, Aringo was employed at a flower exporting company in Limuru, Kiambu County, and she began saving for her dream business. She would months later start Hando Afrika Designs with one sewing machine and a tailor, with Sh100,000 capital from the savings.
Things weren’t as rosy then, as she had to market her designs personally to clients in a highly competitive market. Her marketing strategy would be to make quality prints, carefully designed to satisfy popular celebrities’ tastes, then approach them to sell to them the outfits.
“If the celebrities liked the designs, I would sell them at relatively affordable rates then use it as a marketing tool for more clients,” Aringo says.
She approached renowned comedian Obinna, who agreed to wear her designs during a photo-shoot at popular mall Two Rivers. She’d then upload the photos on social media and the reception was satisfying. Many clients ordered for the same outfits.
Aringo took another stab, this time round designing a full dress for television anchor Betty Kyalo. She sought an appointment with the TV queen and they met at her salon in an upmarket suburb in Nairobi. Kyalo loved the dress, bought it immediately and presented news on it the following weekend, with most viewers giving positive comments on the dress.
For Citizen Television presenter Willis Raburu, Aringo figured out his taste and preference going by what he dons on air during his Friday show 10 over 10, visualized his measurements and designed an African print shirt.
“I got in touch with his producer, who linked me up with him and I delivered the shirt. I was surprised the next Friday while on air when he called out my name and that of my company to clarify to Sauti Sol where he’d bought the shirt. The music band had admired his shirt and asked where he’d shopped,” Aringo says, adding that Sauti Sol called her to make their orders days later.
Her business has since been receiving more clients, mainly from social media views, referrals and personal marketing. Now five years since starting the business- currently located on the second floor of Gloria House, on the busy Ronald Ngala Street- Aringo says she’s hired two more tailors and bought other modern sewing machines to satisfy client orders.
The business makes about 10 pieces of ordered outfits per day, which sums up to about 60 pieces in a good week. This has enabled the business to rake in between Sh50,000 and sh100,000 a month, depending on the season. And she pays her three tailors from each of the pieces made.
The entrepreneur credits persistence and determination for keeping the business afloat. She also admits to having to keep up with the pressures that come with client demands to satisfy their needs-for the consistency she’s had with the enterprise.
“In this kind of business, feedback from the client determines whether you succeed or fail. If let’s says a celebrity criticizes your work on their social media platforms, or a viewer gives negative comments on a dress you’ve designed for a popular personality and it is linked to your company, many people, most of who follow and admire the personality, will shun your work. This can eventually kill your business because these people have huge following,” Aringo says.
She thus takes keen attention on her work; from selecting the materials, analyzing clients’ tastes and preferences, drawing the designs to finally making them.
“This is what eventually gives me a niche in the industry. And I’m lucky most clients have been happy with our work, which gives me the required confidence and the urge to continue growing my business. I hope to see my designs appreciated all over the country before I go across the borders,” Aringo says.